Tupelo Public School District and Lee County School District leaders are beginning the spring semester with a sense of optimism.
TPSD Superintendent Dr. Rob Picou is hopeful but cautious as he and other district administrators monitor the COVID-19 situation daily and make decisions to keep teachers and students safe.
Picou visited the district’s elementary schools shortly before Christmas break and said he realized “how hard it must be to spend a whole day in there with a bunch of kids and wearing masks, paying attention to every little detail and focusing on keeping people safe.”
He commends the district’s nurses, teachers, and principals for doing an unbelievable job in such a challenging situation. Because of the measures necessary to remain healthy – masked faces and physical distance – the superintendent believes the pandemic has reinforced the importance of positive relationships in education and beyond.
“You don’t realize how important relationships are in your life until you don’t have any,” Picou said, mentioning things he used to enjoy, like visiting a store or eating lunch in a local restaurant.
“I think a lot of folks miss that,” he said. “It’s the same thing with schools. Teachers are masked. They’re struggling. They had a hard time. We’re making sure we take care of our folks and try to create as safe an environment as we can for them to work in and students to learn in.”
Although exact numbers are not yet available, Picou believes a “fair number” of students at every school in the district returned from virtual to in-person learning when the spring semester began on Jan. 5 – likely between 30 and 50 students at each school.
He said putting more students in a school creates more of a challenge with social distancing, but principals are prepared.
Both Tupelo and Lee County Schools continue to follow guidance from the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The key change they’ve made during the spring semester is altering the length of COVID-19-related quarantines from 14 to 10 days based on CDC guidance.
LCSD Superintendent Coke Magee said is hopeful for the spring semester because of the COVID-19 vaccine and what its availability could mean for both schools and the wider community.
“I’m optimistic due to the work that our schools, teachers and administrators were able to do the first semester, that we will be able to repeat that success the second semester,” Magee said. “I’m optimistic moving forward that things will take an upturn and a brighter day and future are on the horizon.”
LCSD has approximately 6,400 students. On the first day of school, Aug. 10, there were 1,253 students enrolled as distance learners. As the second nine-week term began, that number dropped to 862, and was down to 592 as of Jan. 8, the first week of the spring semester. That’s just over 9% of the student population currently taking part in distance learning versus about 19.6% in August 2020.
Magee said the most important lessons learned during the fall semester were “adaptability and keeping first things first – taking care of kids, being part of a team and working hard for each other.”
That will continue during the spring 2021 semester.
“There’s a great group of teachers and staff that have done a tremendous job of doing that, displaying those qualities,” Magee said. “That’s why I can feel good about it and have optimism moving forward.”