By Brandon Martin
More than half of Henry County students who had responded by midweek plan to attend hybrid instruction when county schools reopen on March 10, Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer told members of the Henry County School Board.
The school division opted to resume the hybrid instructional model following a decrease in COVID-19 infection rates, lowered percentages of positive cases and a dip in quarantine rates after winter break.
In her Feb. 4 report to the school board. Strayer said that as of Wednesday, 2,591 students plan to return to classrooms when hybrid instruction becomes available.
In the same time frame, an additional 2,293 students elected to stay home and learn virtually, Strayer said.
“Our team will be reaching out to the remaining 2,269 students to determine their learning plans,” she said, and added that families and students will retain the option to switch between the two learning plans at any time.
“We ask that if families are going to move to the hybrid plan, they communicate with their principals so the principals can make sure they have the appropriate number of students in each classroom setting,” Strayer said.
A decrease in available staff prompted the schools to switch to the current virtual-only instructional model. In a move to prevent the likelihood of that recurring, the division also is in the process of ensuring the COVID-19 vaccine is administered to staff and teachers.
“We did the first 500 vaccinations at Bassett High School last Wednesday,” Strayer said, and added the process went smoothly. “We had lots of remarks from staff members” and state health officials “about how well our staff organized and handled that.”
Board members also learned the division’s adult education program is under used.
“It’s a great program. It’s definitely underutilized by the community,” Garrett Dillard, director of community learning, said. “We want to make sure the community realizes it’s a free program there.”
Dillard said the services provided at the Center for Community Learning are free general education development (GED) classes, basic reading and math skills enhancement, and digital literacy classes.
“We had a young man come through last week and I assumed he spoke English. He kind of looked at me, I looked at him, and then he handed me a phone,” Dillard said, adding that he used a translation app on a phone to continue the conversation.
The man and his mother eventually decided to take advantage of classes “to improve their English writing and speaking skills,” Dillard said, and added programs at the center also may lead to better employment opportunities.
“If you are in a position where you’ve been in a job, you want to move forward then you come here and staff can help you with improving your resume, improving your cover letter, and getting those digital literacy skills that may allow you to get a different job opportunity,” Dillard said.
Obtaining a GED also provides additional opportunities for higher education at other local institutions like Patrick Henry Community College.
Programs at the Center for Community Learning are available for anyone 18 years or older. The programs are not limited to those without a high school diploma or GED, Dillard said.
“We had one group come last year. They met and our staff showed them how to use iPads and other digital literacy skills,” Dillard said. “I definitely love when groups come over.”
Classes are offered from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., on Mondays; 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Fridays.
Dillard said the times are flexible and he noted that some in-person and virtual opportunities also are available.
“Anyone that can benefit from these services, our staff will work with you to make sure you get what you need,” he said.
In other matters, the school board:
*Recognized February as African American History Month and School Board Appreciation Month. They also recognized the week as School Board Clerk Appreciation Week.
*Approved the Self-Insured Health Care Insurance Coverage for fiscal year 2022. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has provided renewal information for the 2021-2022 school year. There is no proposed increase for FY 2022.
*Approved the purchase of Apple devices and accessories. The school division established a technology sustainability plan to ensure that all students have up-to-date devices to facilitate and efficiently engage in teaching and learning. To expand the 1:1 iPad initiative, 1st, 5th, 9th grade students, and teachers in middle and high schools have an opportunity to receive an iPad. Students will also be able to use the iPad to participate in sustained silent reading using the MyOn access PowerSchool Learning, and Google Apps for Education. Instructional apps will be used to enhance instruction. Most, if not all, textbooks will be accessible on the iPad.
Jamf Pro, a mobile device management software, is included on every device. Cases will be provided. Students in 9th grade will receive keyboard cases and offer options like a laptop. The devices will also have AppleCare+ for Education. This is a one-time purchase that will cover iPad repairs for four years. The coverage will allow the iPad and its accessories to be repaired for no service fee. Students in 1st and 5th grades will receive a case that is insured for 4 years to reduce the cost of repairs. Cases will be purchased from AGI using the TIPS contract.
*Held a work session on the FY22 budget.