33% of students are participating in remote learning
Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes said the schools system starting prepping for the new school year on June 30 by presenting the state’s first reopening plan, which gave parents enough time to think about what they wanted for their kids—whether to allow them to attend brick-and-mortar or the Virtual Academy. The Phenix City Schools started back August 17 and both virtual and brick-and-mortar students adhere to the same schedule.
“We’ve had a very good start to the school year,” Wilkes said. He said there were a few problems regarding technical difficulties on the remote learning side; however, he said they think they have it resolved. All students, no matter their grade or school preference, have learning devices.
According to Wilkes, approximately 33 percent of the student body are in virtual school only, using Google Classroom. The rest have been split in into two teams, the Innovators and the Trailblazers. The Innovators attend Tuesday and Friday, and Trailblazers attend Monday and Thursday; both teams work remotely on Wednesdays so that the schools system can perform required sanitation. The system is working beautifully. When Wilkes looked at the data, he said they discovered that 56 percent of students lived with another student who attended the same school, so they were able to work it out so that parents could have both kids at school on the same days. Dividing the students up by households makes it easier on the parents.
Staffing has been another concern. Sixty teachers have been transferred to The Success Academy, which, simply put, serves K-8 by giving program support and teaching virtual classes. Only 13 teachers have transferred to virtual teaching out of safety concerns, and Wilkes said no one has quit out of fear.
“We’re going to monitor very closely the health of the school district to see what our next steps are,” Wilkes said. “Masks are required and will continue to be required regardless of what the governor does at the end of the month.” He said he told the staff masks would make good stocking stuffers for Christmas.
“I don’t think they’re going anywhere,” he added. “I think it proven that it helps fight COVID. And we’re going to maintain social distance to the greatest extent possible. Our desire is to never become a point of transmission. That’s key. As long as we have isolated cases throughout the school district, we’ll continue to move on. We may have to close a wing or a program or a school or grade level, but hopefully not the entire system.”
Wilkes said it depends on the families doing their part.
“Unless we are negligent outside of school, I think we’ll be okay,” he said. “I’m not as worried about it being spread at school as I am about it being spread at home and other places.”
He uses a self-report system in which he is alerted by the Head Nurse whenever someone, student, teacher, or staff, is symptomatic. He said it had been more than a week since he’d received any alerts. Two additional nurses have been hired, one for Meadowlane and one for downtown who is the head nurse; her primary focus is COVID and contact tracing. They have also assigned seating everywhere to make it easier to keep track of students. That being said, Wilkes said they can’t force anyone to take a COVID-19 test, they can only ask that they do it.
To help with child care for teachers who have children in the school system, there is a daycare learning environment available on remote days for the time being.
Wilkes asks that the community continue to have patience.
“There is no plan that pleases everybody,” he said. “We’re being slow and methodical with everything that we do. The implementation of our plan has been precise. We haven’t deviated, nor will we deviate from it. It will only do that which data tells us to do. We don’t operate on feelings. We don’t assume, and hope’s not a strategy. We’ll look at the data and if the data says we can return to this environment, then we’ll return to whatever environment that is, whether that is all remote or we bring the kids back to school.”
He said the virtual students are in it for at least nine weeks, and the others for a semester. He expects the first two weeks will give them a good idea of where they stand.