Knox County Schools: ‘The goal is to have our students in school’

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Schools superintendent and team are looking toward the new school year, hopeful that by Aug. 10 students and teachers will be back in the classroom.

It’s the ultimate goal, according to Superintendent Bob Thomas, who says he is hopeful that it is not only realistic, but supported by families within the district.

“In an ideal world, what we’re planning on, is to be back in school by August 10th… we want to see them back in school,” said Thomas.

PREVIOUS STORY: Knox County Schools officials developing plan for fall 2020

That message, part of the district’s push for families to complete an online survey.

“We may have to practice physical distancing and may have to do some things a little differently, maybe, the ultimate goal is to get our teachers back in the classroom. That’s how learning best takes place, with the teacher in the classroom and the students in the classroom,” said Thomas.

Thomas said district leaders are having discussions about “what if.”

If in-person teaching is not allowed, due to health and safety guidelines, Thomas said he is asking his team, “What would that look like?”

The 1:1 initiative in the new school year

The first step in creating a plan for potential hybrid learning: Provide every student a laptop or tablet. This is part of the district’s 1:1 initiative, approved last month by he school board to purchase Chromebooks and devices for all students in the district.

Thomas said 40,000 of those will arrive in July and his team is working on a plan to distribute those to students in the meantime.

That push, to equip every student with an electronic device, is not a new idea created amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather, one that has been fast-tracked. Funding to make it happen coming from The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARESAct that allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic.

“There are offerings this year for professional development for our teachers. On average, it takes seven-and-a-half hours to go through this training. Our expectations is for our teachers to go online and to do the seven-and-a-half hours training to help them be prepared to offer remote learning,” Thomas said.

The training is provided by the Knox County Schools District.

Thomas said there are plans to introduce new learning.

“There will have been lost learning opportunities here because of the school closure, we want to make sure we provide students with the opportunities to catch up and help them be prepared for the next sequence of learning of the courses they’re in.”

Bob Thomas, Knox County Schools Superintendent

Online survey informs next steps

Families are asked to take a survey about the upcoming school year. The information will then be reviewed by a task force, made of third-party individuals chosen by school board members that represent each district.

Thomas chose Dr. Jerry Askew to lead the task force. The group’s first meeting is in the next two weeks.

“Being a 1:1 district is a lot more for having a back-up system for not being in school,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the survey will give more background on the needs of every student. The technology, introducing students to technology earlier and allowing them to be more comfortable with using it.

This week, Thomas said, the district rolled out an ACT preparatory course for students to use at home.

Two reopening alternative scenarios

Apart from the first option for in-person classes with safety precautions, the other two reopening options or alternatives for student learning include:

  • The “hybrid approach”

KCS described an option for a hybrid approach in which ​students would attend school part-time and receive in-person instruction from their teacher in a classroom.

In this scenario, part-time classroom instruction would be supplemented ​by a student’s teacher with remote learning. This could possibly involve staggering student attendance to allow for physical distancing and extra cleaning of school facilities.

  • Full-time remote learning

The second alternative would be a strategy of full-time remote learning, led by KCS teachers, that covers new material and allows for graded assignments, using the electronic devices provided through its 1:1 initiative.

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