Rockingham County school leaders reflect on pandemic response

Published: May. 25, 2021 at 1:24 PM EDT
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Members of the Rockingham County School Board heard how the school division responded and implemented new changes to help students get through the pandemic.

The Virginia Department of Education released guidance for public schools to implement as they reopen schools and proceed to recover from the pandemic.

The Virginia L.E.A.R.N.S. guidance provides recommendations and identifies resources and best practices related to equity, curricula remediation and intervention strategies, assessments, student and staff wellness, and technology to support learning.

L.E.A.R.N.S. stands for Learning, Engaging, Assessing, Recovering, Nurturing, and Succeeding.

RCPS has applied these recommendations throughout the school year with its phased reopening plan and highlighted some at its Monday night meeting.

Dr. Larry Shifflett, the assistant superintendent of innovation and learned, explained that virtual learning proved to be successful for some students, but did not work for every child. He said about 20% of Rockingham County students participated in the Home Learning Academy (HLA).

Rockingham County Public School (RCPS) teachers had to be shifted around the accommodate the HLA.

“Two of our elementary schools did not have a librarian because they were needed for the HLA as a reading specialist,” Shifflett said. “It really limited our resources and made scheduling hard for middle and high schools.”

Looking to the following school year, Shifflett said they will not be offering the HLA again, but are looking at other partnerships to accommodate students that thrived in a virtual classroom.

“If we have some families and there is a need, we can partner with Virtual Virginia and provide some resources, but it will not look like it does this year with a Rockingham County teacher,” Shifflett said.

Social-emotional health training was provided to RCPS staff to promote student health and wellness, implement self-care strategies, build strong relationships with students, and establish strong two-way communication between school and families

RCPS teachers were instructed to focus on curriculum development and instructional planning while identifying the most essential content for students.

Shifflett said they took a “grace over grades” approach.

At the elementary level, teachers eliminated assigning letter grades and focused on ongoing communication and feedback. At the secondary level, teachers allowed a 40/60 split for the first semester and the lowest a student could score was 40% instead of zero.

Shifflett said the county had a strong technology infrastructure from the start but also provided hot spots to families.

“They distributed over 1,300 hot spots, so again, go back to our equity work of trying to make sure every student has access,” Shifflett said. “Just because you live in a certain part of the county or you’re a certain economic status, we were going to make sure you had a hot spot.”

For more information on the May 24 Rockingham County school board meeting, click here.

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