By REBECCA HAZEN
Dade County Schools start the 2021-2022 school year tomorrow, August 5. Principals Charity Barton, Tracy Blevins, Michelle Beeler and James Fahrney Jr., as well as Superintendent Josh Ingle, gathered together to discuss the upcoming year, what will be the same, and what will be different.
“I think all of us are excited to have all the kids back in person,” Davis Elementary Principal Charity Barton said.
“Our covid procedures are relaxed a little. We will allow parents to come in and drop off in the mornings,” Dade Elementary Principal Tracy Blevins said.
At the elementary schools, visitors are still restricted during the school day and at lunch time, but by allowing drop offs, they are trying to bring back some pieces of normalcy.
“That goes for the Middle School, too. We are still going to be careful of who comes in and out of the building,” Dade Middle School Principal Michelle Beeler said.
“As educators we have always learned to be flexible and adaptable,” Superintendent Josh Ingle said.
Ingle noted that last year, educators truly understood and saw what it means to be flexible.
“It may have been frustrating at times, but we had to go with it. We were in unchartered waters. Even as the year progressed, and some of the guidelines changed and became more relaxed, you’d walk in and still see kids wearing masks. It almost became part of the norm. That just goes to show that we’ve got good kids,” Ingle said.
There will be new additions to the schools, including learning tools, and new teachers.
“At the elementary schools, we have a new reading program. The teachers are excited about that. The kids will enjoy their options as far as reading materials, and more books in the classroom,” Barton said.
“We are also getting a new progress monitoring tool called MAP. That will be a big help to the middle school in particular, because we have not had anything in place to progress monitor effectively,” Beeler said.
“We’ve got a few new folks. We were very fortunate in finding some high quality candidates,” James Fahrney Jr., Dade High School Principal said. “One area that we kind of had to scramble on is the science position. We were fortunate enough to have Syd Morrison, a former teacher, coming back. We’re going to get all the classes covered, that’s a good spot to be in.”
Also, the elementary schools will receive 3D printers, and this is the first year that the high school will offer AP calculus.
In addition, federal relief funds will help address learning loss.
“At our elementary levels, we hired some interventionalists to close those gaps. At the middle school, we now have a fill-time academic coach. At the high school, we’ve always had a graduation coach, but we have been able to add some additional days to him, so those kids that get off track, he will be able to help,” Ingle said. “Funding has also been set aside for some before and after school programs and tutoring.”
“It’s a large pot of money. We’re still trying to figure out how to get the most out of it. The federal government has been great in opening up that money to us, and letting us use it in a way that we think is best to address those funding gaps,” Fahrney said.
Meals will also be at no cost again for this school year. Ingle noted that parents should still expect forms to fill out, to determine if students qualify for reduced or free meals. That information is then used to get additional funding.
According to Fahrney, the back to school packet is now in booklet form.
“If the parents will fill that out and send it back, they don’t have to worry about losing a page. Everything will be in that booklet,” Fahrney said.
In the past, there would be half-days set aside in both the spring and fall for parent-teacher conferences. Rather than having those half days, the month of October will be a family engagement month. Meetings can be held virtually or in person. It is more flexible for both teachers and parents.
Parents are also encouraged to use Infinite Campus, which is a portal that provides parents, guardians, students, and teachers the ability to communicate items such as grades, attendance records, etc. on an ongoing basis.
“It follows that student all the way from elementary school through high school,” Blevins said.
Parents should also visit the school’s websites and Facebook pages for ongoing information and updates, including COVID-19 information.
After having to adapt events throughout the school year last year, all of the principals discovered that many of the new ways were better, and they will keep those going forward.
At Dade Elementary, the fifth grade promotion ceremony was held two classes at a time, instead of the entire grade all at once.
“It worked really well and we are going to keep that. It was a more relaxed environment. There was more time for teachers to talk to parents and students, a lot more chances to take pictures and all that fun stuff,” Blevins said.
Other end of school year events had to change, such as the high school graduation and the eighth grade honors program.
“Last year was the first year in a number of years that graduation was held outside, and I don’t see that changing,” Ingle said.
“We’re at full capacity, even without COVID-19 it’s uncomfortable for everyone to try to squeeze into the gym,” Fahrney said. “We’re still working on improving the sound, but we managed to make it work for last year. Now we’re going to use SPLOST money going forward, to get a sound system, not only for graduation, but also to use it for school dances.”
“We moved the eighth grade honors program to the high school gym, and it was really effective. I don’t think we would have thought to do that except for covid,” Beeler said.
“We will continue trunk or treat. All of the community and the parents went all out. The kids loved it. Also, the end of the year backwards parade. The kids love it because they get to decorate the cars and the teachers get to interact with the parents and the students in a fun way,” Barton said.
Another event that all the principals agreed on was keeping the outdoor concert, part of the New Salem Mountain Festival.
“I think that is what educators do. Whatever comes our way, we make it work,” Blevins said.
The principals and Superintendent are thankful to the community for all of the additional help, and are excited to get the new school year started.
“We are so thankful that the community provides so many things for our students at back to school time. That is always generous of them,” Barton said.
“This community is like watching a movie on demand. This community is like on demand. Any time there is a need in the school system, before you know it, the needs are met. We are thankful and blessed to have such a supportive community,” Ingle said.
“We’re excited to have our kids back. That’s what we’re most excited about,” Beeler said.