Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 15
juggling so much.
"We're hoping that we're reaching
out to the students, maybe touching
some that we're not touching through
the e-learning. We're telling them we
miss you, we love you, we can't wait
until we can all be together again,"
Like school districts all over the
nation, Dougherty scrambled to provide food, worksheets, computers
and wireless internet "hotspots" to its
students. The school system closed
to in-person classes on March 13, five
days before the state as a whole shut
But in some ways, the district already had built a foundation for what
it is going through now. The district,
nearly 90 percent black, also has more
than two-thirds of students designated
as "economically disadvantaged"-
living in families that are eligible for
food stamps or Temporary Assistance
for Needy Families, for example.
Remote learning-and the ensuing
concern about students who don't
have computers and regular internet
access-has drawn a spotlight nationwide. In Dougherty schools, those equity issues have always been front and
center, because of local poverty levels,
said Cheryl Smith, the district's director of curriculum and instruction.
Back in 2014, the district budgeted
$15 million to provide computers for
every student in grades 3-12. Younger
students have access to classroom
iPads. Along with the purchases, the
district has also invested in professional development for teachers on
platforms such as Google Classroom.
"Of course, we wanted to give our
students access to technology," Smith
said. "But we also wanted to provide a
targeted, individualized learning path
for our students."
A week before Dougherty County
schools closed, the district polled families to find out how many had access
to reliable internet service. About 60
percent of those who responded said
they did, but Dyer said some of those
families are thinking of cellphones.
"When Mom and Dad take the
cellphone, then the internet goes," he
The district had 1,000 wireless
hotspots, Dyer said. That's not enough
for all the families that needed them,
so the district prioritized getting them
to high school seniors and to students
who are dual-enrolled in high school
and college courses, so that they
would not fall behind in their college
Dougherty County has also stuck
with an "asynchronous" instructional
model, rather than requiring students
to sign in at a certain time every day.
And it sends out work packets to
families on school buses, along with
district-provided meals. With the
community under a shelter-in-place
order that has only recently ended,
and a number of families with limited
transportation options, sending food
out into the community made more
sense than requiring families to come
to centralized locations, said the superintendent.
The district also decided that
students could choose to end the
year with the grades they had when
schools closed to in-person instruction, as long as their grade averages
were at 70 percent or higher. Those
with lower averages must work to pull
their grades up during the remaining
weeks of remote instruction in this
academic year; students who meet
the 70 percent mark can choose to
continue working for a higher grade.
Sharon Peoples, whose 15-year-old
daughter Amari Cody is a 9th grader
in the district, has chosen to have her
child continue instruction in several
classes, even though her grades are
"They're already out a long time
during the summer, and an additional
month or a month and a half was
going to be too much leisure time,"
Peoples said. "And I didn't want to be
responsible for assigning her things.
It was a great opportunity and a great
option to continue."
Amid all the uncertainty, Silvana
Jenkins, a 4th grade math teacher who
was spared COVID-19 even as her
husband recovers from the disease,
echoed some of the sentiments as the
superintendent: The work underway
now is similar to what teachers have
always done. Teachers take students
with different levels of preparation,
and bring them forward.
"The gaps may be a little wider than
normal, but we would have seen gaps
anyway," said Jenkins. "We know
we're going to have to bridge them."
With Georgia schools closed for the
academic year and distance learning
in Dougherty underway for more
than a month, the system is now turning its attention to how it will help
students make up academic ground
in the summer.
ficials give the green light. But the
district is also prepared to continue
a remote program, or offer a hybrid
model that could, for example, accommodate parents who don't feel
comfortable sending their children to
a school building.
One lesson taken away from this
school year is that worksheets are a
poor substitute for computer-based
instruction, Dyer said. The district
received an outside grant to purchase
an additional 1,400 computers and
1,400 wireless internet hotspots that
will be distributed among four elementary schools and a middle school.
But the district could need about
4,500 more hotspots, Dyer acknowledged, to provide reliable access to all
The district is also planning a school
schedule that will provide four days of
instruction, plus a fifth day of remediation for students who need it, Dyer
said. Some early assessments will help
determine which students will need
that extra help, he said.
The governor's order allowing some
businesses to reopen does not permit
Dougherty County to retain stricter
restrictions on its residents or businesses. But whether, and how, schools
reopen is a local decision, Dyer said.
That's why staff are weighing multiple
options, a time-consuming but necessary task.
"It's tough work," he said. "But I
can't think of anything that's more
important than making sure our students feel loved and supported."
Coronavirus Batters Southwest Georgia
Albany and surrounding Dougherty County have lost nearly 130 residents
to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as May began.
That's on par with the number of deaths in Atlanta and Fulton County,
which has a population more than ten times higher.
has 1,728 confirmed
cases per 100,000
SOURCE: Georgia Department of Public Health;
cumulative statistics as of May 6, 2020.
Facing Financial Uncertainty
But it's also facing the prospect of a
financially precarious 2020-21 school
year, whether its schools open for
traditional instruction, remote learning, or a blend of the two. State budget analysts estimate that Georgia is
looking at a nearly $3 billion shortfall
by the end of the next fiscal year, and
Dougherty schools are highly dependent on state aid. Local tax revenue is
also expected to be down due to the
If those shortfalls are passed along
to the local school systems, Dyer said,
the district may find itself needing
to make cuts at the very time that it
would want to invest more on technology and social and emotional supports for grieving students.
"Our governor has done a good job
supporting public education," Dyer
said. "But if we don't get federal relief, there are going to be some really
tough decisions to be made."
Dougherty County administrators
are drafting a plan for a distancelearning summer school program
focused on remediation and creditrecovery for high school seniors.
Typically, the district would also offer
enrichment classes, but boosting students who have fallen behind is the
priority now, Dyer said.
And what about the fall? Dyer said
the district is preparing for traditional
classroom instruction if health of-
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Education Week - May 13, 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 13, 2020
Education Week - May 13, 2020
Collapse: Coronavirus Will Make Inequalities in Public Schools Even Worse
Remembering 18-Year-Old Who Died From Coronavirus
‘Summer Melt’ Could Be a Flood As Seniors Shift College Plans
Schools Struggle to Meet Students’ Mounting Mental-Health Needs
7 Big Issues for Unions and Districts in Remote Teaching Agreements
District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On
Right-to-Education Ruling Jolts Advocacy World
Teachers Without Internet Work In Parking Lots, Empty School Building During COVID-19
What We Can Still Learn From Hurricane Katrina
A Blueprint for Reopening Schools This Fall
The Sleeping Giant: Emotional Trauma
Letters to the Editor
EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Collapse: Coronavirus Will Make Inequalities in Public Schools Even Worse
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 2
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Briefly Stated
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 4
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Remembering 18-Year-Old Who Died From Coronavirus
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - ‘Summer Melt’ Could Be a Flood As Seniors Shift College Plans
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 7
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Schools Struggle to Meet Students’ Mounting Mental-Health Needs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 9
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 10
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 7 Big Issues for Unions and Districts in Remote Teaching Agreements
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 12
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 13
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 15
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Right-to-Education Ruling Jolts Advocacy World
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Teachers Without Internet Work In Parking Lots, Empty School Building During COVID-19
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - What We Can Still Learn From Hurricane Katrina
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - The Sleeping Giant: Emotional Trauma
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Letters to the Editor
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 21
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 22
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 24