Safely Starting the 2020-21 School Year
As North Carolina continues to develop plans for safely beginning the 2020-21 school year, we take a look at the possibilities surrounding what next year could bring and what that means for both large and small school districts across our state. Joining us today are Cyndy Bliss, Principal of Myrtle Grove Middle School in New Hanover County, Doctor Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Public Schools, and Cathy Moore, Superintendent of Wake County Public Schools.
welcome education matters Presented by the public school form of North Carolina. I'm your host, Tom Williams. As North Carolina continues to develop plans for safe the beginning the 2020 2021 school year, we take a look at the possibilities surrounding what next year could bring and what that means for both large and small school districts across our state. Joining us today are Cindy Bliss principle of Myrtle Grove Middle School in New Hanover County. Dr. Barry Williams, superintendent of the Gates County Public schools in Kathy More, superintendent of the Wake County Public Schools. Thank you for joining us. We're delighted. Toe, have Superintendent Kathy more from the Wake County schools joining us this morning. And thank you so much, Superintendent. More for taking time out of what I know is not only a busy but demanding schedule. You're very welcome. Happy to be here. So if Governor Cooper announces that North Carolina schools will open under Plan B, Wake County has a plan in place for that scenario. Would you kind of briefly describe your plan for reopening schools next month under the Plan B option so we can t Public school system has been working on a framework for plans A, B and C, and clearly, Plan B is the most problematic. Andi requires quite a bit of attention because in Plan A, all students are in schools and there are obviously other measures that we take to keep them safe and then plan C. No students are in schools, and so both of those are very easy for families to understand. Plan B, however, requires a lot of logistical work and structures because you're only allowed to have 50% of students in and on buses. You're really only allowed to have about 30% of your bus ridership on a bus. So Plan B. For us, that has been the most difficult. And what it looks like for us is a week of face to face in person instruction for 1/3 of our students at a time, and the other 2/3 will be engaged in remote learning. So it's a three week cycle, with one week in the building and two weeks remote instruction, Um, and that really reflects a priority that we had at the district level. Based on some feedback, um, that all of our families across all grade levels felt it was important to have some face to face instruction. Um, rather than just virtual Onley virtual. Let's say the decision is that the state is going to go with Plan C. Um, what would this scenario look like with Wake County? And I know that there were lessons learned and a lot of work that was done last spring to make remote learning successful? What would How would it be different? What would have looked like this year last spring, when schools will be closed schools and immediately, within a couple of hours after that, the governor closed all schools, Um, and we were thrown into what remote learning would look like. There were a lot of things, a lot of barriers and constructs that had to be created very quickly, just a very simple issue of dealing with students who didn't have devices or connectivity, which is very riel and persists. I believe in every single county in the state of north. Your line. Um, we had to really give it very quickly, and I joked that we weren't building a plane while we were flying it, that we were fed ex ING parts to the plane while we were flying. Um, and so we have learned a lot of lessons, as you have said, and we've gotten a lot of feedback as well. And we know that to the extent that we engage in a Plan C for all schools, if that is what the governor orders, that the expectations of both our teachers, our school administrators and our families and students is higher than what we engaged in in the spring. So we have been working on the Plan C options as well, so that we can provide more guidance, more structure, more continuity and expectations around what families can expect. Expectations around interaction with students from their school teachers so that we can provide a better informed and valuable experience for all of our students and really maintain those high levels of teaching, learning that we we know that internal and external stakeholder engagement has been a focus for the Wake County schools and school districts across the state. Um, talk a little bit about how they've been engaged in influencing the plan, and you're thinking we have been pretty open with seeking feedback from a number of stakeholder groups. We've worked very closely with our local and CE chapter and the local president, Teoh, participate in focus groups and sessions that were being held with teachers all across the county. Make sure Central Services staff were there to also provide port and listen. We communicate frequently on all of the plans that were working on the frameworks for a the N C. The different options that are being considered. So our local nce rep has been a part of those discussions. And we have also sent surveys to teacher specifically to all of our teachers and staff to ask them, How are they comfortable returning the school? What would there, What would they expect to see eso, that we haven't understanding what our teachers expect and what their concerns are. And then we've done the same thing with parents in our community as well. I will say Last thing is that, um and we are divided as a community and staff. We have fully 30% of our families who are indicating they would liken all virtual option Ah, little smaller percentage than that that would liken all in face option and then the largest, but not by much percentage in the middle, thinking that some sort of blended option is what would be preferred. Of course, the devil is in the details for all of that. So which ever option we are providing. We're trying to be responsive in general to what most of the feedback says. People who are in schools want face to face. We are providing an all virtual option of virtual academy option for families who are not comfortable at all and want to commit to a virtual academy. Um, but you know, there Plan B does not have a lot of great options within it. And all of them there are choices that are being made where you wish you had other options. We've got a couple of minutes left on two things. Your biggest challenges that you feel like the district's facing and meeting the needs of the community. And what does the district need most to be able to operate as effectively and efficiently as you wanted to for the students and for the teachers and parents? So I think, in general terms the uncertainty of what the next few months holds, in particular in the Wake County area. We are an area where the numbers and the data around the Cove in 19 Pandemic are of concern. And so we want to make sure that whatever we're doing, we're maintaining the health and safety of our staff, our students and families at the forefront of everything to do its part of every conversation. And so that uncertainty really has us concerned about what school will look like. We've been saying school will be different. It's certainly Plan B is different. And if we have to go to Plan C, that will be even in Plan A. Things would be different because we would still be having to take some precautions to make sure that our kids and our students were safe. So really, it's just uncertainty about what the future is going to look like and trying to be flexible and responsive as we hear concerns. So as we look specifically with the Wake County public school system and the potential to implement Plan B, Um and maybe even were we to implement plan, see if that was what we're was required, Um, the extent to which our community continues to support families who might need to tell the work or work from home, the extent to which our community partners like the Y M. C. A or the Boys and Girls Club or Private Daycares and Park and Rec organizations can support us with what now will be a track out type camp for all kids on a rotating basis, in a manner that is both supportive of the remote learning and provides parents with flexibility Should they need to be at the work site and not be able to be at home to support their Children? There is some space for what that collaboration and partnership looks like moving forward. And I think another piece that's really important with that for our community is that it has to be something that is affordable and doable for our families. And so we need to figure out how to partner through this. Um, I really think that, um, the community at large to the extent that we continue to follow the guidance that is coming out of North Carolina DHHS in the governor's office to ensure that remain the safest possible. I think following that guidance and and adhering to it helps us open our schools sooner. And Fuller. Yeah, Thank you so much for being such a valuable resource here to education matters and our viewers across the state. In here, in the local area. I applaud you and your team as well as your board of education and community for the work you're doing together. Best wishes for rest of the safe summer moving forward. And we look forward to seeing you again. Cem. Education matters has brought to you each week in part by town bank serving, others enriching lives. Well, welcome. And we're delighted to have Cindy Bliss, principal at Myrtle Grove Middle School in New Hanover County with us. And joining her is Dr Barry Williams, our superintendent in Gates County public schools in the northeastern part of North Carolina. Thank you both for being with us today. Not to be here with you, Dr Williams. Let's start with you. Um, as a local superintendent in a rural and small school district here in North Carolina, how have you been engaging with your staff and your principles and faculties as well as your community in approaching the reopening plans for the fall? Well, in a in a smile school district like Gates County, we got about uh, 11,000 people. We got 1500 students and what we do, we don't really column task force. We have principals, directors and some board members, uh, get together. And we focused our energy on four major bullets for the situation that we're in. We realized that one size fits all that doesn't work. And so we're trying to come up with a draft document. Kind of like that. It means the BP eyes put out the tool kit safe schools to get. We want to have that for Gates can. And so what? We've started out with our major points or we've got a documented brainstorming session that we had so twice a week we have anecdotal research where were guiding our decisions. And we try to mirror everything with other school districts and from the health department from B p I and from the N C. A s A and the C s s a in state Board of education, local hospitals. We want to get information and research from them to help us along the way. We will have a planning, Tim Plato, organize our action steps of how we approach things as they come up and we have a communication document that's going to help share AirProd or of these action states and timelines with parents, educators and teachers. And all this works Tom with the power of collaboration and teamwork. When this first came out by the governor in March 4 think it was. There was such a resurgence of energy and passion to get kids meals to get instruction, that continuity instruction get things out of people just as quickly as possible. So that's how we have handled it so far. Well, excellent. Miss Bliss coming to you. You're the principal there. You're right in between the superintendent's office, the teachers and faculty and parents and the kids. How are you engaging with your various stakeholders and helping shape the plan there of Myrtle Grove Middle? Right. So just like Dr Williams talked about, we have, uh, we have we have county teams and then we've also done some school teams at our school level. We formed reentry teams and those teams were around our facilities instruction, social emotional learning and then communication. And we really tried to make sure that we had students, staff and parents on each of those teams to really make sure that the two way was happening between school and community and then at the district level. There are also some, uh, teams that air that air happening with around buildings and transportation, um, health and and then instruction and and communication. Um, and all of those also have ah, teachers or not nap. Sorry. No teachers, administrators, but then members of the community that it impacts. So I'm the health committee. Uh, you know, it really is. Is taking a look at how we can safely get kids back in school and setting up some processes and procedures were coming out in and out. And it has our coastal horizons mental health. Um, as part of that and the health department on DSO You know, not we all know this. It comes down to that communication piece and so really trying to be strategic about how and what we're communicating from the district and from the schools to make sure it's in line and that parents are receiving one message. OK, excellent, well dot Williams that you mentioned earlier than nature of Gates County. And, um, you join a number of other small and rural school districts here in the state of North Carolina. What would you say of a couple of top challenges that are unique to a rural education community? Keeping in mind the nature of what you're addressing right now with the reopening schools? Oh, there's there several challenges, especially in a rule school district and especially in a in a small rural school district that has a big county sometime talking landmass. But first and foremost with any situation in schools is safety, and I think the health and safety of students and staff is imperative. I don't think eating school or district should be forced to reopen unless they meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. We want to make sure that that our families were taken care of when we have this reopening process and caution is essential in the meat to respect structure to conform to the CDC guidelines, he is imperative. Another challenge that we have, of course, is transportation. Before the pandemic pandemic even occurred, we can't even get bus drivers to drive buses, you know, so sometimes we have to double up well, right now, Like I just said, we have large areas to cover the in the limits on the number of students that can't even ride a bus. I believe meant from 8 to 22 now kid proceeds. That's putting a lot of the strengths and putting buses on the road, and it's just going called off traffic. That is really unnecessary. So how much instructions actually going on? And another thing that I think the closing of schools in response to the pandemic is pretty much focused, a powerful spotlight on the inequities that we have in a small role school district. We don't have these big towers and the broadband to support instruction remotely. So we got on the bus. We take everything paper, pencil and kids that you have, uh, Internet access. We can get that information to them, the best we can do. Virtual learning. I'm gonna come back to you, Miss Bliss, and maybe talk a little bit about the lessons that were learned last year prior to the end of the school year, in particular around remote learning and how you're approaching the need for remote learning or how it would look in the coming year if needed. So really, the biggest thing that we learned was this the streamlining and reducing the clutter so that it is really easy for kids and parents to access and monitor and having really clear directions on what to do and what is expected? Um, for students during this time, Dr Williams first, what would you say is the most important advice you give to your families in Gates County who are struggling with the approaches? The schools in the district are taken and then come back to you. Miss Bliss from your school prospect. I think we need to communicate, and parents need to ask questions that they don't know answers just at home. I think it's just really simple little things besides setting regular bedtimes and wake up times for your Children. Establish a school day educational schedule, whether at home artisans who provide opportunities for students to exercise and maintain some sort of social contact with their beer. And no reduced the anxiety of the in the face riel life concerns by letting them share their concerns and resource. So, you know, we're here for the community, the community. It is all about working together in collaboration and with strong spoons with Caroline to get there's more information that the parents are really successful. Really? My advice appearance is just patients compassion and grace patients compassion and grace for your for themselves, for their students and for the schools. Because we're really trying to figure this out. And we are really working hard Teoh to do what is best for students given all that is going on, you know, knowing that we do want their kids back it at school. But we want to do it in a safe way that is safe for adults and students. Um and so just allowing patients compassion and grace for everybody involved in this while we really try to come together to get through this time. Thank you, Miss Bliss. Thank you, Dr Williams, for joining us on education matters. We're really grateful and wish you the best as you move through the summer and into the new school year after the break. The final word with our new education matters Host Maryanne Wolf. First, let me welcome our new host of education matters. Got to marry and Wolf, our fourth president and executive director since 1985 to leave the public school form of North Carolina as the new host of education matters. I would like to thank Dr Tom Williams, who was graciously and masterfully hosted this show. He is insured that we're hearing from voices across North Carolina on the most pressing education issues. Fortunately, Tom will be back as a guest host, and I look forward to bringing what I have learned from his wisdom and experience to the show in what we know to be trying times in our country, state and schools. No school district, educator or parent wants to be in the position of having to debate whether or how we can return to school. This year. We wish that we could start school within person, full classes, and we watches districts and family struggled to decide what is right for their Children to safely reopen this fall. Addressing the following three challenges will be paramount. Our top priority must be ensuring the safety of our students, teachers, staff and families. If school buildings air open this fall, plans must be made for scenarios both during and outside of school that keeps students and staff as safe as possible. Many districts are ensuring that families will have access to remote learning as an option. Even when a hybrid ER in person plan is implemented. These virtual learning options will enable families to stay engaged with their school system and school communities. Another priority must be ensuring equity as we work to provide robust, meaningful learning opportunities for all students. During the early stages of the Cove in 19 Pandemic, we learned that unequal broadband access, the variability of parents to work remotely, funding disparities across districts and many more in equities were exacerbated by our efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus. Students will need to be able to rely on rigorous remote learning options. The district's across the state are working hard to develop in the event we must stay home. Finally, with so many things up in the air, District's must be able to count on resource is and funding to support changes required by fall learning plans. Unpredictable changes in funding will make it harder for our district leaders to deliver safe and equitable educational offerings in the face of Kobe 19. We believe our state leaders must take specific actions so that district leaders will know that they will have the budgets they need throughout the year with at least the amount they plan to have. Is I engaged in discussions with educators, families and communities. It is clear that we all struggle with any of the options that do not fit our definition of normal and may not be what we want for our kids or educators and staff for the fall. However, as we move forward with the focus on safety for students and staff, equity for robust, meaningful learning opportunities and the need for adequate resource is in a solid budget. I also see the creativity and Karen concern for our students at every turn our public schools or the hub of our communities. And even in the midst of a global pandemic where nothing seems normal, they will be the constant source of connection. Whole child support and learning for our kids over the past seven months has been my distinct privilege to serve as the host of education matters. I'm profoundly grateful for the incredible professional support provided by WRL and his producers as well as our amazing team at the Forum, who each week make the show possible. I'd be remiss if I did not express my appreciation of the show's lead corporate sponsor, Town Bank, as well as U. N C T V from making the show accessible each week, toe all North Carolinians in every community since its inception three years ago. Education matters allows us to share insights to key issues affecting a broad range of K through 12 public education stakeholders. There would not be in education matters if not for the expert guest who give up their time, expertise and insights on key issues impacting our Children and our public schools from state and local leaders to researchers, business leaders, policymakers and, yes, parents and students, their voices from the field are invaluable. Ensuring North Carolina's current and future leaders chart and stay the course in creating effective public policy and investing. The needed resource is our students and teachers needs as our state faces, the complex challenges presented by covert 19 are states. Leaders must simultaneously stay committed to every child, receiving an opportunity for sound basic education as guaranteed by our state's constitution in the comprehensive requirements defined by our courts. In the landmark Leandro decision, the Children are public. Schools today represent the foundation for North Carolina's future success through a well prepared workforce and citizenry toe lead us forward as a competitive state in the years and decades ahead. Thank you.