Interview with Dr. Kelly Griffith, Superintendent of Talbot County Public Schools

EEDC: We last spoke in May. At the time, everyone was looking to find a “new normal.” It was all new then, integrating distance learning. How are things now?

 

Kelly Griffith (KG): There has been a lot of professional development, and our teachers have done an amazing job. We’ve also created parent tutorials to help them understand what was happening with our learning management system. The first two weeks of school have been all virtual, and everything really went well. I felt the staff was very energetic and excited to see their kids, and the kids were excited to be back in school (so to speak). We did have a 94% attendance on the first day of school. Which left around 250 kids we had to find out about. The major reason turned out to be that there were some students with connectivity issues. Also, some had changed their schedule, and there were some glitches there.

 

We did bring in some small groups to every school building. Those were students that were still experiencing connectivity issues. Either Eastern utilities hadn’t gotten in to set up the internet, or they were issued hotspots, and they just weren’t giving them enough connectivity. So, we brought in a little less than 200 students last week to make sure we’re educating everyone.

 

EEDC: Do you have any idea on how the parents are doing?

 

KG: This past Monday, we sent them a questionnaire asking if they wanted their children to continue the semester online or preferred that they come back to face-to-face teaching. This way, we can put together a planning process to bring our students back in October. But we’re ready for that. We’re learning as we go; this is all new for all of us. As I told the staff, we’re all first-year teachers this year, and we’re learning a lot of new protocol, a lot of new procedures. We are keeping safety at the forefront and moving slowly but steadily, but safety is our number one concern.

 

EEDC: Are you assuming that the parents are going to want to go back?

 

KG: I’ve learned through COVID to assume nothing. So far, parents have had at least two full weeks of virtual learning. So, they will be able to make an educated decision for each of their children of how their children learn best and how they feel about it. And I want each parent and student to feel comfortable about the decision they make. We will be ready and have a variety of plans for whatever they decide. We hope they want to come back because we’re prepared for them to go back.

 

Obviously, we can’t have everybody come back at one time. So, if we get 80% of our parents who want to go back, it will have to be in a hybrid model with an A day and B day, because we can’t have that many people in a building yet at one time. But if we have 70% of our parents wanting to stay virtual and 30% want to come back, then we can have the 30% come back every day.

 

EEDC: So, parents really will have a choice, and you are going to allow both ends of the spectrum?

 

KG: They do have a choice. They can remain virtual for the semester, or they can come back face-to-face.

 

EEDC: How will that work with teachers? If they’re face-to-face with students, how do they also deal with the virtual students?

 

KG: We will have to work that out, and it will mean a lot of different scenarios. I’ve made it very clear to parents that your child’s teacher may have to change if you choose to remain virtual. So, if I have eight third grades at Easton elementary school and half of the kids want to remain virtual, and half the kids want to come back, I may have two teachers that do all the virtual classes, and the other six teachers work with the kids coming back. We may have to make some changes as far as teacher assignments. But we’re ready to do that. When we get the questionnaires back, we’ll make those decisions.

 

EEDC: Currently, how many hours of live learning are you doing?

 

KG: We’re averaging at least three and a half hours every day of synchronous learning where the students are online with their teacher. Of course, you’re going to do a little more in high school than you’re going to do with pre-K. Then the rest of the day is around three hours of asynchronous. So that’s time for students to get their work done, either doing independent work or teamwork with their classmates. The teacher can also put students into small groups in the zoom groups to work cooperatively on projects and so forth.

 

EEDC: Also, back in May, we were looking at 48% of the children qualifying for free and reduced meals. Has that number remained the same as far as you know?

 

KG: We don’t have that information yet. It’s too early. They have until October 30th to get the forms in. But since they extended the federal program due to the situation we’re in, all students are getting free breakfast and lunch. These are available for pick up at all our schools from 4-5:30 Tuesdays and Fridays.

 

EEDC: What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

 

KG: We’ve done a lot of planning. Purposeful, purposeful, intentional planning is the key to success during COVID. And assume that everyone knows nothing because it’s all new to all of us. This is truly unprecedented. We’re learning as we go and keeping safety first in mind for both students and staff.

 

We’re also learning that kids learn differently. I’m a mom of three boys. And if I had to choose, one of my boys would have been fine doing virtual learning. Another one would have definitely had to come back. And then my third one, I think I would have had a conversation asking him what he thought. So, I think parents need to have those conversations with their children, but some parents don’t have a choice; they need for their kids to come back. It really depends on the family situation and the dynamics that are going on in the family. And it also depends on the variety of learners that they have in their household.

 

EEDC: Any final thoughts?

 

KG: We will continue to communicate as we transition through phases. But, I just want to thank everyone for their patience, cooperation, and support because it has been truly appreciated.

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