Nearly 1,200 Murray County Schools students to learn totally online

Ryan Anderson/Daily Citizen-News

Kindergarten teacher Michelle Coffelt reads a book to her students at Woodlawn Elementary School on the first day of school Tuesday. There were fewer students in classrooms of all Murray County Schools, as nearly 1,200 students opted for complete virtual education this semester, a choice offered by the system due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

CHATSWORTH — With the open enrollment period closed, nearly 1,200 Murray County Schools students opted for complete virtual education this semester.

Out of the nearly 6,900 students enrolled in Murray County Schools, 1,190 opted for virtual learning for the first semester, Barbie Kendrick, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said last week during a Murray County Board of Education work session. "Lots of folks are nervous about coming, and lots of folks have serious medical conditions."

Roughly 5% of Murray County Schools teachers are dedicated to virtual teaching, and they are "excited," said Kelly Rogers, director of elementary and early learning. "They've already sent out invites to Google Classrooms," and each school is able to serve its own virtual students, meaning a student at a given school who opted for virtual learning will have a teacher assisting him or her from that school.

Consequently, "when they return to traditional classrooms, they will have a connection to their school" through that teacher, Rogers said. "We want them to feel connected to their home school."

The system will begin asking families about their plans for the second semester in early November, she said. "We're very excited to offer this option to our families" during a pandemic (the new coronavirus, COVID-19), and "it is a great service."

Teachers report to their school buildings even though they're working in the virtual realm, and "they'll work a full day," she said. A major element of their work will be making sure students don't fall behind, and "a lot of (their duties) will be interactions (with students) and one-on-one" instruction.

And the school system can keep track of student progress online, she said. "We can track in real time" not only how much work students have completed, but their grades up to the day.

On Thursday, the system distributed 500 Chromebooks to virtual students who had requested them, as well as Wi-Fi "hot spots" to students without reliable home internet, and "it went well," said Adriane Ellis, instructional technology specialist. Another distribution is scheduled for this week for those who missed the Thursday event.

Online enrollment

The system is also offering online enrollment this year, meaning families no longer have to visit the enrollment center to fill out numerous forms, said Superintendent Steve Loughridge. "It's something we feel will be very helpful, and parents will get used to it."

There's a link on the system's website, it's "very user friendly,'' and there's a video to follow, Ellis said. For returning students, in particular, the process is much faster and easier online.

"I have three (students), and it took me five minutes," she said. "As a parent, that was amazing."

Gladden Middle School update

Gladden Middle School, which has undergone a roughly $8.5 million makeover, was ready to host students for the first day on Tuesday, although "there are still a few things not done," Loughridge said. Neither the gym nor the kitchen are ready for use.

"The equipment is here, but we can't cook, yet, (as) Georgia Power needs to put in a new transformer," he said. "We hope to be ready in about two weeks," but, until then, nutrition workers will collect box lunches from another locale and bring them to Gladden for students.

As for the gym, "we're thinking about Oct. 1," he said. The first home volleyball game at Gladden, which is more than 50 years old, is scheduled for Oct. 22, and "we should have the gym way before then."

Bus routes

Murray County Schools is short of bus drivers to open the year, and "there are three routes right now we can't cover," two for Murray County High School, and a third that travels to that school and Gladden Middle School, Loughridge said Thursday. The system has contacted families who were on those routes last year to inform them they'll need to provide their own transportation.

"We regret it, but we don't have any other options,'' he said. "Hopefully, this will only be (a problem) for a couple of days."

"We have eight or nine drivers in training," and they're ready to drive with one exception: they need to complete a route with children on the bus and a certified driver supervising them, he said. Once that is done, they'll be ready.

In addition, while "we're going to start the school year running the same routes, we may be able to do some consolidation once we see what happens" due to fewer students attending in-person school this semester because of virtual learning, he said. The system has 84 daily bus routes, but "we're down 15 drivers from last year,'' with most of those departures occurring in the past three-four weeks.

"Many school districts are having transportation issues, (so) we are not uncommon," he said. "We continue to try to recruit drivers, but it's a difficult thing to recruit for."

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