Tim Waller from Greenville County Schools on Where Things Stand and What Keeps Him Up at Night

  • By cvbizz
  • August 7, 2020
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Melissa Milligan

If you haven’t agreed with many of the decisions Greenville County School System is having to make in recent days, you are among a huge number these days.  From masks to no masks, bus occupancy, sports, and learning formats there is much to be desired and much debate over how these areas are being developed in recent weeks.  However, one thing that we can agree on is most likely the one thing that is keeping GCS leadership up at night.  Tim Waller, GCS spokesman explains, “The only thing that is keeping us up at night is that we know that no matter what we do it is impossible to keep teachers and students 100% safe.” No matter what preparations and precautions that are made or taken, the nature of COVID is that there will be more exposures and cases no matter how well prepared we are—it is inevitable. It is a virus. It has changed the way we do everything.

Top goal remains 100% return to school five days a week

With a goal of 100% return to school five days a week, the school system carries the burden of doing this while minimizing the risk to the health of students and staff.  In direct response to this pandemic, the virtual option was introduced for this year as well as a slow start in-person option that is directly impacted by infection rates, as to how many in-person days can be offered.  When numbers are high, contact is minimized through utilizing 100% eLearning.  When numbers are moderate to low, in-person days increase from 1 to 2 days and so forth working up to being back to “normal” school attendance.  Though these plans appear to have much fluidity and flexibility, there is still much structure for both options.  

Schedules are Fluid and Can Change

One of the unknowns with the in-person option is the communication and time between changing from 0 in-person days to 2 or more.  For the sake of planning and stability, following infection rates almost leaves you with the feeling this would be something that could change from day-to-day.  This is true to a degree.  While numbers do change daily the trend in infection rates is relatively stable.  To answer the question “When will we know if plan days will change?” the school system recently shared that there will be a 5-day notice proceeding any “amount of days” plan changes. 

Virtual Classes

About 30% of Greenville County families have chosen to take the virtual route, with an additional 1,000 students on the waiting list (due to signing up after the 7/27 cutoff date). Mr. Waller stated that “We didn’t really have an expectation as to what sign-ups would look like. It was really anyone’s guess until the final numbers came in. We were certainly pleasantly surprised at the response.”  

The parent survey that was sent out in early summer was the measuring stick used to offer a virtual format, as results showed so many families had very real concerns of in-person instruction. Any family wishing to sign up for this option now, are being added to a waitlist for this opportunity.  The sign-up cutoff date was established to allow time for the school system to adequately prepare and staff these classes.

Staffing Challenges

When it comes to staffing and the number of teachers for each school parents have been raising their voices in concern.  In a recent post, a parent stated that her specific school “lost” eight teachers.  When asked about this, Mr. Waller let me know that he has heard and understands the concern parents might have and had this to offer, “We do not have hard numbers on a per-school basis as to what the teacher numbers look like, as of yet, but I can assure you that HR is handling this.” “Losing a teacher” is in portion the terminology being used, and not necessarily accounting for the unfortunate shifting and shuffling of teachers to meet school class needs through this pandemic.  A majority of teachers that parents see as being “lost” to a school this year are not truly a loss, but a reassigning.  As we move closer to the start of school and needs are being worked out by human resources, teachers are having to be a little more flexible regarding what their “classroom role” might look like this year.

Here’s the Positives

As we continue to focus on the education and well-being of Greenville County children, we can focus on a few positives. The first positive being that the school system has managed to track down all but 54 children that lost contact or were out of communication with their schools at the closing of schools last spring.  That is for the entire Greenville County School System!

Ken Arnold, GCS Director of Attendance, social workers, and child services have been instrumental in coordinating their efforts to follow up on students and families that were essentially MIA through the eLearning experience.  “That is .0007 (seven hundredths) of a percent of the total student population,” Tim Waller confirmed, that is left to connect with to get all students back on track. While it was unfortunate that any families fell out of contact with their schools, this is a huge accomplishment in such an unprecedented time.    

Sports are Resuming

Another plus that students and families were excited to see this week was the announcement that sports have the opportunity to resume (to a degree within guidelines), come Monday 8/10

Teacher Assignments Next Week

Things to look forward to in the coming week are teacher assignments and class supply lists!  Don’t forget to add masks to your in-person learning options! 

Here is to the first steps towards “normal” and making the best of this Stephen King world we are living in. It’s almost back to school time y’all!

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