K-12 Education FAQ
Q: While we are awaiting guidance on final decisions of whether schools will be open in the fall, can each of you talk about how this decision might be made?
A: This is a collaborative effort. At the state-level, there is a task force at the state level that includes the Virginia Departments of Education and Health, as well as the governor’s team. The work of the Reopening Task Force helps guide our future plans. Superintendents speak with the Task Force multiple times each week to convey the needs of our school divisions.
We have been working on plans with our own task force groups in the New River Valley so that we are ready when announcements from the governor are made.
Q: How have you been working with local agencies and the health department as you respond to COVID-19 concerns?
A: We are fortunate to be able to work with our local government leaders and Dr. Bissell from the New River Health District, making sure that we meet community needs during this trying time. Collaboration has been crucial in every step of this process—teachers with parents and students, administrators with one another. We recognize that schools act as a hub for safety and shelter and where food may come from. Helping our families became a complete community effort in the New River Valley.
Q: Can you all talk about some of the positives you’ve observed with communities supporting the schools during this time?
A: An example of this was Montgomery County’s four high schools’ social distancing graduation. The Town of Christiansburg provided a stage for the “drive-up” ceremony; all law enforcement agencies located in the county (Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Sheriff’s Office, Virginia Tech) assisted with directing 1,300 vehicles though the event. Virginia Tech also allowed MCPS to use a large commuter parking lot for graduation.
In Pulaski County, our community really stepped up to help feed our families with an increase in backpack and food pantry offerings, particularly at a time of so much uncertainty. Additionally, for our graduates, the community has done so much for Senior Week and those missing out on their typical rites of passage.
In Floyd County, our graduation culminated in many events, including Adopt-A-Senior with our school staff—sending letters of encouragement and gifts. We have yard signs to recognize our graduates and have also recognized them on social media. Teachers drove through the area with celebratory noise-makers, etc. and parents arranged a parade through town! Businesses also had signs on their buildings to support the students.
To support our students in Radford, we had yard signs, t-shirts with their accomplishments, senior banners through town, and companies are providing breakfasts. Businesses have donated to help us have a professional live stream of our graduation. We’ve been touched by how much our community has done for this group of students.
Q: What steps have schools taken to protect themselves, employees and others right now?
A: Throughout our schools, we made sure to sanitize both our buildings and buses, an integral component in providing meals to our families. (Hundreds of thousands of meals were provided during the period schools were closed.)
In addition, we practiced social distancing to keep everyone safe. As students learned at a distance, teachers and staff worked from home, and we also implemented rotational schedules.
We anticipate CDC guidance to help with understanding the stipulations for when we open. We know this will have an impact on what instruction will look like in the future.
Q: How did you work to ensure that you were meeting the needs of all students during the remote learning period?
A: We’ve learned a lot of lessons. One of our biggest concerns with the online platform was meeting the needs of our special needs kids. Our teachers are doing their best to continue to meet the students’ needs. We do understand that we need to do some different things for our students with disabilities in order to make sure they have what they need to learn. Our dedicated teachers will continue working with each child individually to meet their needs and help them learn the best they can with the available resources.
Q: We can all appreciate as superintendents your first focus is on education. Outside looking in, it appeared the roles of our school systems changed somewhat throughout the pandemic. Can you all speak to the shift in roles to support community needs?
A: We all transitioned from an educational institution to a “Meals on Wheels” in the course of a weekend. That’s one big and immediate change we faced in March. We shift and adapt to meet the needs of our community every day whether kids are in the school building or not. Our staff continues to meet the needs of our students where they are. No matter the circumstance, the primary focus is caring for every child and every family. We all want to serve our community and to keep our staff safe. We will remain flexible and continue to move forward in an effort to make a positive impact on the lives of our children.
Q: What information do you want families to keep in mind through the summer months as they prepare for the fall?
A: We are hoping that the community will accept now that the beginning of next school year will not be a traditional beginning to the school year. The delivery of educational services has likely changed forever. Technology will be used more and more. Families need to understand that the most important thing is to stay engaged with your children at this time. Once we know the guidelines we have to follow, the next school year will look different. However, the next school year is going to be adaptable to each individual. We need to keep in mind that education is going to happen no matter how it is structured. We are going to put a plan into effect that will help recover knowledge, as well as advance the knowledge of our children. Also, we want our communities to know that we want to get the children back in our schools. Please continue to be positive and flexible with us as we await the guidelines for reopening our schools.
Q: Will students be able to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities starting the fall?
A: We have some concerns that some of our neighboring states that have opened up around us will pull some of our student athletes, which will impact our enrollments. The primary goal is to keep the students safe and adhere to the guidelines outlined by the Governor. It is likely that there may not be fall sports. One option being considered is to do all sports in the spring. It won’t look like it has in the past, but the conversations are happening now to make sure that we address this in a safe way.
Q: If someone has a concern about school operations in their community, who should they contact?
A: Contact the school board offices with any concerns you may have. If we don’t know the answer, we know who to contact to get the answer.
Floyd County Public Schools: John Wheeler, 540-745-9400, firstname.lastname@example.org
Montgomery County Public Schools: Mark Miear, 540-382-5100, email@example.com
Pulaski County Public Schools: Kevin Siers, 540-994-2550, firstname.lastname@example.org
Radford City Public Schools: Robert Graham, 540-731-3647, email@example.com
Q: Some have expressed concern about the potential need to adjust their home schedules based on the school schedule. How do you anticipate communicating information about the return to school?
A: As soon as we receive guidance from the Governor, we will communicate plans for the fall with our students and our community. We will also be contacting all of our stakeholders in an effort to receive and evaluate feedback related to the reopening plans.