As Carteret County high schoolers return to in-person classroom instruction this week and middle schools open next week, it is time to consider the next steps forward. The disruption of classroom participation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year requires that school boards, administrators and parents address the need for remediation and plan for permanent changes in the education environment.
In a recent county school board meeting, board member Brittany Wheatly asked county schools superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson if he is planning on providing a virtual academy for students who choose to attend remotely rather than in-person classes. Her concern is that teachers who are instructing both classroom participants and on-line participants will be stressed to provide adequate instruction in both environments. By providing a targeted remote educational system for those students opting for virtual classroom participation, Ms. Wheatly feels this will relieve stress on teachers trying to teach to two different audiences at the same time.
Dr. Jackson acknowledged Ms. Wheatly’s concern but correctly pointed out that there is insufficient time left in the school year to develop a virtual academy but that it is something he and his staff will consider. There is a little irony in this question considering the school board recently voted to shutter the Marine and Science Technology early college program (MaST) but now is interested in creating another learning opportunity that stands to be exclusive, which was one of the arguments resulting in the closure of the early college program.
But there is an even greater concern that the board, administrators and parents should consider and that is the need for aggressive remediation for those students whose academic performance declined as a result of the disruption of classroom participation brought on by the pandemic.
Although students now have more flexibility in classroom participation, predicated on both the conditions set in the classrooms and the willingness of the students to attend, this change will not correct the poor educational experience of the past two years.
A countywide assessment of public school students at all grade levels, K-12, needs to be conducted and the results shared with the public.
This assessment will give both school administrators and the public an understanding of how students are performing in relation to previous standards, and from this a template or outline can be developed to address the academic shortcomings. This template will most likely involve summer school, changes in the school calendar to include an early school starting date, tutoring programs and, as Ms. Wheatly asked, virtual learning programs. All of these will require public support and participation.
Other states are already planning on aggressive remedial action. Governors in California, Kansas and Virginia are pushing their state educators to plan more aggressive summer school programs, while other states are extending the school year calendar.
There is little guidance coming from N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, the State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction so it will fall on local school boards and their administrators to begin planning on corrective action.
There will be no simple solution. It will be complicated, costly and inconvenient. But there is too much at stake. Students will be expecting, as will their parents, to advance to the next grade level, including graduating this spring to move on to secondary education opportunities or to pursue jobs. With only three months remaining in the current school year, the need for planning and implementation is immediate, otherwise it will be too late for the thousands of county students and their parents.