CAIRO HIGH SCHOOL’S Melanie Simmons is shown passing out packets Tuesday afternoon.
The Grady County School System is expected to receive approximately $1.3 million in stimulus funding for COVID-19 relief as recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump.
On top of that, school superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard told members of the board of education Tuesday night that Washington Middle School and Eastside Elementary School are eligible for grants of $146,500 and $125,000 respectively.
Gilliard outlined broadly his plan to utilize the stimulus and grant funding to purchase tablets and laptops for local students that can be used at home for virtual learning in the event of another extended school closure.
The county school superintendent said that system leaders have to look at the future of education here differently than in the past.
He says that when north Georgia and metro Atlanta school systems closed under the governor’s orders last month they sent their students home with technology to continue teaching outside of the four walls of the school. “That’s not currently an option we have,” Dr. Gilliard said.
He also reported to the board members that 25 percent of local students do not have access to high-speed internet at their home, regardless of the ability to pay for it or not. It does not exist, Gilliard said, which puts a large portion of the student population, both rich and poor, at a significant disadvantage.
Since schools have been closed, the superintendent said he has been involved in lengthy discussions with assistant school superintendents Janet Walden and Tilda Brimm as well as finance officer Dan Broome about the future of public education in Grady County.
“We hate that people are sick, and even dying, but we need to take advantage of this opportunity and look at it as an opportunity,” Dr. Gilliard said.
He said depending on what experts one listens to, another round of the virus could be on the horizon this fall. “Whether or not it’s another round of sickness, or a hurricane or a tornado or even a water main break we will have another school shutdown sometime in the future. I want to make sure we are not in this same boat the next time,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The superintendent has scheduled a virtual meeting with a group of teachers Friday to get their ideas on how to educate students if schools are not open or reach students whose parents may not ever want to return to a physical classroom.
Dr. Gilliard noted that he and the two assistant superintendents are nearing retirement age and that it is important for the future plan to be for Grady County and not any one person’s plan.
“Our teachers are younger than I am and more tech savvy. We will toss out our ideas and they probably will come up with a better idea,” he said.
With the grant funding, the system can purchase 292 computers for Washington and 250 for Eastside. The superintendent is hopeful the stimulus money will make up the difference and provide for other technological infrastructure.
Superintendent Gilliard said that videos of teachers could be recorded on thumb drives for students with no access to high speed internet and catalogs of videos of other teachers could be made available so if a child was not grasping how one teacher taught the subject matter, he had access to how another teacher explained it. “We could make all of that available to help the child,” Dr. Gilliard said.
“This may not happen next year, but we’ve got to begin thinking and planning for it to happen now,” Dr. Gilliard said.
Board member Gerald Goosby applauded the superintendent and his team for thinking forward. “I love you are thinking ahead,” Goosby said.
Under the proposal being considered, the tablets would be issued to younger children and laptops to older students.
Gilliard praised the efforts of the local teachers who have continued to work to help educate students during this crisis by teaching virtually, preparing take-home packets of class assignments and making contacts with students and parents on a regular basis.
Packets were distributed to students this week and Dr. Gilliard reported the pickup rate for the elementary and middle school aged students had ranged from 90 percent to 97 percent. Participation rates for the Cairo High School were not known Tuesday night since packets were being picked up over two days there.