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First Semester Recap and Second Semester Update
First Semester Recap and Second Semester Update
Jeremy Darnell
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

GCMS Families,

Please take the time to read this notification in its entirety to ensure that you are fully aware of both our reflections of the first semester at GCMS, and adjustments being made for second semester as a result of lessons learned, changing circumstances, and most importantly trying to best serve the students and families of GCMS.  

Celebrate First Semester:

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the enormous effort made by everyone in the system to maintain a largely in-person semester of instruction for our students.  GCMS effectively executed its Return to Learn Plan with effort, flexibility, resilience, and focus on the incredible value of in-person learning for children ages 3-19.  Thank you to the GCMS community, parents, teachers and support staff, and our students for enduring an incredibly challenging time and still placing value in education.  

Lessons Learned:

Technology is great, when it works, and it worked more often than not.  Walker Willis and Don Worthington have worked incredibly hard to provide the hardware, software, and the supports for students, staff, and families to bridge the gap for remote learning and connectivity during times of absence.  We have experienced and experimented with Google Classroom, Seesaw, Google Meets, Zoom, Hangouts, and so much more to try and to ensure that educational opportunities were available despite our circumstance.  This did not go on without challenge.  Everyone in the system experienced a learning curve on the devices, platforms, and connections but I am confident that we will continue to become more efficient and comfortable with time.  

Self-Certification and attendance have been real challenges.  We are very appreciative to all who routinely complete their self-certification and adhere to the attendance expectations.  This is a mandate and will continue; we need all families to be diligent about erroring on the side of caution if exposed to COVID or having symptoms and keeping your children home.  The impact of close contact has created more absences of students and staff than all illnesses combined.  Mandatory quarantines have been the driving force behind our necessary temporary remote shut downs.  

Masks and mitigation measures have been executed incredibly well.  Although we would all rather see each other’s faces, the nearly non-existent school based spread of COVID has validated the use of masks, sanitizing, and social distancing where possible.  We have dozens of sanitizer stations mounted in all the hallways, bottles in the classrooms, and many children bring their own.  The GCMS custodial and maintenance crews have done a great job of targeting high traffic areas with additional cleaning, while also keeping up with routine.  Teachers, paraprofessionals, kitchen, and office staffs have all stepped up their attention to cleaning, sanitizing, and reinforcing best practices with kids.  

We have learned many lessons on how to minimize close contacts and we feel we are better prepared to minimize quarantines by subtle adjustments in alignment of desks, scheduling of students in spaces, and vigilance in seating.  

Communications:

Timing and volume of communication is something that is not universally understood or appreciated.  We have tried at the district, building, classroom, and individual level to be as transparent as possible on decisions, rationale, expectations, and timing.  If you are not engaged in all forms of media to receive information we understand, but it also creates the possibility of missing needed information.  Your constant awareness and engagement in this year’s educational experience is more vital than ever.  We have effectively used our website, social media platforms, instructional platforms, all-call systems, text messaging services, and email to maximize your ability to know, in as timely a manner as possible, the daily circumstances at GCMS.  PLEASE stay engaged.  We recognize that sometimes we send out a lot of information, but in a year like this I have encouraged redundancy over reluctance.  

Instruction:

The data is clear that in-person instruction is significantly more effective than any other model and we have invested heavily in this approach.  We want all kids here, all days possible, with direct access to teachers and materials.  We have been able to modify our curriculum so that we feel confident that those who have actively engaged are learning at a pace similar to other years.  

Sadly, it is also clear, that attendance and circumstance have had a significant impact on the engagement and efforts of some of our students.  Students MUST do the work that is assigned.  If students are in-person teachers can directly support them, see their issues, and advance their progress.  If students are absent they MUST complete the work and communicate directly with teachers to engage in the process.  Some students, when not present in school, simply are not doing their part.  This lack of engagement has negative effect on that student’s individual learning and grades, but also has adverse effect on the staff and their time.  Put simply, teachers are here to provide the opportunity and support, not chase the engagement and completion.  We need a true partnership with kids and families to maximize every minute we have together.  

Remote Wednesdays:

ALL certified staff are available from 8:30 – 11:30 on Wednesdays to provide supports for students.  With some students facing extended absences due to quarantine or illness this is an ideal time to proactively engage with their teachers to get academic support.  It is important to note that we have been averaging over 90% attendance this year and the other four days of the week staff are heavily engaged in in-person instruction so accessibility and contact will be more limited.  

Looking Forward at Second Semester:

GCMS School District and its stakeholders managed to largely be in person for first semester and we fully intend to do the same for second.  We will continue our Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday schedule of in-person learning.  Wednesdays will continue in a remote setting used for continuation of learning and support of existing curriculum.  Everyone must continue to understand the fluidity of this situation and be prepared to adapt on short notice should the need arise.  The evolution of school year 2020-2021 is one of constant change.  

We need all students to actively engage both in person and at home.   We need families to encourage and support that active engagement of their students.  We need clear and constant communications between students, staff, and families to ensure we maximize the opportunities that exist.  We need to continue to be vigilant in our actions and choices to allow for the whole system to continue to operate.  

Kids in school is good for kids.  Kids in school is good for families.  Kids in school is good for teachers.  Kids in school is good for community!  Second semester will not be easy, but we will tackle the challenges head on and continue to do all we can to respect community, support staff, and provide opportunity for kids!

Sincerely,

Jeremy Darnell

GCMS Superintendent