Elisa A. Ferrell
Huntsville City Schools President
and Board Representative District 3
Back in the day, when all my children were still living at home, I had four boys and one girl all under one roof. Over the years I have seen more than my fair share of Disney movies, PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, superhero movies and sci-fi.
I can name all the Ninja Turtles, at least five Marvel and DC villains; sing along with the Dora The Explorer theme song, explain the difference between a “beam me up” transporter and a walk through stargate, and can name at least one of the species that lives on the moon of Endor. I also know several of the famous movie lines like “Luke, I am you father,” “Hulk smash,” and “to boldly go where no man [or woman] has ever gone before.”
Life has been upside down for everyone since mid-March. Surviving in the “upside down” is from a another of those sci-fi series this mom of five has seen. I can totally relate to the concern of the unknown, the worry over potential danger, and parents doing everything possible to protect their children. Not all of us as individuals began this journey boldly, but bold can be a learned trait. I do believe most of us have ended up at bold; doing what must be done, facing challenges, moving forward.
Families received a call on Sunday, March 15 telling them the previous Friday was the last day of school. The Governor ordered schools closed as of March 18, but Huntsville City Schools felt the concern within our community was great, and it would be best to discontinue face to face learning immediately. Fortunately, we are a Digital 1:1 system; one device for every one student. Our younger students had devices in the classroom, and our older students had laptops they could take home. HCS was in better shape than most. We were all taken by surprise, to include teachers. Most of their teaching materials and aids were still in their classroom. It took several days, and deep cleaning in the buildings, before teachers could come in at staggered times to retrieve classroom materials. The emergency stop of learning, and then the restart of remote learning was a bumpy ride. The efforts made by our teachers providing meaningful learning were herculean. It was all new to everyone.
Partnerships with Adtran and Huntsville Utilities helped Huntsville City Schools provide a mesh of Wi-Fi access in the areas around our schools, so students without internet at home could access lessons and homework when they were close to the building. That same Wi-Fi mesh was also put on school buses Huntsville City Schools parked in neighborhoods. Our Child Nutrition staff (CNP) were preparing grab and go lunches and breakfasts at schools all over the city; delivering meals to students as they drove through our school parking lots. Local churches jumped in and helped by distributing meals all summer long. Our operations staff was deep cleaning and spraying germicide in all 42 of our schools and our administrative, security and warehouse buildings. Everyone was working for the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff.
On Sunday, March 15, I also received a call from Ms. Finley telling me we were shutting down schools. In that same phone call, she told me she and her cabinet were already working on the restart plan for the fall. They were already considering all the options; remote learning, staggered start, the Virtual Academy and resuming face to face. Just like the difference I mentioned in the Star Trek transporter and the stargates in the Sci-Fi series of the same name, there is a big difference in emergency stop remote learning and planned virtual learning. It is still new to us, but we had more than 48 hours to work on many of the details and to try and anticipate as many of the pitfalls as possible.
Schools are the foundation of a community. We provide education for children so they can grow into their potential, we provide socialization, physical activities, meals, extracurricular opportunities for all their talents, and a safe place for young children to be from 8:00a-2:30p. Strong schools build strong communities, and our families enjoy both here in Huntsville. HCS knows the decisions we make have a major impact on our students, staff, families, and community. Our decisions are not made lightly. As HCS weighed the options of remote, staggered or face to face, there was no decision that could be made that would make everyone happy. School systems across the state had to step up and make tough calls, they had to take into consideration the safety of their students and staff, knowing this year was going to be different from any other previous year and that any decision made was going to be met with resistance. To loosely quote Brene’ Brown, we don’t need to be right, we need to do right. In other words, we don’t need to force our opinion on anyone until they agree with us and we win the argument. We need to do the right thing by kids; all 23,000 kids. That is the ultimate litmus test. As I write this on the 1st of August, doing right means teaching remotely. I am encouraged though, that today while I am writing, our community is in its second week of a downward trajectory of new cases, which in turn further encourages me that the downward path may have continued through the day you received this periodical in your mail box sometime in early September. If that is the case, remote learning may be short lived.
If you have ever watched more than one episode of Star Trek, you know the red shirt people are ill fated, Tribbles are cute in an overwhelming kudzu kind of way, and Klingons have anger management issues. You also know about the personalities of the crew. Scotty will always say “I’m giving you all she’s got Captain”, McCoy is always concerned and warning everyone about potential risks, Spock provides facts and solutions, and Kirk is committed to the mission regardless of the challenges. School systems need a crew with all those traits too. We need the people giving our schools everything and then some, people who see all the pitfalls and advise on ways to avoid them, people with the data and suggestions on a course of action, and leaders who commit to the mission regardless of the challenges. I am proud to say we have all those people in our system and in our schools. We will continue to do the right thing by all kids; we will continue to boldly go… and provide an out of this world education for your children.