The Superintendent's Report: Struggle Well

Posted by Daniel Seamans on 4/7/2020 8:00:00 AM

Dr. Jerry L. Oates, Superintendent of Schools


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Social distancing. Spread. Self-quarantine. Recently these words have taken on new meaning for us all. Regardless of your geographic location in the world, it is likely these words have bound us all together in this unprecedented time in our lives. The coronavirus pandemic has caused fear and anxiety in our world. It has disrupted our regular way of life and has caused us to completely eliminate things we would otherwise typically do such as shaking hands, giving hugs or sitting/standing close to someone else.


I have witnessed something that I would have never thought would happen--nationwide school closures. We expect schools to close for inclement weather. We do it all the time. We can anticipate hurricanes and take safety precautions and close schools. We can get the forecast from the National Weather Service to make decisions to close schools when  snow and ice is on the roads. However this is different. This is out of the hands of the superintendent or the National Weather Service. Governors across the nation have issued executive orders completely shuttering schools. This is unprecedented. There are no rules, procedures, or policies to follow in this situation.


There are a couple of major unintended consequences of closing schools for extended periods of time. Some of our students do not have access to nutritious meals every day. For some, school meals may be the only meals they receive. In the time of school closure, what happens to the students’ education? Since the governor’s executive order, it has been our priority to ensure that our students continue to receive meals and we provide an opportunity for the continuity of academic engagement.


The order was issued on March 14th, but thanks to the prior planning of our Child Nutrition Director, Robert Parker and his dedicated Child Nutrition staff, we were able to provide meals for students on Monday, March 16th. We have continued providing meals by using our traditional high schools as pick up sites and by utilizing our buses and drivers to transport meals to those who are unable to get to the sites.  A new online form to preorder meals and get on the additional delivery routes and locations has rolled out.  We encourage anyone who has children 18 or younger and cannot get to the sites to contact their school, leave their contact information, and we will be in touch.


During the weekend of the closure, our senior leadership team met along with several of our directors and developed a plan to provide instructional activities to our students. With Instructional Technology Director and NC Instructional Technology Director of the Year, Acacia Dixon leading the charge, nearly 4,000 digital devices were checked out to students who needed them in order to participate in remote learning activities. This was done by March 16th.


Our teachers, who have been phenomenal during this time, quickly sprang into action to do what they know better than anyone else--teach. This is not to say that it has been easy for them. They are trained to teach. They know how to do that. But what can be difficult is being away from the children they see each day. Our teachers build bonds with students that last a lifetime and to be abruptly pulled away from them is something none of us are accustomed to.


I said in a video with Board Chair, Ellen Milligan, that each day during this time is like taking a step in the dark. It really is. Each decision may or may not be the right one, but understand that every decision is made with guidance from the state and with our students and staff in mind. We are all in the same boat now. This pandemic spans across color lines, political parties, socioeconomic levels and geographic locations. We have much to be thankful for. Just like any other organization during this time, we are struggling. It is my responsibility to ensure that we struggle well.