ABERDEEN – March 19’s Aberdeen School Board meeting mixed COVID-19 reaction with looking to the future with a potentially different outlook on accountability models. Some topics covered were universal to all school districts through adjustments in response to coronavirus.

Mississippi schools remain suspended through at least April 17 following an executive order signed earlier in the day by Gov. Tate Reeves.

Other statewide decisions from earlier in the day affecting school districts include the state legislature approving continued pay for a minimum of four weeks, waiving the 180-day school year mandate and waiving state and federal testing and accountability. That means current school letter grade ratings will remain for an additional year.

“Our students and teachers were working really hard, and we were hoping we would have some progress to improve [from an F rating]. I noticed today the first Mississippian passed away from the coronavirus so in the grand scheme of things, that’s very minor compared to what’s going on around us,” said Aberdeen School District Superintendent Jeff Clay.

A recent meeting at the CREATE Foundation focused on a community-based accountability model, which led to further discussion about how lack of state assessments could potentially be a plus for instruction time.

“We’ve been jammed into this thing with the grading system that you’ve got to get an A or a B, but actually we want to know if we’re really being effective as a school district and are our children growing. The testing is not going to go away, but we don’t want it to be our end all and be all,” said school board member Rodger Scott. “This is like a new movement that gets us thinking about how do we look at ourselves and let the community know how we’re doing.”

School board member Tonny Oliver said a good relationship between students and teachers is a key to success.

“For the next nine weeks, we don’t have this assessment circling our head like an albatross. Our teachers and principals can do truly instructional learning, and I told them make it happen,” Clay said.

Depending on what the future holds with COVID-19, several questions remain about graduation and promotion to the next grade, and there are no answers at this point.

With spring break on track to surpass at least a month due to coronavirus precautions, school districts are posed with the option of offering distance learning for students. Several students, however, don’t have devices or internet accessibility.

“We’re working on providing some structural at-home educational resources for our kids, but we ran into some snags in special education,” Clay said. “We’re not quite equipped for distance learning. I met with my colleagues in Monroe County yesterday, and they’re not either. We’re going to feel our way through, and the decisions made will be in the best interest of the students.”

Discussion centered on the need for updated technology, and Clay was asked to get quotes. The district was already working with the West Point School District for a rural distance education grant to outfit six classrooms with distance learning capabilities.

“Hopefully, the next administration of aldermen will be proactive to help try to get some [WiFi] hotspots or better connectivity at an affordable price. They have the pull to make that happen,” said school board president Jim Edwards.

Regardless, students will continue their dual credit courses online while the eight Aberdeen High School students participating in a middle-college through Itawamba Community College will continue their college classes online.

An ICC manufacturing skills certification program planned to begin March 23 at AHS has been put on hold out of coronavirus precautions.

When classes resume, new campus visitation policy procedures will apply to the Aberdeen School District to help protect students’ health and safety. Changes will include parent meetings in office areas; visitors being screened with temperature checks and questioned about if they’ve traveled to any hotspots; no parent volunteers will be allowed on campus; no visitors will be allowed to enter the buildings for breakfast, lunch or school activities; and previously scheduled 504 and IEP will continue through telephone or video conference.

The policy can be changed once coronavirus precautions are no longer needed.

“It’s not that we’re not appreciative of the families and community support. At this time, we need to avoid face-to-face visitors,” Clay said.

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