The Culpeper County School division has reached its mid-year mark on the school calendar. This semester has been extremely stressful and taxing in almost every way imaginable. I think it is prudent that we give praise to the entire school division for reaching this milestone. Before I go into those praises, I want to be clear, we wish we could have all of the CCPS students and staff attend school each and every day under normal circumstances. That day will be coming sooner than later!
During the extreme heat of last August, the local debate was raging as to how our school division was going to function under state mandated guidelines. CCPS Superintendent Dr. Anthony Brads directed all of his school’s central office staff and school administrators to meet in a gymnasium to temporarily recreate our school division. For two days, this team went to work rebuilding our schools. These two days were some of the most productive days that I have been a part of during my 28 year career.
While these plans were being developed, the debates within our community were endless; especially on social media and the local newspaper blogs and posts. I think it is safe to say, the majority of these positions were not in favor of our school opening at all, while keeping the students of Culpeper County locked out of the buildings.
I want to thank the school board members for having faith in Dr. Brad’s team and the professional courage to do what was best for our students. As we wrap up our first semester using a blended model, we need to stop and applaud all of the efforts of the CCPS employees.
Again, our central office staff has led this charge. The instructional piece of this year has been the most challenging. Our leaders gave the teachers the tools to make education work. They gave teachers the latitude to figure out how best to make their classroom work for students. Yes, those first weeks of our school year were stressful, confusing, and tiring. We could have used more time to prepare, but we did not want to ‘kick the can down the road’ like we have seen so many other entities do during this pandemic. As great school divisions do, CCPS allowed their teachers and staff members to figure it out without getting in their way. We are still learning new ways to educationally connect with students who continue to struggle under this new model of education. We are all hopeful that the second half of our school year starts on a stronger academic foundation and ultimately reach all of our students.
The unheralded support groups that have made our education work have been fantastic. I applaud Dr. Brad’s team members for finding the appropriate cleaning supplies and sanitation items. Our schools have never been without masks, hand sanitizer, thermometers, or other PPE supplies. The environmental support staff has kept our buildings safe and clean. Our administrative assistants have kept our offices open and responsive to thousands of calls from concerned parents and community members. They were often the first voice most people heard when calling our schools for more information. The school nursing staff has worked with parents, staff, and local health officials making sure that everyone is not exposed to any contagious person. Yes, we have had seclusions of students and staff members, but that has protected the vast populations within our schools. These folks have done a great job with that process. The school bus drivers have done a great job of going beyond the call of duty by transporting the students who rely on our buses to get an educational opportunity. The para educators have been phenomenal. Many of their roles have changed and are now more involved in the educational process than ever before.
Many CCPS students have maximized their opportunities during the first half of this school year. I can only give specific example of how secondary students have made the most of this year. I am sure the same can be said at the elementary level as well. Our secondary schools continue to have extracurricular activities for students. CCPS has maximized the athletic opportunities for its athletes while keeping within the mandatory guidelines. Our students have also participated in drama productions, concerts, and community service activities. All of this made possible by our CCPS teachers, sponsors, and coaches.
I know many of you were very skeptical before the school year even began. I am so thankful for those four board members who gave us a shot at making this happen. I heard the negative comments as to why we were taking this risk of opening our schools. I also heard comments such as “you will shut it down in three weeks”. Well, here we are in mid- January and we are still rolling. In fact, the CCPS model has been examined and adopted by many of school divisions across the state. Has this been a perfect semester? No! We have been jumping hurdle after hurdle along the way. That is what committed educators do. They find a way to go over each hurdle, not under or around it, but over it. I think it is safe to say, the CCPS school division has cleared a major hurdle by finishing the semester while keeping kids and staff safe. Now, onto the next hurdle!
Mark Settle athletic director, Eastern View High School