Forsyth County Schools leaders said that the school system is still working to figure out final schedules, the K-5 virtual program and transportation plans going into the first day of the school year on Thursday.
Interim associate superintendent of teaching and learning Lee Anne Rice spoke during a Forsyth County Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11, about the K-5 planning team and curriculum development team and the amount of work that groups of school leaders and teachers have put in since May.
The Curriculum Development team, which included 30 teachers along with three team leads from 14 different schools in the county, was able to develop four weeks of daily learning lessons for the elementary students going virtual this year — including tech, low tech and no tech lessons to try to reduce screen time.
Brian Lack, an elementary and middle school math specialist and a member of the planning team, explained that the first week of school for K-5 will focus on building relationships with students along with making sure everyone makes it through the onboarding process and any technical issues.
As school is starting, however, the planning team will continue to work on the virtual program past those first four weeks of daily lessons and communicate with parents and school staff to work out any issues that might arise.
“Moving forward, we are very cognizant that this is a program we’ve just built — we’re just developing,” Rice said. “It’s going to need tweaking. It’s not going to be perfect. We have ideas of plans and lessons that we think are going to be fantastic, and it may not.”
As they work out the new program, Rice said that Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden’s long-term goal is to be able to offer virtual learning in kindergarten through grade 12 in future years.
“I just hope our community understands the level of engagement we have had to have in order to make this happen,” Bearden said, “and we should all be incredibly appreciative of the people in front of us today and all those teachers that were members of that team that made it happen.”
One issue that school leaders said that they are facing with middle and high schools is uncertainty surrounding students’ schedules going into the new year. Usually, Rice said that administration members take 4-5 months to create a master schedule “that will meet the needs of everyone in their building,” but as families took some time to decide what would be best for them, school administrations are still working on getting these schedules together.
The deadline for middle and high school students and parents to make a decision on virtual learning came at the end of July, and Rice said that the number of families signing up for virtual learning nearly doubled in just the few days leading up to that deadline.
Even after the deadline, Rice said that parents are still trying to switch their kids over to virtual learning.
According to the school system, 38% of middle school students are taking one or more virtual courses, 36% of FCS high school students are taking one or more virtual courses and 19% are full-time virtual.
“Even today, we’ve gotten quite a few requests for virtual classes,” Rice said. “And what we’ve told them is we will be happy to look at those, but we need to make sure our master schedules are in place. We need to make sure we’re ready to start school on Thursday, and then we may have to make some schedule changes that first week of school.”
Looking back now, Rice said that they should have given families another week to make a decision about virtual learning.
“I’m just asking for grace and flexibility and understanding from especially our parent community when schedules weren’t ready right on time,” Rice said. “We’re still working on them.”
Bearden also mentioned during the meeting that school leaders are still unsure about how transportation will change going into the new school year. He said, right now, they do not know what to expect on Thursday as they do not know yet how many kids will be riding school buses.
Though their virtual enrollment numbers give some indicator of how many students may likely ride the buses this school year, Bearden said he does not know how many parents will feel comfortable with putting their kids on a bus to school.
“We have no idea what we’re going to deal with on Thursday,” Bearden said.