Reflections on an Unprecedented School Year
Last Friday, June 4th was the final day of the 2020-21 school year for Franklin County Schools’ students. I’ve been in public education in North Carolina for 28 years now, and each one has been different. But I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that 2020-21 has been unprecedented for our district, and for districts across the state and nation. When Covid-19 emerged last spring, the original plan at the state level was that we would be sent home for two weeks. At the time, my gut said that this was going to be a much larger, more long term challenge for our schools. I had no way of knowing, however, that 16 months later we would be where we are. As a district, Franklin County Schools serves approximately 8,000 students PreK- 12th grade, and as the largest employer in the county we have a workforce of around 1100 individuals, with jobs ranging from bus drivers, to child nutrition workers, to teachers, to nurses, to social workers and counselors, to administration and office support staff. Reflection is a natural part of wrapping up the school year, and this one has been no different for our team. But the takeaways this year have also been unprecedented, and are worth sharing.
Here are a few of them:
We have shifted gears on multiple occasions to educate our students while aligning with Covid-19 related state requirements and restrictions. This began with learning packets last spring, and shifted to virtual learning in Fall, followed by a hybrid of face-to-face and virtual, and most recently the opportunity for either face-to-face instruction four days weekly or entirely virtual learning based upon family preference.
We have outfitted every student in Franklin County, PreK-12, with either a chromebook or tablet for school use. We planned ahead on this, allowing us to distribute devices to all families prior to the start of the school year. Last spring we provided Wifi access points in our school parking lots and on Wifi buses stationed around the county. By early Fall 2020, and in partnership with the United Way and Novozymes, we purchased and distributed Wifi hotspots to our families in need of internet access. To date, we have distributed over 800 hotspots. These devices and hotspots allowed us to provide daily, real-time (synchronous) instruction even in a remote environment from the very first day of the 2020-21 school year.
We utilized surplus furniture to provide students in need of desks for at-home learning environments, with assistance from the United Way. While several districts across our region were still working from home, our staff has been on site consistently since last July, with the exception of the week after winter break when concerns emerged about viral spread and ability to effectively staff. This has allowed our schools to continue to serve as physical hubs for teaching and learning and as a resource to our larger community. Since March of 2020, we have provided almost 1.5 million meals to children throughout Franklin County. We have offered our families a choice for virtual learning next year through a “Virtual Academy.”
We are thrilled that the overwhelming majority of our families are electing to come back for face-to-face learning. We have much work to do next year as the overwhelming majority of our students are back in the classroom. They will have a variety of needs to be met, and lots of opportunities for academic, social and emotional growth. Our staff is up to the challenge. They have demonstrated adaptability and flexibility under unprecedented circumstances this year, with an unrelenting focus on meeting the needs of each and every student in their care. Our families have been great partners along the way. They have been patient with us as we have navigated the changes that have come with COVID-19, including several different ways that we have offered instruction. I am excited for what the future holds for Franklin County Schools, and I look forward to a year that is normal 2.0- a better kind of normal in which we appreciate what we are gaining back while also not forgetting the lessons we’ve learned over the past year.
As always, educating the students of Franklin County is a community effort. On behalf of the Franklin County Schools Board of Education, we appreciate the support that each of you provides to ensure the success of every child in our care.
Dr. Rhonda Schuhler, Superintendent