Clark County Schools resume for the new school year

“At the end of the day, everybody is excited to get their kids back in school. Kids are really ready to get back in school,” said Dr. Molly McComas, superintendent for the Clark County School district.

August 18th marked the start of the 2021-2022 school year, and the return of children to in-person learning after the spread of Covid necessitated at-home learning during the previous school year. While the Delta variant of Covid is causing the infection rate to rise once again, McComas remains hopeful and the district plans to remain flexible when it comes education setting. 

That morning was McComas’ first school day as the district’s superintendent. Throughout the day, she visited each of Clark County’s schools to meet the children, greet parents and speak with faculty. Around 7 a.m., she introduced herself to children exiting the bus at Willis H. Justice Elementary School. At around 8, she sat down to speak with students at Shearer Elementary School. 

Numerous parents and guardians dropping kids off for their first day of school harbored positive feelings on the return of in-class learning. As Amy Stevens and Jim Jones dropped children off at Justice Elementary, they discussed the return of their children to the classroom.

“Honestly, I think being in class, physically, is really good for them,” said Stevens. 

“I feel like it’s better for kids to be around other kids and to let them be, well, kids,” Jones said.

“Just being in class is a help to the students,” said Phillis Tipton, dropping her grandson off at Willis H. Justice Elementary. “The teachers can help their students out more. And a lot of parents and grandparents have to work all day. It can be hard for kids to focus on their work if they’re left home all by themselves.”

Students are returning to the classroom this year under a mandatory mask mandate implemented by the governor via executive order and by the Kentucky Board of Education via emergency regulation. 

Jenny Whitehouse, dropping a child off at Shearer Elementary, wasn’t keen on mandatory masking.

“I’m glad kids are going back in person,” she said. “It’s how kids learn, it’s always been. These young kids starting kindergarten, when they’re listening to their teachers, they’re visually reading they’re lips. It’s how they learn to way words correctly and it’s how they get a great education.”

While in-person learning is continuing in Clark County, families had the opportunity to apply for virtual learning. Of K-8 students, 73 were applied for at-home learning. Among the highschoolers, 53 had requested applications. According to McComas, many of the students were granted virtual learning. These students will have the opportunity to apply for in-person education in January. Not all applications were approved, however. Students who were shown to have struggled with at-home education last year were asked by the school district to attend class in-person. McComas estimates that about 100 students in total will be learning virtually. 

“I want all of our kids to walk into greatness,” she said. “We don’t want to set our students up for failure, so we carefully looked through the applications to make sure we didn’t leave anybody at home when they really needed to be in-person.”

While there is hope that in-person education will enrich student learning, it’s not without its difficulties. Staffing is tight, McComas said, noting that fewer people are becoming teachers across the commonwealth. According to  McComas, teachers felt uncertainty regarding how Covid will affect their jobs. Meanwhile the media, she adds – citing coverage of the billions in teacher-pension debt as an example – paints education industry as a whole in a negative light.  

“Everybody knows how to do school except for teachers, you’d think, based on the media,” she said. “There’s a negative perception with school right now, and that’s scary. A lot of would-be teachers are thinking ‘I’m investing all this time and money to get a degree and come out not making the level of income I could make in the private sector and then not be respected. I should do something else.’ We want to change that message. We want to make sure teachers are valued and respected. If you work at a school, you’re an educator. Bus drivers, secretaries, cafeteria staff, we are all educators.”

Regardless of the perception, McComas said an audience “rivaling Black Friday” attended open houses throughout Clark County schools. She called it a ‘good problem to have,’ even if it wasn’t anticipated for so many families to attend.

Further motivating efforts, McComas said Clark County is aiming to have a fantastic year in school athletics. Michael Richie will be stepping in as the district’s athletic director, with previous director Jamie Keene being promoted to head principal at George Rogers Clark High School. 

“I’m excited to be meeting with Mr. Keene and our principals next week to talk about the direction of athletics,” said McComas. “We want to make sure students have opportunities. Athletics give important character development. Grit, determination, developing a strong, and a true work ethic.”

Additionally, the support athletics students receive seeing their families sitting on the bleachers provides a significant boost in motivation, McComas added. She said she hopes that, after being cooped up inside for so long, a lot of people will attend Clark County School District sporting events.  

“I hope for the community to support us,” said McComas. “I want to see parents enter a good relationship and partnership with their kids’ teachers. We want our kids to walk into greatness, and the only way it’s going to happen is if we work on the same team.”