At last Thursday’s school board meeting, director of schools Dr. John Combs wanted to remind the public his plans for this school year are fluid.
“I’ve said that throughout. Over the course of this week and next, I will continue to monitor positive case counts, distance learning efficiency for students and the logistics for all our teachers to be able to effectively instruct all students.”
And, if he determines a schedule adjustment is necessary, he will make an adjustment.
In his visits to schools, he said he can see teachers are stretched to the breaking point.
“They have continued on because they love these kids, but I want them to know I am listening … I want to thank everyone for their patience as we navigate these times. I know this has been difficult for all, but continue to know also that the current plan could adjust as I deem necessary for the efficiency of instruction to both face-to-face and distance learners.”
Board member Steve Clark, a former teacher, said he know teachers are spending an extra three or four hours per day working.
“And I think I’m being conservative with that,” Clark added.
Combs said the teachers’ biggest concerns right now are the workload.
“Everybody, I think, wants to push back and say, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is …’ but this is completely different. This workload is so much different than anyone’s ever experienced. It’s just a lot of stuff. And not only is it a lot, it’s like five or six different things. You have your face-to-face folks here, then you have your packets ready for those who are on the staggered (schedule) and you also have the distance learners who are truly distanced learners and then you have the packet for those who weren’t in school that day … it’s just constant. And then, at the same time, you have the regular stuff that’s new, like getting acquainted with all the new rules and regulations that our COVID contact has put in place and you’re trying to keep up with phone calls and emails all the time while they’re teaching. It’s just a lot to get used to.”
The teachers, he said, are making him proud.
“They’ve been so resilient because it has been tough … and this is all brand new. We’re building the plane as we fly it.”
To help with the workload, the district may change the schedule, will soon request students commit to a learning model, issue devices to students and set up WiFi hot spots around the county.
Four day weeks could be an option
Combs said if it proves more efficient, the schedule for face-to-face learners could be changed.
Instead of attending classes in person all five days, Fridays may become distance days only. this will help teachers catch up with their distance learners, among other things.
Another options is designating virtual-only teachers.
The number of distance learners is decreasing
Tipton County is one of only a few districts in the state not continuing some form of hybrid attendance model.
Face-to-face students attended classes in person two days per week, and online the other three, for the first three weeks of the school year.
Last Tuesday the face-to-face students began full-time in-person instruction.
Combs said 35 percent of the district’s 10,400 students were attending school through the distance learning model when the school year started a month ago and that has already decreased to 29 percent.
“I think people are getting more comfortable and they’re seeing, number one, the distance learning piece is not a joke, it’s real, there’s a lot to it and a lot you have to do on both sides of the fence … but they’re also seeing the importance of being in that classroom as well.”
At some point, he said, students will need to choose between one model.
“We can’t keep jumping back and forth,” said Combs. “I’ll give plenty of notice before that happens, though.”
Devices and hot spots on the way
Devices for each of Tipton County’s students and teachers are on the way.
The first round is expected to arrive in October and high school students will get first priority. The second round should arrive in December, Combs said.
“The plan is to begin the second semester with every student and every teacher having a device.
Once devices are distributed, physical packets will be greatly reduced.
He plans to set up six mobile hot spots – two each in Covington, Brighton and Munford/Drummonds – using inoperable school buses.
The WiFi will have a 300-foot range.
These solutions won’t solve every problem, but they’ll help.
Though there have been confirmed cases in students and staff, and requisite quarantines, no clusters have been reported.
“Our grounding point is we’re going to do what’s best for our kids.”