Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kingsport City Schools and other public K-12 operations and most all schools in Tennessee ended in-person classes in mid-March, and the KCS 2019-20 school year ended virtually in mid-May.
Speaking near the end of the Board of Education’s regular meeting Tuesday evening, Moorhouse made the announcement that the school calendar would remain as originally scheduled for the 2020-21 school year. He said the resumption of in-person learning will follow state guidelines as well as those of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department and other health authorities.
“We’re excited to welcome students back Aug. 3. I know thing will look different,” Moorhouse said during the meeting, held virtually via Zoom. “We’re going to have all our students back Aug. 3.”
Board President Carrie Upshaw said that was the top question the public has been asking school board members.
“Now I can just tell people we’ll know more after July 4th,” Upshaw said.
WHAT IF STUDENTS ARE BEHIND AFTER PANDEMIC?
Moorhouse said that the school system is working to help students do any needed catch-up learning. Under Tennessee Department of Education rules, student grades were frozen as of March 20 and could not go down, although students could do work to increase their grades.
The system will be “ready to learn where kids are when we get back,” citing a 2011 New Zealand earthquake that ended instruction for more than two months but had a minimal long-term impact on learning, according to an analysis of that return to school.
Standardized testing and other mandatory things, such as passing the civics exam to graduate, were waived for the Class of 2020 across Tennessee..
LOCAL AND STATEWIDE SURVEYS REFERENCED
Moorhouse said a KCS survey, which got a response from 153 teachers, found about 70% of teachers said their online experience overall was satisfactory to very good and that 40% felt their technology skills grew.
In addition, he said teachers found 81% found students at least somewhat responsive and that 30% said students were persistent to the end, something he said was understandable because grades were frozen by the state.
As for positives, he said the free meal distribution of more than 315,000 meals at drive-through and bus deliveries was a high point, as were communications through email, mail, student resource officers visiting homes when needed, drive-by fifth-grade promotion ceremonies, which he said may continue after this pandemic is in the history books.
He said teachers found Zoom, Canvas, Google Meet and other online programs helpful. He said issues that need to be addressed include defining what the optimal online instructional/learning day is for teachers and students, the need for social and emotional learning online and the possible expansion of 1:1 student-to-take-home device ratios from grades 6-12 to grades 3-12, as well as looking at the cost and practicality of using hotspots to provide Wi-Fi to roughly 20% of student homes without it.
He also cited a 15-page state teacher survey that found the top four concerns were access of student to meals and other support, internet access, more guidance and resources for remote learning and ways to increase student engagement.
IN OTHER ACTION:
In 5-0 votes, the board voted to elect newest board members Jim Welch president and Julie Byers vice president for one-year terms to start July 1 and to award a low bid of $1.35 million to Gordon Food Services for the School Nutrition Services grocery and beverages for 2020-21.
In addition, the board approved housekeeping policy changes on insurance management, teacher tenure and employee background checks in a 4-0 vote with Byers not voting because of a technical glitch with the online meeting.