There has been information circulating in the community on RCS and information related to closing or staying open. Our decision making is centered around student learning and what we can deliver with instructional integrity while at the same time balancing what is best for the health and safety of all of our staff, students, and their families at home.
Ideally, we believe that the best environment for students to learn is in front of a teacher, physically in a classroom. Unfortunately, we are not anywhere close to an ideal scenario. The numbers of cases in our region and state are staggering. Ballad Health has taken the stance that the best way to curb what is occurring is to shut down entirely for several weeks and quarantine. All superintendents in our region hold weekly phone calls with our regional health leaders. I leave those meetings with an understanding that what is occurring in our region is very critical to the operation and role of schools in this crisis. We made our decision in the hope of mitigating the spread of this virus that has taken the lives and quality of life of many people that we know.
RCS was the first district in the state to offer live virtual learning across all grade levels. We were contacted by other districts around the state interested in our method of virtual learning. We know that the best method for learning is for a teacher to be in front of their students, and there are many scenarios in our region where students have not had their teacher in front of them for weeks on end. We did not want that to happen, we wanted our teachers to interact with their students on a daily basis. And our staff has worked hard to make that happen. No one can say that they have had more contact with their students instructionally across the board than RCS.
There is disinformation that school districts surrounding us are staying open and that is simply not true. Washington and Sullivan counties have both shifted entirely to virtual learning until mid-January. Unicoi County did it about the same time as us. Virtual learning is used as a blanket statement for any student not in front of a teacher in a classroom. Let me assure you that all virtual learning avenues are not equal. Comparisons are being made with our method of virtual learning to others and it is not close to an equal comparison. Comparisons are also being made to what occurred last Spring and it is vastly different. We are grateful that we have had the resources to make ours as close to in-person learning as possible and our teachers are knocking it out of the park.
There is great concern over learning loss due to this pandemic. There is always a great concern for learning loss by administration and teachers at RCS. Even outside the pandemic, in a normal year. The state published information from NWEA that “projected” large learning slides. NWEA has recently backtracked on that and published that the learning slide is not as bad as was “projected” based on actual benchmarking data that has come in this fall. You have not seen that from the State, however. We will reserve any opinion on our students learning loss or gain till the end of the year when we have a complete picture. I think people might be surprised by what RCS teachers have done.
In the end, we want your students back with us as quick as is safely possible. We love what we do, and we will strive to do it better than anyone else.
Sincerely, JT Stroder Director of Schools, Rogersville City School District