The last five months have been a learning experience for Georgia Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods.
He shared Monday some of his insights and the state’s plans for reopening schools in August in the midst of the ongoing pandemic with the Golden Isles Republican Women during its meeting at Epworth by the Sea.
“I can say this has been the most challenging of years when we think about starting school back,” Woods said. “I’ve seen a lot, but this is the first pandemic I’ve ever been through or we’ve ever had since really the early 1900s. So we’re learning some things.”
Students will return to school in some form next month, whether it’s through virtual learning or in the classroom. Glynn County Schools currently plans to have students return to face-to-face learning but has offered parents the opportunity to commit to virtual learning for the first portion of the school year.
Georgia’s school districts have had to significantly adapt since closing in March, Woods said. District leaders have addressed challenges with digital learning and found ways to continue feeding their students weekly meals.
As the new school year approaches, the focus is on how to bring students and staff back to school buildings safely, Woods said.
“Our primary focus is on the safety of our young people and our teachers and our educators and our community,” he said.
“We will not sacrifice on that. We have to be very mindful of that.”
The state education department has tried to support local districts in a variety of ways, providing funding allocated to the state through the federal CARES Act, partnering with GEMA to send masks to schools to distribute and eliminating high stakes testing in the upcoming school year.
The state education department, in partnership with the public health department, has also provided guidance for local school leaders to use when developing reopening plans.
“The base guidance is the same for everyone,” Woods said. “It was meant to be a foundational piece.”
While he’s continuing to learn, Woods said he’s sure of at least one truth: students have to be in school, continuing to learn.
“We’ve got to be thinking about how do we overcome and master this and not let this virus master us,” he said. “It does work best when our kids are in school. I’ll be honest, that’s where they need to be so that we can teach.”