As the second week of classes wrap up in Greenville County, we wanted to check in with school spokesman, Tim Waller, and get his impressions on how things stand.
What was the biggest surprise of the first 2 weeks?
I think the biggest surprise is how remarkably well everything has gone. From the very first day, students have worn their masks and have maintained a safe social distance without complaint. And despite the uncertainty and gloominess surrounding COVID-19, both students and teachers have truly been happy to reunite for the new school year. Parents have also been extremely supportive.
I know there were some technology issues. Have they been cleared up and how did teachers modify and adjust their agendas/schedules to accommodate these issues?
The first few days of school were a challenge technologically-speaking. Some students had trouble logging into their Chromebooks. Many others had difficulty with Google Classroom and Google Meet which were overwhelmed by the heavier-than-normal traffic. On the first day of school, our help desk received nearly 5,000 calls. By the second day that number dropped to just over a thousand. By the third day, there were approximately 400 calls, which indicate we have gotten most issues under control. We’ve asked students and parents to be patient because never before in the history of Greenville County Schools have this many students been taught remotely.
What has been the feedback so far from parents regarding Virtual Learning? Are the students given breaks during the day to simulate class changes, etc?
Reviews from parents have been mostly positive, even though families are still adjusting to this “new normal” if you will. We’ve known from the start that some students do better in a virtual learning environment than others, so it’s hard to make a blanket statement on how parents feel about this. We are certainly proud of the curriculum we’ve put together which includes live classroom instruction, new course content and yes, built-in breaks throughout the day. Despite the push by some parents to have kids go back to the classroom as soon as possible, most of our Virtual Program students have reservations about that and are happy to learn remotely until we see how COVID-19 plays out.
What has been the feedback so far from parents regarding the flex scheduling? As a working parent, I know this has to be incredibly challenging.
Flex scheduling is a HUGE frustration for working parents. We’ve known this from the start and it’s why we’re committed to resuming five-day-a-week in-person classes as soon as it’s safe to do so. Evidence of that is how we plan to switch to two days of in-person attendance instead of one day starting Tuesday, Sept. 8. Barring a sudden spike in the COVID-19 spread-rate, it’s possible we would switch to five-day attendance before the end of the year, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Mental health: How has/is the role of in school counseling playing into this and how are they able to provide services?
Mental health counseling plays a huge role in schools, especially now. We have included messaging in our online curriculum reminding students they are not alone and that it’s natural to feel isolated during these unusual times. Students are frequently reminded that they can schedule a virtual meeting with their guidance counselor. Additionally, our counselors have the ability to join virtual classroom sessions to observe. Our biggest concern are those students we can’t put eyes on during COVID-19. Because of that, counselors must be more proactive than ever.
Supt. Molly Spearman is urging school districts to offer more face-to-face instruction. What are your feelings on this and are Greenville County Schools in a position to consider more face-to-face instruction at this time?
We agree with Ms. Spearman that the more face-to-face instruction we can offer, the better. It’s what our teachers are trained for and what we’re set up to do. But our back-to-school plan which was enthusiastically approved by the state Department of Education provides a careful approach to reopening schools. We believe it’s better to dip your toe in the water than to dive in head first not knowing what will happen. Already, we’re seeing colleges being forced to send students home because of sudden increases in coronavirus cases. As the state’s largest school district with nearly 77,000 students, safety must be our first priority.
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