PACS gears up for new school year
When school buildings across the country were forced to abruptly close in March, teachers, students and parents had to adapt to a new normal. At Pulaski Academy and Central Schools, that adaptability translated into success, and the district is poised to continue that momentum going into the 2020-21 year.
According to PACS Superintendent Tom Jennings, the district immediately implemented a plan last March to ensure a continuity of learning for all students. A comprehensive, collaborative approach enabled the district to maintain virtual connections with its students.
“Our connectivity rate in this district is tremendous,” Jennings said. “With 98 percent of our families having Internet at home, our teachers were able to stay connected with their students.”
For those without internet connectivity, the district provided mobile hotspots as a solution to make sure all students had internet accessible.
“We implemented a thoughtful, measured and rational response,” Jennings said. “I’m proud of our PACS team, our dedicated students and families, and the entire community for facing this challenge with grit and determination.”
As students and staff prepare for the return to in-person learning this year, the district has three primary areas of focus: safety, instructional technology and social-emotional well-being.
Health and safety
When it comes to health and safety, Director of Facilities Jim Sheeley said the district is doing its part to adhere to all department of health and CDC guidelines to ensure proper sanitization practices are implemented.
“It is the goal of our cleaning team that every student, teacher and staff member come to school every day confident in knowing their building is clean and safe,” Sheeley said.
To that end, the department will be utilizing new equipment to help streamline the cleaning process. Staff will use two touchless high/low pressure bathroom cleaning machines and a color-coded flat mop system to eliminate cross contamination.
“I am extremely proud of the cleaning staff and how they rose to the challenges of readying our buildings for the return of students,” Sheeley said. “The goal posts were constantly moving, but the crew was always positive and always wanted to know the next move.”
The district has embraced Google technology and remote teaching to help students and staff stay connected. This year, Pulaski Middle-High School teachers will instruct cohorts in-person on their scheduled days while streaming out that same instruction in real time to those learning remotely from home.
“I think we have put a lot of effort into getting feedback from our staff, parents and students to be as responsive to their needs and concerns as possible considering the state guidelines that are in place,” said PACS Middle-High School Principal Patrick Vrooman.
Although online instruction can be challenging due to things beyond the district’s control, such as internet outages or device malfunctions, Vrooman is confident that PACS has the personnel and tools in place to provide students with the best education possible.
“I would like to thank our staff and families for their hard work, support and patience as we try to continue to provide a quality educational program in very difficult circumstances,” he said.
In addition to the safety and instructional technology components, the district is providing other services, such as the Second Step social-emotional learning program, to benefit the whole child. A team of school psychologists and counselors are also available to support students and staff as they navigate a “new normal.”
“Behind the scenes, we are making plans to provide students with support on different levels,” said Lura Sharp Elementary Principal Joelle Hendry. “We have meetings to discuss levels of support that students need. For example, some students need just a check-in once a week, some might need a check in every day, and others benefit from counseling services.”
Hendry also noted the importance of building relationships and a strong sense of community within the building. In previous years at the elementary school, students and staff from each grade level would gather twice a week for morning program to help build that sense of community. With new restrictions this year, the district is maintaining that community building effort through a live feed instead.
“We won’t be gathering as a group, but we will be streaming it into classrooms and for our remote students,” Hendry said. “It is important to us that our remote students feel just as much a part of our school community.”
The theme for this year’s morning program is “Onward and Upward” Hendry said.
“We chose this because we want our students to know that we might not be able to change the past, but we can learn from it, reflect on it and move on to make things better,” she said.