JASPER, Ga. – On tour through several schools in North Georgia, the State Superintendent Richard Woods visited Tate Elementary last week to tour the school and speak with administrators on the beginning of the new school term considering much of the changes and challenges this year.
During the visit, Woods got to see the school system during lunch and view many of the social distancing and new practices in place. Students sitting only on one side of the lunchroom table and empty tables in between those in use.
Woods spoke on some of the differences between the school systems inside of the Metro-Atlanta area and those outside of it. For example, inside the metro-area, many more are virtual and digital learning while the outside area is seeing closer to, on average, 70 percent of students in school with the other 30 percent on digital. However, he clarified that these were his understanding and not firm numbers. Woods also noted that each county is handling things in its own way and are showing different things and coming up with ideas on handling the situation.
Teachers and administrators of Tate Elementary told Woods that they were similar to that, with 75 percent in school and 25 percent through virtual. Woods discussed ideas on mask usage, the governor’s suggestions, transportation, food preparation, and student safety in the new return to class for student.
The school system has been work with Georgia’s DPH (Department of Public Health) through outbreaks and return to sports. Yet, as he was present during lunch time, a lot of the discussion focused on the students food prep and nutrition in school.
Planning has been key for food preparation in Tate Elementary as they spoke on individual wrapping and containers, separation and limitation on contact is only part of the steps taken to improve food safety and student safety in response to the virus. Nutrition Services has also seen complaints and issue in students selections and offerings, with servings prepared and put into containers or wrappers, students not seeing the food before selection.
While not a major issue, it is just an example of many of the changes that have come to schools in response to media coverage and social push for responses to the virus.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend said that flexibility helps in the school systems. Woods asked how he could help local schools in their issues from the capital and from his position. Administrators said that continued flexibility would improve their efforts.
Woods agreed saying that as he has toured other schools, one of the main things he has learned is that Pickens schools and their program will look very different from other counties. Individual responses and individual programs need the support for their individual responses in addition to state guidelines.
Another point that administrators brought up is that Pickens Schools may use many things in the future that they used this year in their viral response. One such example came with staggered start for some grade levels at Tate Elementary. The opening day was a huge success according to Tate Elementary Administrators, but Woods said many schools across the state are saying the same thing, that this has been one of their best starts in years. Local teachers also noted that the most important thing was to get started, to get the students back with their teachers and back to education.
Woods agreed saying that he felt much of the importance in the year is getting started, gaining momentum. He offered his continued support to Pickens saying he wants to know what the challenges are for local schools and those on both the urban and metro area and the rural and outside of the metro areas.