SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Savannah-Chatham County Public School System leaders have been hard at work discussing what next school year might look like.
All they are certain of right now is that it will be much different than what they’ve done in the past.
Though the school year just wrapped up, educators have been meeting around the clock and via video conference to look at next year and how they might return to school. SCCPSS leaders began discussing their options to get back to school next year during a virtual workshop Thursday. They’ve gotten little guidance from the state on how to move forward, but know decision are needed.
“My heart hurts every day for what might be, but I don’t…I don’t think that we can sit back and wait for somebody to tell how to make it work,” SCCPSS Board President Dr. Joe Buck said.
While they are still figuring out what it looks like to return to their buildings, district leaders also know some may feel safer continuing online. They’ve created an E-learning academy for students in 3-12th grade. It will be made up of existing staff and operate as a separate school with a consistent process.
Students will be provided equipment and support staff through the model.
“I think it’s a pretty comprehensive program that’s still under development, but I am very proud that we’re able to say at this point that we actually have that in place,” SCCPSS Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett said.
Some school board members liked this option as it frees up class space for social distancing and accommodates those who aren’t ready to return to class because of COVID-19 concerns.
“I think this really opens it an option up for them that will try to satisfy their safety concerns as well as learning,” Dr. Buck said.
A sub-committee has been created to talk about what digital learning might look like for K-2nd grade students. Dr. Levett says in addition to the E-learning academy, every school will have the opportunity to have an online option. But this concerned some.
“I know we’re just talking ideas, but I am concerned about the strain on our resources if we’re asking each teacher and principal to administer online learning,” Julie Wade, District 1 SCCPSS Board, said.
Beyond digital learning, curriculum leaders at the district say summer reading and enrichment will be in place, but they are also creating concepts to help teachers with recovery learning before moving on to new concepts.
As a lot of changes are discussed, some want to keep it in context of the budget which is still unclear for the next year.
“We have the resources to redirect the way we deliver instruction and our other services my next step as I look in these materials is being intelligent about where the money is moving from to make this happen because all of this is going to cost a pile of money,” Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown, District 2 SCCPSS Board, said.
Operational leaders say the buildings will likely operate at about 60 percent capacity to accommodate social distancing. Current enrollment shows more than 35,000 students but their capacity would be a little more than 31,000. That means class sizes need to be reduced, they would have to create additional class spaces and move some students to new buildings.
When it comes to transportation, the numbers on buses will drastically be reduced from about 84 students to at the most 28 per bus. This requires more routes, buses and staff; all coming at a cost.
School leaders say this just scratches the surface. They must discuss PPE for staff and students, food delivery at school and schedule changes, too. While so much is to be decided, it’s clear it won’t be normal.
“Our normal is not going to be normal. I think it bears repeating because we keep hearing from people, we want things to go back to normal. Schools will not be normal. Schedules will be different simply because we will have greater responsibility for the public health aspect,” SCCPSS Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett said.
SCCPSS leaders were only able to cover a short list of topics at Thursday’s workshop session but they say they are looking at all data, options and asking a lot of questions ensure they are doing what’s best for everyone.
District leaders made no decisions during Thursday’s virtual workshop, but a task force has been formed to offer suggestions for reopening.