Following Gov. Kay Ivey’s proclamation Thursday afternoon that “all public K-12 schools shall implement a plan to complete the 2019-20 school year using alternate methods of instruction established by the State Department of Education,” Arab City Schools Superintendent Dr. Johnny Berry told the city school board the same night that the local plan should be in place by mid-week.

State Superintendent of Education Erick Mackie was to have a general (conference) meeting with all superintendents at 8:30 Friday morning, focusing on what he termed, critical learning standards.

“We plan to offer distance learning through online and digital platforms, and even take-home packets,” he said.

Berry said he and local administrators would be working on a “skeleton” plan Friday morning following the meeting with Mackie and put the plan together on Monday.

“By mid-week, we should be in a good position to get our kids online,” he said.

Berry said that while the building is officially closed with limited personnel on site, teachers could be allowed in at some point to gather resources.

“We hope to be able to allow small groups in next week by letting a group in, thoroughly clean those areas, then let another group in,” he said.

While no one was certain if the school year would resume on site or not this year, administrators had been discussing plans since the first decision was made to close school.

“Our folks have been working on this for a while, we just didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Berry. “But, we’re committed to do what’s best for our kids and make sure they have every resource available that we can provide for them. One day they’ll look back and say Arab City took care of us when we were in a bad situation.”

The “alternate methods” the schools will use will require dedication and responsibility from the students themselves.

The good news is most of the methods are not really new and have proven successful.

“It will be a different format,” said Berry. ”If you’ve looked at social media lately, a lot of our teachers have done some webinars, ‘Zoom’ programs or maybe even ‘Google Meets’ or ‘Google Hang Outs’ and those type things. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to see your kids face-to-face, albeit not in person, but you can see them online and our kids are enjoying that delivery method.”

In fact, those methods have already been in effect to some degree during the initial school closing because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We met last Monday and I asked our principals to insure that our teachers touch base with their kids in a two way communication at least once a week,” he said. “Well, now that’s going to be ramped up a little bit. We’re going to try to have a lot more conversations with them. We want to push our kids forward.”

As for parents, Berry said the school district needs their support.

“Once we lay this plan out, they’ll get some information from us next week,” he said. “The biggest thing is to insure that the students do what we ask them to do. We’re not going to do a lot of fluff, we want to do the things that will really help our kids get where they need to be with the required standards. We’re going to err on the side of safety, but we’re going to do everything we can for our kids to insure that they have a great finish to this nine weeks. When we get back in August, we want to make sure that the students returning next year are ready to rock n roll.”

But, both Mackie and Berry know there will be exceptions.

“We are concerned about that long summer slide that may ensue,” said Mackie. “We’re concerned about the lack of internet in some homes and all the things that parents, teachers and administrators across the state have brought to our attention. But, I want to assure our parents, students and teachers that we are working diligently with our local superintendents and their teams to make sure there is a plan in place for every school and every child to continue their learning and close out their school year.”

Berry was even more direct.

“If a student does not get where they need to be through this new learning platform that we’re all going to be faced with, then we’re going to put some things in place in August where we can get those kids up to speed when we get back,” he said.

Graduation will be held

With June 5th the new official last day of school as set by the state, Mackie said he hoped that graduation ceremonies could still be held for seniors at some time this summer.

Berry said there was no question about graduation.

“We hate this for our seniors who won’t be able to finish spring sports and other activities,” he said. “Graduation is messed up right now, but we’re going to have it. That’s absolute.”

Berry said as soon as a date for the ceremony could be clarified, it would be announced.

Berry said for now, the bottom line is “keeping kids healthy.”

He said he is thankful to have the team of administrators and teachers at Arab who are ready to accept the challenge, as well as fellow superintendents who are facing the same situation.

“We’re all navigating not just unchartered waters, but nobody even knew these were on the map,” he said. “It’s different, but I love our staff, our kids and the resilience of this community. People have come out of the woodwork trying to help us, and we’ve taken advantage of a lot of that.

“Our administrative team has grown closer working together trying to figure this thing out,” he continued. “I will assure the parents that this group I’m working with has your kids best interest at heart and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that they have incredible learning opportunities the rest of the way.”

Free meals

The superintendent also reported that some 416 children received meals last Monday “in pouring down rain. And we’ll be doing the same thing this coming Monday,” he said.

The meals, five breakfasts and five lunches, are given out to children 18 and under between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Arab Primary School.

If you haven’t already done so, you can register through the Arab City Schools website, www.arabcityschools.org.

Families are asked to stay in their vehicles and pick up meals in the drop off lane in the back of the school.

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