BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (August 14) – When doors at all 10 Weakley County campuses opened Monday, August 14, 2020, 3,381 students were expected to enter – masked, temperature-checked and socially-distanced. Another 414 students opted for Monitored Distance Education (MDE), an online curriculum offered by the county.
“We are 190 students short of our anticipated enrollment,” noted Director Randy Frazier. “We will be dedicating the next several days to contacting families who have not yet notified us of their intentions.”
Krystle Smith, literacy leader at Martin Middle, was tapped to direct the MDE program. She is working with teachers assigned from each school, who will serve as monitors for attendance, recording grades, and offering feedback for the off-site students.
Betsi Foster, director of Federal Programs for the district, spent last week ensuring students whose families met the August 10, 2020, deadline were enrolled in the appropriate classes and that teachers were trained for their roles in MDE.
MDE students can anticipate contact no later than today (Wednesday, August 19).
At least 160 of the MDE students required a Weakley County Schools laptop to complete daily assignments on the personalized-learning platform. Those computers were taken from the 1,000 computers currently assigned to campuses. The remaining computers will be used to help train 6th-12th-grade students in the traditional setting on the Google Classrooms program that will be used if schools are forced to close again. Kindergarten through 5th-grade students will use a specially-created tool kit of lessons and resources should the system move to remote learning.
Frazier acknowledged the county faced several challenges in preparing for reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those challenges are frequent changes to guidelines received from state and national sources, recruiting substitute teachers to fill in for educators who may be in isolation or quarantine, and delays in receiving computers ordered for middle- and high-school students.
Mark Maddox, the technology coordinator for the district, shared details related to the computer order in an email that went out to teachers Wednesday, August 12. “A component of the Lenovo model we ordered is made by a Chinese company that has been accused of using forced labor,” he wrote. “The United States Chamber of Commerce has sanctioned this Chinese company. Out of an abundance of caution, our manufacturer, Lenovo, decided it would be best for them not to ship computers with this component to United States’ customers until they could get the component made by a company without these allegations.”
He added Lenovo is gearing up its own factory in order to meet the need of thousands of schools nationwide facing the same situation as Weakley County. However, the latest communication from Lenovo verified a late-November to mid-December arrival date. With that word, Weakley County Schools made the decision to order a more expensive model.
“We expect those computers to ship toward the end of this month and to be in our hands some time mid- to late-September,” Maddox concluded.
On Monday, students received a detailed questionnaire regarding computer devices and Internet access in their homes. Questions included whether families have phones, tablets, laptops or desktops, if those devices have cameras for face-to-face interactions and what level of reliable access they have from their homes. The data will be compiled today (Wednesday) and a map of needed hotspots created.
“Once we get this fuller picture of the county, we will be able to be more specific regarding plans should we need to go to remote learning,” said Frazier. “We believe in-person instruction is the most effective means of learning, but if a significant number of our teachers are in quarantine, for instance, we would have to close. Gathering this information and having those computers arrive in September will help us provide the best experience for our students should another closure be necessary.”
Anyone interested in applying to become a substitute teacher may call 731-364-2247 for more information.