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Russell County schools start online

By Drew Bergman

Today students across Russell County schools will sign on and sign into their classrooms from homes and churches and parking lots across the county. Educators, staff, and administrators have been working throughout the summer to will this new paradigm into reality as nationally the United States continues to struggle to contain the novel coronavirus.

Russell County Schools superintendent Michael Ford spoke about the successes and setbacks of the summer and how the district continues to adapt to meet the needs of students and families. Through all of the challenges behind and the ones yet to come, the superintendent stressed the need for open communication between parents and educators.

“At any time throughout the day we encourage parents to ask questions, to email just like they would in a normal school year,” Superintendent Ford said. “That’s one thing we’ve got to have our families and our parents help us with. We are still here. We still have to have an open line of communication.

“If a child is sick, or they are about to have surgery somebody usually tells the teacher that and we make provisions for that. We still want and need to know that information. If there’s a death in the family we want and need to know that information. Maybe the child is struggling with that death. The guidance counselor can do a private one-on-one counseling with the child or refer them to one of the mental health agencies we work with.

“If there’s an issue with the family and they need assistance from the family resource center, our family service and youth resource center is there. It’s so important that our parents realize that all of these services of the school system have always worked to connect families and children to what they need. Parents and guardians have to know to communicate with us.”

While the schools are online and the school day will be accessed remotely, the school day schedule will be as it was in the past. Teachers will be implementing lesson plans and assignments and parents are encouraged to stay in contact and engaged in their children’s education.

“Between 7:30 and 3:30 teachers are going to be ready for instruction, just like they would be normally. However, live instruction may not begin at a particular school until 8:00 because the first 30 minutes would be a planning period or a time for teachers and principals to meet just like how they would in a regular school year,” the superintendent said.

“The schedule is so important because we will have the opportunity to have students sign into their particular class schedule. If they can’t there will be instructions from the teacher and the lessons will be recorded and available online for when the students can get online.

“Live direct instruction is going to be recorded and posted in each teacher’s Google Classroom. I had a parent email me today to tell me that their child had a dentist appointment on the first day of school, and that’s fine. They will still be able to see everything that their teachers have said or done.

“There will be instances where children are on a trip or have a doctor’s appointment or are sick or maybe with their grandparents for the day and their grandparents don’t have internet. All that instruction is still there. The good part is that now if a student misses something the teacher said they can review it.”

Parents have worried about the difficulties teachers would potentially face having to directly interact with all of their students throughout every minute of the day, but those concerns aren’t necessarily reflective of what is involved in the school day, online or in-person.

“In a traditional classroom the teacher is not up in front lecturing the entire time with instruction. There are small group classes and exercises, there are independent classes and different arrangements,” Ford said. “Teachers will be available throughout the school day. Students can message them to ask questions. Parents can email and ask questions.

“Inevitably there will be students who forget their login and that will be okay. We have two numbers available to call. Between four and six it is (270) 566-4503 and they can call (270) 566-4504 from six to eight.”

Also coming soon will be the return of after school tutoring, which will be available online.

A large part of the school district’s work lately has been reaching out to parents and attempting to overcome the material technological deficiencies at home and within the school’s plans. As was reported last week, despite Russell County Schools getting their Chromebook order placed all the way back in June, the early shutdown of factories coupled with the unprecedented need for the devices across the nation has produced a backlog of orders. The district has responded by sending out every device it can spare–including school desktops– to make sure that every child has access.

“Hats off to our faculty, staff, and administration. They have worked so hard. The board had the foresight to approve the position of the digital learning coach and that individual has been instrumental in making all of this work. Our biggest obstacle right now is coordinating and working with our families that do not have a device or do not have internet or may have difficulty in getting to a hotspot.

“Our teachers have been calling their students either in their homeroom or first period class and talking to them about those issues. As everyone knows we do not have our Chromebooks in yet. We’re asking families if they have any device–a laptop, a tablet, a desktop computer, an iPad, even their smartphones–if they have any of those things and they can share them between the siblings.

“The biggest hurdle is just working through the logistics of that.”

Russell County schools have continued to pull in their resources to meet the needs of their students and families and clearly communicate what is required to make this school year happen.

“Our digital learning coach Mr. Chris Godby has developed a short video instructing students and parents on how to get onto Google Classrooms and make sure they’re using their school-issued email for signing in. That’s available on the website and our social media. We’ve also uploaded a very simple PowerPoint that guides them through the process.”

Without students physically in the schools, telecommunication between families and the schools will be more important than ever.  “We really need parents to make sure that parents have accurate, working phone numbers and email addresses on file with us. [As of Thursday] there are still several hundred students that we have not been able to contact this summer because we do not have working numbers. We need that even when we have in-person classes.”

Among the features available on Google Classrooms is a weekly summary report for parents to help them track their child(ren)’s progress and having accurate parent emails is a must for that system to work.

As the days go on, parents and schools will be able to communicate better and more fluidly with each other, but the schools are still working to make the transition as smooth as possible in the meantime.

“August the 26th is not going to be as good as September the 2nd and September the 2nd is not going to be as good as September the 9th because our teachers will be better acclimated and our students will be better adapted. It’s patience and grace and mercy that I’m asking for with the community.

“The families that we’ve not been able to reach are going to have a delay in getting the devices and making sure the families have the devices they need. If someone is reading this article and has not talked to the school, please reach out to the Board of Education and we will help you.”

Whatever shortfalls befall the start of school, Superintendent Ford is confident they will be overcome thanks to the work of the people in the district. “I cannot put enough praise on the faculty staff and administration of Russell County Schools for what we have planned and done and accomplished in this short amount of time.”

Some of that missing contact information has been recovered through the drive-through registration the schools have had set out the past week at each of their campuses. To help facilitate registration packet pickups, including new and updated contact information, Russell County Schools sent seven teams of bus drivers out throughout the county last Friday afternoon for people that were unable to get to the schools.

Anyone with a child in Russell County Schools who has not been in contact with the district can reach them by phone at (270) 343-3191.

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