Prince George County gauges interest in virtual vs. in-person summer school

By Alina Moody
Posted: June 25, 2020 | 3:50 p.m.

Chris Johnson started the meeting by thanking everyone for the wonderful job done to conduct this year’s unique graduation. Johnson said that parents and students had nothing but positive words to offer in response. As Johnson state, “I’m grateful for all those who spent so much time and energy and how many hours Mr. Nelson stood up on stage and Ms. Bishop and others… I commend you all; I think we covered every minute of the graduation with a board member there. So thank you for your dedication and commitment. And I heard the parade was outstanding! Hopefully it will be an annual event; I know all the other board members were able to attend. I appreciate them being there and supporting our graduates and honoring those students who now are—I would say—adults. I hope that they’re able to go forth and fulfill their destiny and have all the options of education…we look forward to their success in life.”

Dr. Lisa Pennycuff introduced Mr. Michael Campbell as the new Coordinator of Communications & Public Relations for Prince George County Schools. Mr. Campbell most recently served as the News Editor and Digital Media Director for three of Womack Publishing Company’s weekly newspapers: The Dinwiddie Monitor, The Prince George Journal and The Sussex-Surry Dispatch. He has eight years of experience as a Mass Communications professional in the field of journalism, working primarily in the world of print, providing news and information to readers through physical newspapers, digital, and social media. Mr. Campbell attended the meeting digitally, in accordance with Covid-19 safety guidelines.

Dr. Pennycuff then introduced Mr. Dustin Menhart as Prince George County’s new Assistant Superintendent of Support Services. Mr. Menhart is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army completing his last active duty assignment as a Professor of Military Science at the College of William and Mary and at Christopher Newport University. His service has included serving as a Battalion Executive Officer at the United States Transportation Command, U.S. Army Logistics and Operations Officer, and as an Assistant Professor of Geography & Environmental Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He is also a Bronze Star Recipient with this acknowledgement coming from his work in Afghanistan. His first official day will be August 15.

Mrs. Jeanette Walker was the next to speak on behalf of the teachers who have had to put-together a brand new teaching plan due to Covid-19. Mrs. Walker led the School Board through what the teachers had been told the Monday after schools were closed: “We were told we weren’t going back to school, so on Monday the principal met with us via Zoom and told us that the teachers had to have a website ready by Friday. Just because you’re an expert at Microsoft Word or posting things on Facebook—when someone tells you you have to have a website ready by Friday to be published, it’s a little bit challenging. We were very nervous, but our principal worked with us…we had the option of doing a digital website or a grade-level website.”

Mrs. Walker’s website is complete with a tab for each subject including the all-important recess. She also has included a daily schedule for parents to follow along in order to help their children get used to the new routine. Each subject has an SOL guideline to highlight what the students should be learning from each lesson. Mrs. Walker has personally watched every video posted to her site, as outlined in Principal Scruggs plan. She also had differentiation in her website for the gifted classes that she taught.

Teachers were asked to keep up with student engagement through the Class Dojo site, where they recorded whose family they had received messages from about work completed, whose family had let her know they didn’t have internet access, etc. Principal Scruggs’ task was to then look through the Class Dojo notes and communicate with each teacher inquiring about student participation. Parents were contacted daily in an attempt to keep up with students as best they can.

Mrs. Walker ended her presentation with a note she had received from a parent. “I cannot thank you enough for the weekly lesson plans you put together that were easy enough for us parents to help our children. You structured the work the same way the kids were used to doing in class and my child knew exactly where to go and what to look for regarding his assignments. My child did not snuff on his education because of school closures because students were rewarded with points for their hard work. This motivated my child. These teachers and many like them have prepared weekly assignments; resources;  virtual materials to share with the students; corresponding with students through Zoom; have been available through phone, text, email and Class Dojo to answer questions and concerns. These teachers have gone beyond the call of what was expected of them to teach our children in a very challenging time.” She stated, “it was really hard, but we were able to get through it and I think the kids—I felt like most of them received what they would have received in some format or another.”

When asked what Mrs. Walker thought she would take away from this experience and possibly incorporate to her usual curriculum, Mrs. Walker said this opportunity has given her a chance to discover multiple different websites that provide information she could pull from in the future. She also remarked the Zoom could come in handy in the future for when students are absent.

The last presentation for the Board was on Summer School updates. Mrs. Germanos, the Director of Elementary Education started, “Governor Northam did allow us to start making plans about bringing students back onto campus serving Pre-K through Third Grade. We have been working over the last two weeks putting together a survey to see how many of our parents would be comfortable sending their students back to us, how many students we could fit into our classrooms and on our buses while still maintaining those social distances and requirements set forth by the CDC and by the Governor of Virginia. We sent out a survey to our parents asking parents how many of them would be willing to add virtual options and how many of them wanted to do a personal choice for grades Pre-K through Third Grade. We also asked our teachers how many of them would be willing to participate in the in-person and then how many would be able to provide personal training for our students.”

Though all the numbers were not in yet, they stood at:

Elementary- 48 students’ families were willing to send their children for in-person training; 27 signed up for virtual only. Five teachers signed up to provide virtual lessons, and nine teachers will provide in-person support for students. Four English language learner students are going to participate in virtual and in-person lessons.

Secondary- Everything is still virtual in secondary schooling. There are 110 students who are registered, as well as eleven teachers and pre-care professionals to help students with virtual learning.

High School- 23 students are signed up for the math apex, 24 virtual Virginia for English, and 15 teachers will be providing assistance for students as well as one learning specialist. Nine students will be receiving English language services both virtually and in-person.

Lunch and breakfast are also still being provided at the elementary level for students on-campus.

The department has been working on developing a health and engagement plan as required per CDC guidelines at this time before any students or faculty are allowed on campus. Now that the health plan has been submitted, the department is working on moving forward with plans.

Instructional plans for summer school are due three weeks before school starts, but they are hoping to have them sooner. Having students on campus for summer school activities is a stepping stone towards being able to have schools completely open again in the fall.

Smaller surveys—asking how all families feel about having their students returning to school in the fall—will be sent out around the end of the week or early next week. The health mitigation plan will be posted on the Prince George County Schools website.

Finally, the Board voted unanimously to move forward with the Walton Phase 1 Contract as outlined by Moseley Architects.

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