AccelerateED tasked with planning for summer and fall, SC school reopenings discuss expanded programs

AccelerateED tasked with planning for summer and fall, SC school reopenings discuss expanded programs
The task force is made up of 12 educators and administrators from across the state who are working to combat what Spearman has called the unprecedented challenges for the school system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Thursday, AccelerateED, a new task force created by South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, met to discuss what summer and fall programs might look like for students, facility, and parents.

The task force is made up of 12 educators and administrators from across the state who are working to combat what Spearman has called the unprecedented challenges for the school system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big discussion centered on how to catch students up this summer and when they head back to school in the fall. The task force looked at how best to do that, preferably in person, but also possibly virtually if that’s still necessary in July and August.

“It is no secret that the best way for children to learn is in a classroom face to face with a teacher and our students have lost about 30 percent of that time this year of 180 days. So, we’ve got some making up to do,” Spearman said.

The AccelerateED Task Force is looking into making up for the lost time through an expanded summer program.

“Identifying K-3 grade who are at risk for reading and math difficulty, we are recommending a minimum of a four-week program,” Dr. David Mathis, Deputy Superintendent of Division of College and Career Readiness, said.

The program would most likely be scheduled for July and would be in person. Virtual learning is a backup plan, but accessibility for students without the internet or technology continues to be a concern for members of the task force.

“It’s worthless if you can’t access it. So, we’ve got some technical issues we’ve got to get around,” Patrick Kelly, the Richland School District Two Coordinator of Professional Learning and Blythewood High School teacher, said.

The task force said grades K-3 will be a top priority because these foundational learning years are key and many of those concepts are difficult to teach virtually.

“I think we look at this as we want to academically recover from the time we may have lost and this is one way to make that happen,” Mathis said.

The task force also focused on extra time that teachers might need in the fall to catch students up. Adding extra school days is on the table, but Spearman stressed that it comes with a big price tag.

“If we brought in all of K-8 students for a day, it would cost $30 million dollars per day for teacher salaries, the aides, and the transportation. Statewide about $30 million dollars a day. So if you figure you want to do five days of all K-8 coming in, you figure it’s about $150 million roughly. So, it’s very expensive, but it certainly falls under the categories that can be funded through the CARES Act money,” Spearman said.

Spearman said that they requested $216 million from the CARES Act Wednesday and they will be requesting a portion of the $1.9 billion dollars in aide that Governor Henry McMaster has received for the state.

The task force also addressed other areas that funding might need to go to, including emotional and social support services.

“The students have been at home for a long time and most of our most vulnerable students, especially from economically disadvantaged places. It’s been traumatic for them to be away from school,” Chanda Jefferson, the 2020 South Carolina Teacher of the Year, said.

Additionally, health and safety needs were discussed for when students and faculty return to the schools.

“Whether that means masks for everyone and temperature readings at the door, we’ve got to create environments where our students feel safe, parents feel safe sending them, and our staff feels safe coming,” Kelly said.

The task force has split into subcommittees to look into how to address these issues, as well as what it might look like if social distancing is necessary in the classroom. One proposal was to have a rotating school schedule to reduce the number of students per classroom in the fall.

The task force has three committees focusing on student services, instruction, and operations. The task force is going to reconvene Tuesday to discuss potential proposals more in-depth.

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