New Carteret County superintendent talks challenging school opening

New Carteret County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson is on the job and working with administrators and staff to prepare for the opening of the 2020-21 academic year, despite the challenges of the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — As Carteret County Schools prepare for what is still an uncertain opening due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many of the decisions fall on the shoulders of new school system Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson.

The former superintendent of the Edenton-Chowan school system began his new position with the Carteret County public school system July 1.

A native of North Carolina, Dr. Jackson has been in public education more than 25 years in the state, including serving six years as a superintendent.

During an interview Thursday, he admitted he had not planned on starting his new job in such a challenging time, but believed he, the administration and staff were up to the challenge.

“This is unlike anything educators, or anyone, has been through in our lifetime. I am so honored to work with such a dedicated group of teachers and principals,” he said. “Working with this staff has already been phenomenal as we work on plans for opening schools. The passion they have for the students and this community is wonderful.”

As school districts wait for Gov. Roy Cooper to make a final decision on how schools can open Monday, Aug. 17, Dr. Jackson and his staff are working on three possible scenarios for opening.

Dr. Jackson said the governor may make the announcement Friday as to which option schools can use, but he’s not sure that will happen and he wants to make sure personnel can quickly spring into action, whichever plan is selected. Dr. Jackson wants to have the school system’s final reopening plans ready by Thursday, July 30.

“I know teachers, parents and students want to be in school, and I want them there, too,” he said. “The relationships teachers develop with students in the classroom are one of the most important things they do. If we do have to start online, it will be more difficult for teachers and students because they will not have developed that relationship traditionally started in the classroom. Above all else, however, is the safety of our students and staff.”

As directed by Gov. Cooper and the State Board of Education, school districts have been asked to prepare plans for three scenarios.  The three options include Plan A, in which all students will be present at school with social distancing precautions in place. Plan B would involve 50% or less of the student body present with social distancing precautions. Plan C is based on all students participating in remote learning.

Districts are supposed to submit plans to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction this week on how they would execute their plans.

Dr. Jackson has created school committees to work on reopening plans based on seven key areas he wants to see addressed, including student/staff health and well-being, instructional delivery and curriculum, athletics and extracurricular activities, transportation, facility maintenance, child nutrition and communication and stakeholder engagement.

Principals chair the seven committees, which also include teachers, assistant principals, custodians, cafeteria managers, school nurses and others.

Dr. Jackson admitted there are many details to be worked out under all three plans to make sure students and staff are safe.

“Will we allow visitors in schools? Will we have additional personnel on school buses to check students’ temperatures when they get on the bus? How do we ensure students are socially distanced when they walk down halls? There are many things we are looking at to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” he said.

In addition, protocols must be developed in the event a student or staff member becomes sick at school.

Plus, Dr. Jackson is focused on what happens once schools are open.

“I want our plans to be designed so we can move seamlessly from one plan to another as things change throughout the year,” he said.

The school system has begun receiving personal protective equipment and other safety supplies in preparation for the opening of the year. The district has received thermometers, surgical masks, face shields and disposable gowns from the state thus far. Dr. Jackson said the school system has also ordered thermal temperature detection units for schools.

In addition, the school system has ordered 47,000 cloth face coverings for students and staff, 50,000 pairs of disposable gloves, 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and 10,000 bottles of disinfectant.

Funds for the equipment is coming through a partnership with Carteret County Commissioners, Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We are very grateful for the support we’ve received from the state and federal government,” he said. “I’ve also met with the county manager and assistant county manager and they said to let them know how they can help.”

With the numerous safety protocols and equipment, Dr. Jackson said he plans to hold training for staff to ensure there are a number of school personnel ready to assist with the various safety duties once schools open.

He also wants to provide technology training for parents, who will be working with their children at home during remote learning days. The state has required the school calendar contain five remote learning days, regardless of which plan is chosen for school operation. That training will be more imperative if schools open with remote learning only.

“We’re planning to create teaching videos for parents to assist them when they need to help their students at home,” the superintendent said.

While he’s focused on getting schools opened, Dr. Jackson and his wife Rene, a former school teacher, have found a home to rent in Beaufort while they begin their search in the county for their “forever home,” he said.

The Jackson’s have four children, Dennis, a graduate of N.C. State University; Joshua, a graduate of Auburn University; Madelyn, a graduate of Florida State University; and Elijah, who just graduated from the University of Tennessee.


Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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