Classes Resume August 17

Almost 3,400 Set to Return to Weakley County Classrooms Monday
Posted on 08/14/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Almost 3,400 Set to Return to Weakley County Classrooms MondayWhen doors at all ten Weakley County campuses open on Monday, 3,381 students are expected to enter -- masked, temperature checked and socially distanced. Another 414 students have opted for Monitored Distance Education (MDE), an online curriculum offered by the county.

“We are 190 students short of our anticipated enrollment,” noted Director Randy Frazier. “We will be dedicating the next several days to contacting families who have not yet notified us of their intentions.”

Krystle Smith, literacy leader at Martin Middle, was tapped to direct the MDE program. She will be working with teachers assigned from each school who will serve as monitors for attendance, recording grades, and offering feedback for the off-site students.

Betsi Foster, director of Federal Programs for the district, has spent the past week ensuring that students whose families met the August 10 deadline were enrolled in the appropriate classes and that teachers were trained for their roles in MDE.

MDE students can anticipate contact no later than Wednesday, August 19.

At least 160 of the MDE students will require a Weakley County Schools laptop to complete the daily assignments on the personalized learning platform. Those computers will be taken from the 1,000 computers currently assigned to campuses. The remaining computers will be used to help train 6th-12th grade students in the traditional setting on the Google Classrooms program that will be used if schools are forced to close again. Kindergarten through 5th grade students will use a specially created tool kit of lessons and resources should schools move to remote learning.

“We are taking every safety precaution we can when in-person classes begin on Monday,” said Frazier. “Our administrators, faculty and staff are ready to see our students, check on their well-being, and get this year started. And we will do so with masks on, temperatures checked, and maintaining that six feet of distance wherever and whenever possible.”

Frazier acknowledges that the county has faced several challenges in preparing for reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those challenges are frequent changes to guidelines received from state and national sources, recruiting substitute teachers to fill in for educators who may be in isolation or quarantine, and delays in receiving education-focused, durable computers ordered for middle and high school students.

Mark Maddox, the technology coordinator for the district, shared details related to the computer order in an email that went out to teachers on Wednesday. “A component of the Lenovo model we ordered is made by a Chinese company that has been accused of using forced labor,” he wrote. “The United States Chamber of Commerce has sanctioned this Chinese company. Out of an abundance of caution our manufacturer, Lenovo, decided it would be best for them not to ship computers with this component to United States customers until they could get the component made by a company without these allegations.”

He added that Lenovo is gearing up their own factory in order to meet the need of thousands of schools nationwide facing the same situation as Weakley County. However, the latest communication from Lenovo verified a late-November to mid-December arrival date. With that word, Weakley County Schools made the decision to order a different model that could be delivered at an earlier date.

“We expect those computers to ship toward the end of this month and to be in our hands sometime mid- to late-September,” Maddox concluded.

To complete the Continuous Learning Plan required by the state in response to COVID-19, on Monday, students will receive a detailed questionnaire regarding computer devices and internet access in their homes. Kindergarten through 5th grade will take the questionnaires home and families are asked to return the completed form by Tuesday, August 18. Middle and high school students will complete the form and turn it in immediately. Questions include whether families have phones, tablets, laptops or desktops, if those devices have cameras for face-to-face interactions, and what level of reliable access they have from their homes. The data will be compiled on Wednesday and a map of needed hotspots created.

“Once we get this fuller picture of the county, we will be able to be more specific regarding plans should we need to go to remote learning,” said Frazier. “We believe in person instruction is the most effective means of learning but if a significant number of our teachers are in quarantine, for instance, we would have to close. Gathering this information and having those computers arrive in September will help us provide the best experience for our students should another closure be necessary.”

Anyone interested in applying to become a substitute teacher may call 731-364-2247 for more information.