Brownstown administrators discuss return to in-person instruction



All high school classrooms and the cafeteria are 100% socially distanced.

The winter sports season has concluded, and the high school band and drill team performed at the last few home basketball games.

Spring sports practices are starting at the middle and high schools.

The high school choral department was able to present all four of its musical performances this year.

A majority of middle and high school students are now attending classes in person.

A year after America was shaken by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, things are starting to look normal for Brownstown Central Community School Corp.

During a recent board of school trustees meeting, Superintendent Tim Taylor recognized the efforts of everyone in the corporation for stepping up to keep the schools open and keep students learning.

On March 12, 2020, 20 people spent an evening removing more than 1,500 Chromebooks, chargers and carts at all three schools, created a student list and distributed Chromebooks in cases so they could go home with students the next day.

“The way everyone came together that night is one of my proudest moments in education in 30-some years because we had spouses, we had guidance counselors, we had principals, we had assistants, we had office staff, just everybody came together,” Taylor said. “It couldn’t have happened if everybody didn’t come together. It was just a great outpouring of good faith, and it was just really overwhelming.”

Hybrid schedules, pods and eLearning have made school different, but Taylor applauded the staff for making every effort to provide “a sanctuary of normalcy” for students during the uncharted times.

“We’ve come a long way since that night, always putting student learning and safety at the forefront,” he said.

“It makes me think of a quote I shared with the staff from John Doerr: ‘Bad companies are destroyed by crises. Good companies survive crises. Great companies improve from crises,’” he said. “While we’re not a company, we’re a school, I think it describes what we’ve done in the last year, so a big ‘Thank you’ to everyone who has contributed to that.”

Each of the school principals provided updates during the recent meeting.

High school Principal Joe Sheffer said the setup in most of the classrooms and in the cafeteria allows for students to be 6 feet apart.

“So we are good as far as contact tracing goes at the high school,” he said.

He said he appreciated recently using eLearning days due to winter weather.

“We had good attendance and good student work completion, and we’re very thankful to not have to go after graduation,” Sheffer said. “We’ve done that before, and it’s not very successful.”

The musical, fans, the band and drill team at basketball games, cap and gown distribution and National Honor Society induction program all are signs of returning to normal, Sheffer said.

One change is rescheduling prom for 9 p.m. to midnight June 3 at Pewter Hall in Brownstown, per the recommendation of the Jackson County Health Department.

A year ago, prom was canceled, but a group of parents organized an off-site event for students to attend.

“BCHS has a student prom committee working on COVID-19 guidelines,” Sheffer said. “BCHS has every intention of having a student prom, but ultimately, the Jackson County Health Department will have the final decision. … We’re trying to give the students a prom, and I know they are out buying dresses, so hopefully, they’ll be able to have one.”

Middle school Principal Doug McClure also expressed thanks for the eLearning days the week of Feb. 15.

“It went much better than the week of eLearning or remote learning we were trying to do last March,” he said. “We have learned a lot since last March, and I think the week by and large was a success, and I think the students and parents were appreciative that we had plans in place and were able to stay engaged.”

The middle and high schools reported a smooth transition back to in-person learning when the third trimester started Feb. 23.

Only 20 middle-schoolers are still virtual learners, McClure said.

“Our classrooms and halls felt much fuller, and our cafeteria during lunch is a little bit louder now, but it has been terrific getting everyone back,” he said. “It was especially nice that first Tuesday hearing students express to one another how much they had missed each other. We heard a lot of that in the building that first day. … That was really, after 15 weeks, rather encouraging.”

McClure said staff members met in a series of discussions dubbed “The Other Side” to review what programs and procedures they have liked, what they would like to get rid of and what they want to bring out in the future.

“We had some really good conversations over the last six weeks,” he said. “I’m really excited about some of the changes that are coming to the middle school next year not only in our procedures but also in some of the incentives that the teachers have come up with in order to get the kids back in the game motivationally.”

The elementary school has operated in pods this school year. Principal Chrystal Street said only 35 students are still in eSchool.

“We’re trying to get those kiddos back, and they are coming slowly,” she said.

She also liked being able to do eLearning for a week in February due to the weather.

“It went really well for us,” she said. “We do appreciate not having those makeup days (at the end of the school year). Kids were able to participate during Google Meet and had good participation. It was a win-win for us.”

Director of Technology Will Hubbard also shared results from an eLearning survey that parents took via a link on social media. The questions were based on the week in February that was the first one where eLearning was implemented for inclement weather.

“The feedback is mostly positive,” he said. “I think this will identify where we can move forward to make this better, and some of the questions that were open-ended, we have a long list that we’re going through to look at what we did right and what we can do to improve.”

Trustees closed the meeting sharing their thoughts.

“As we get to the end of this school year, just keep pushing hard to make sure these next couple of months are successful, and hopefully by the fall, we’ll be back to even more normal,” Paul Borden said.

Vice President Gina Hackman thanked everyone involved in the meal distribution to provide food to students while they were out of school.

“That was such a valuable service that we provided for our kids,” she said.

Clayton Beard said students being back in school is good for everybody, and Brian Wheeler thanked Taylor and Assistant Superintendent Jade Peters for guiding the corporation through the past year.

Board President Scott Shade said he’s glad to hear eLearning is improving.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s a tool that’s there that we’re going to have to use over time, and we’re getting better at it,” he said. “Social distancing, that’s great news also at the high school. If we can keep things moving, that’s huge. It’s all about effort, and we appreciate everybody’s efforts.”

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