As we prepare for a new year and newer, brighter future for us all, Granville County Public Schools prepares to shift toward a “New Day” for serving children in our community. While the past year has been fraught with hardships and challenges for families, the pandemic has reminded us that working together, we can overcome any challenge. The team of educators at GCPS is responding by removing obstacles to make sure children get whatever they need to be successful learners. This looks different for every child, so staff are focusing on personalized approaches during these difficult times.
“Many things have changed in the past year, but our commitment to children has not and will not,” notes Superintendent Alisa McLean. “Our teachers, counselors, social workers, administrators and support staff are doing whatever it takes to reach out and connect with children to make certain they have what they need in order to be successful. We are building on our strengths and making innovative and personalized shifts in our organization to bring about change — it’s a New Day for GCPS, and I am excited about the future.” School districts in North Carolina, like the rest of the nation, are attempting to find creative and viable solutions that balance academics and student needs with safety and resources. Dr. McLean insists that the intentional balance of all is critically important as the district forges ahead during these uncertain times.
While the school district faces dwindling financial resources for the future, many indicators show an organization poised for transformation. The district just received yet another, clean, independent financial audit, showing outstanding stewardship of taxpayer dollars. More than $15 million in capital outlay improvements are nearing completion after three years of careful planning and construction, thanks in large part to the support of the County Commissioners. And finally, staff have worked hard to seek new sources of revenue, with competitive grant funding now surpassing all previous records for the district, which now total $5.1 million during Superintendent McLean’s tenure.
While the accountability measures for student academic performance on state testing has been temporarily suspended in some areas because of the pandemic, the district continues to focus on making sure children master the core academic standards. In order to achieve this, the district has invested heavily in professional development for teachers, additional student support services to increase attendance and engagement, and with technology — supplying all students with laptops, tablets, MiFis, community hotspots, and digital learning tools. These efforts help children of all ages during remote and hybrid learning models and will continue as we shift toward the post-pandemic model of education. In addition, the district has worked hard to advocate with local and state elected officials for greater coverage and availability of broadband and cellular services throughout the county. When and where such services are still sparse or unavailable, the district has been stepping up efforts to provide alternative methods for “remote” instructional delivery. Parent/Guardian technology sessions will also continue. Finally, literacy continues to be a key focus for all students. We have also made certain our school district’s reach was extended through the mobile Book Bus throughout the summer and fall this year, as well as winter book packets for all early learners. Coupled with this, more than 900,000 meals have been provided to students since the pandemic through a variety of methods — whether it be door to door, drive-thru or traditional service at school. Taking school resources to the community has been important and it will continue to be.
“So what does it mean to say a ‘New Day’ is coming in GCPS?” asks Dr. McLean. “Well, it doesn’t mean more things to do, but rather it means doing things differently than before. The pandemic has forced us to change the way we think about serving children and working with families. Remote learning and technology tools can be isolating, so it is more important than ever that we focus on making individualized connections with students and often, with the entire family. We need our community to help support us in this effort.”
Local businesses, churches and neighbors are to be thanked for assisting thus far but clearly, more might be needed. A call for community support has been underway since the spring of 2020, with dozens of individuals stepping up to do their part. Substitute teachers are still needed to help when staff are quarantined or out because of COVID. Personnel are also needed to help implement screening and temperature checks, supervise isolation rooms for students who exhibit COVID-like symptoms, prepare paper learning packets or help prepare and deliver meals for children. Support is needed across the board to help the front line “heroic” employees who have been working for children the past 10 months.
Board Chairman David Richardson and Superintendent McLean recently convened a working group of mayors, district leaders and our county economic development office to specifically help support ideas for older students needing to balance the demands of academics while many seek out employment opportunities to help their families during the pandemic. Soon, a community leader group will be convened to help grapple with ideas just as difficult. “It is a delicate balance for many families and it is important our school system is part of the solution — not the problem,” Superintendent McLean said. GCPS has also surpassed state and regional averages for the WorkKeys state assessments — a critical workplace readiness exam that provides professional credentials for graduates. Platinum and gold level certificates are now at an all time high in GCPS.
“High school students are getting part-time or entry-level jobs like never before to help their family budgets, yet they still have the full demands of a rigorous academic schedule to handle. We want to help them navigate this stressful time and make sure they still earn that diploma and look towards their next steps to prepare for their careers,” said Mr. Richardson. “In addition to these working groups, we will be finalizing the formation of a district Task Force that will take a closer look at issues of facility and capital needs, resource management and equity. These are important topics that the board has been working on prior to the pandemic, and need some final resolution.”
Superintendent McLean summarized her thoughts: “I am extremely proud of the amazing work our team of educators has accomplished during the era of COVID. GCPS has kept the focus on our student well-being and literacy. The Board of Education and I are very optimistic and excited about the future of our school district. Together, we are poised to help support our educators as they propel our students and families forward. In Granville County, like in many other forward-thinking places around the nation, we are about to experience a true shift in our approach to education, which will improve the prospects for success for each young person, and as a result, our community as a whole. It is indeed a New Day for GCPS.”
Dr. Stan Winborne is assistant superintendent of operations & human resources and public information officer for Granville County Public Schools.