Here we are on the brink of a new year starting in just a few days. Many of us will be glad to see 2020 end in hopes that all the changes that it brought in will soon be a memory and life will go back to normal. But like any other year, 2020 also brought joys, recognitions and reasons for celebration, even if we couldn’t get together.
When I look back at my calendar, January and February were filled with our usual activities in the schools including the district elementary social studies bee and choral festival, kindergarten registration and the annual board budget retreat.
By mid-March, cases of a novel coronavirus were being diagnosed in the United States and spreading quickly. The governor’s executive order to close schools on March 13 created much uncertainty and stress.
It has been said that “Tough times are a blessing in disguise because it always reveals the true color of the people around us.” If that is true, I am doubly blessed by our administrative team, teachers and staff who rallied when schools closed to do what was necessary to continue to educate students in a digital environment. Our teachers spent two days in schools to prepare to step out of their classrooms and into a virtual learning environment where they could connect and teach students for the next two-and-a-half months. Our employees demonstrated compassion, commitment and persistence in doing all they could to reach out to our students.
Another bright spot was the dedication of our school nutrition staff who worked tirelessly to provide meals to our students. With just over 70% of our students qualifying for free or reduced school meals, it has been imperative that we find a way to feed our students. In March, our school nutrition director rallied her troops, and they were delivering meals on school buses in our neighborhoods by the next week. I’m convinced there is not much of anything our school nutrition staff can’t do when asked.
Additional highlights of 2020 were the recognitions that our staff have received. Two teachers at Dalton High School were singled out for state awards. Biology teacher Annette Buckner was honored as the Georgia Biology Teacher of the Year and English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher Virginia Luna was named the ESOL Teacher of the Year in Georgia. This was the second year that Ms. Luna received this award. We also saw Dalton High School theater teacher Wes Phinney inducted into the Georgia Thespian Hall of Fame and Westwood Gifted Program teacher Martha Thomason awarded the Georgia Gifted Program Teacher of the Year. All outstanding educators who were deserving of these honors.
I would add that our modified graduations at both high schools were a bright spot for everyone during this pandemic. With input from students and parents, our high schools were able to create a socially distanced event that recognized the hard work and dedication of the class of 2020 at Dalton High School and Morris Innovative High School. In the end, many of the parents and students were grateful for the opportunity to celebrate this milestone even if it wasn’t in the traditional way.
Our district is blessed to have incredible academic coaches and instructional leadership that works hard to support our teachers in the classrooms. This past summer, I saw many of our teachers, academic coaches, instructional coaches and administrators work long hours preparing resources to support teachers for the 2020-21 school year. They created instructional lessons on Canvas (our learning management system), developed pacing guides and uploaded assets that have supported teachers who have been providing digital instruction.
To round out this year, just recently our community received the Pacesetter Award, and our board achieved Exemplary Status from the Georgia School Boards Association. Both of these recognitions speak highly of the commitment to excellence in education in our district.
It is easy to focus on everything we missed this year. But we shouldn’t be remiss in remembering all the blessings in 2020. As we usher in 2021, I’m looking forward to all that the new year will hold for Dalton Public Schools. There will be lots of exciting changes in 2021 so stay tuned because the best is yet to come!
Tim Scott is superintendent of Dalton Public Schools.