The Transylvania Times -

Learning Never Stops For School System -Brevard NC

 

Last updated 3/25/2020 at 4:48pm

Dr. Jeff McDaris

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Words like "uncertain future" and "uncharted waters" are being used to describe the current public health crisis, unlike anything virtually anyone alive has ever experienced, according to a press release from the school system.

The challenge currently facing schools also speaks directly to what Superintendent of Schools Jeff McDaris and fellow educators have sworn to uphold: "Learning never stops, and it never should."

Educators, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, support staff and administrators succeed based on rigorous daily planning, the release said.

They offer students a haven of belonging, structure and consistency.

All those external factors have changed due to the coronavirus outbreak and the recent executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper to close schools at least through May 15.

The sworn commitment of every educator persists, the release said.

"We believe learning is critical regardless of the situation," McDaris said. "I give credit to our team of educators. They have turned each challenge into an opportunity to ensure that learning continues for our children."

McDaris tallied the results at Transylvania County Schools from March 16, when schools first closed by executive order, through the end of this week.

Hundreds of staff will have served over 10,000 meals, delivered 3,000 learning packets and conducted blended learning with 3,400 students, including 1,900 middle and high schoolers on Chrome-books.

"Our educators are incredibly bright and innovative, and doing all this highlights the value we place on students' futures," he said. "We are all committed to being the best place for students and families to turn for educational choice and opportunity."

Yearly closures for weather, less frequently for sickness, have accustomed schools and families to a couple days or a whole week out of school.

McDaris admits no one could really have anticipated something this dramatic happening in our lifetimes. The challenge reveals the high return on preparation and flexibility.

"Challenges confront our community and cause temporary disruptions and absences," he said. "We never foresaw something so intensively and completely shutting down our society, and moving schooling in this new direction so rapidly is not something every system has been ready to embrace."

McDaris takes pride in the efforts of pioneering teachers and technology specialists over the past five years to develop Virtual Days for Transylvania County Schools, the only school system in North Carolina to treat days out of school as instructional days prior to the outbreak.

"We are ready for this thanks to the work of a lot of great people," he said. "Our families and staff know the territory. Yet, the more you learn, the more you also realize what you don't know. We have just scratched the surface, and we are still learning right alongside those who are building from the ground up."

While many activities in society are being minimized to slow the spread of disease, McDaris noted that the school system is being mobilized internally to make learning possible within a new framework of social distancing

"We take a whole district approach," he said. "We always maintain our three primary functions, to ensure students are safe, and feel loved and cared for.

"Only then can we educate, and we are faithfully doing all three in spite of this massive challenge."

Feeding students takes a large portion of school system resources every day.

While teachers stay home, making children's meals available has changed to a summer-style program, while core educators work with families to keep them connected to vital resources.

"Adequate food continues to be a challenge for many in our community, even on the best of days," said McDaris. "We work hard on our end to address this continual need, and we are not alone.

"Along with our heroes in School Nutrition, we appreciate those who support families and join the effort, because no one wants a child to be hungry."

Area eligibility from the US Department of Agriculture enables the district's cafeteria program to serve all children age 18 and under, regardless of enrollment.

Donors have added valuable help to extend those efforts.

"We have jumped on this immediate need, refining and expanding efforts to deliver more food where it is needed," he said. "Thank you sincerely to all those who have helped to make this possible."

The overall response to this unforeseeable change has been very positive, though students also sense that this time, things are different.

"Our educators and families have been impressive, truly awesome," according to McDaris. "Teachers care about students, first and foremost. Before anything else, they want students to succeed and build a strong foundation for the next steps in their lives, whatever that may be.

"Everyone is working tirelessly to ensure that students can work without interruption, enriching their knowledge base. And we know students will ultimately respond out of their own desire to grow and improve."

Unlike traditional classroom instruction everyone has come to expect, a blended approach may be the best product of this temporary challenge and shift of focus.

"What we see right now is an extension of all we have built through strong relationships, a strong foundation of knowledge, and the art and craft of teaching," McDaris said. "We will continue to evolve to meet the challenge of all three of those basic needs – safety, care and learning, in that order."

One positive outcome McDaris sees across the school system is having time and an expectation for educators to reach out to families.

Making a personal connection as often as possible helps to ensure that the needs of children are being met.

"Personal contacts are important, increasingly so, and calls home are a mainstay," he said. "Video chatting is obviously a new and expanding tool. Counselors are reaching out to students and families, both online and at social distance, to provide support and connection."

Even in the wide arena of exceptional children, covering everything from severe and profound disability to gifted programs, he sees engagement and growth opportunities emerging to make sure families continue being served.

"We have to maintain as much of that service as possible," said McDaris, "because these educators are those who know and love these children, building those relationships every day."

Though schools appear quiet from the outside, challenges continue to mount while staffing levels remain uncertain.

Cybersecurity has been a headline item for school systems, he noted, while a skeleton crew continues to work onsite, including technology specialists. School systems are confronting new and escalated challenges, while at the same time reviewing scenarios where buildings may be used for emergency management in the community.

"We never for a minute forget that our schools serve the public in ways known and unknown," he said. "We train for this challenge every day, and we are grateful for the support and encouragement of our community as we take on this new direction together."

 
 

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