Interview with Talbot County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith
EEDC: The schools have been confronted with extraordinary challenges: Having to deliver learning to their students, but now in a digitized environment. How is this going?
Dr. Griffith: We are very fortunate that we had people many years ago that had the foresight to start obtaining devices for our school system. And we’ve continued that route. All of our students, kindergarten through grade 12, do have a device, whether it’s an iPad at the elementary level or a laptop at the middle school and high school level. We do not have enough for pre-K, which is something that we still want to explore and figure out how to pay for.
EEDC: What has been your biggest challenge with distance learning?
Dr. Griffith: At this time, only about approximately 85% of our students are connected on a daily basis. Connectivity is a challenge in this community for two reasons. One, it could be an economic issue because we do have 48% of our children that are free and reduced meals households. Secondly, we have a lack of connectivity in a lot of areas in our County where there just isn’t any service. We have been working with Easton Utilities and Atlantic Broadband to try to explore how to get more hotspots in different connectivity areas.
I think it’s important to note the population we serve. And we will not leave any child behind. Actually, now it’s ‘leave no child offline.’ We wrote a grant through Talbot Family Network to get to be able to obtain a hundred hotspots for some families that socioeconomic wise, they might not be able to afford it. Still, we can pick that up through this grant, and we’re outfitting some of our buses and vans with the capability of serving as a hotspot if we find that there’s an area that we might want to serve. So, we are trying to meet the challenge with community partnerships.
EEDC: Cell towers seem to be an essential component.
Dr. Griffith: We brought this up several times about trying to get some cell towers. But that has been defeated in the past. I think maybe that will be brought back up again in the near future. It sounds like it will.
EEDC: How is the school system addressing continuity of learning for students?
Dr. Griffith: I do think it’s really important for people to understand first of all that we’ve had to modify our instructional delivery and continuity of learning is founded on monitoring and assessing student performance related to key standards. We’re not teaching the entire course that a student may be enrolled in. Right now, we have to remember there is that digital divide and we also don’t want that digital divide to widen.
We’re mailing approximately 800 packets home to students each week, but we’re not able to collect those packets. We just closed out third quarter and we sent home report cards. The fourth quarter grading model that we’ll be using will be ‘pass and complete.’ We’ll have protocols for that where students can earn a pass if they’re complete 75% or more of the assignments that are mandatory each week. They will receive an incomplete if they do not.
EEDC: Sounds like teachers have had to be very creative
Dr. Griffith: I’m proud that all of our teachers have been able to connect with all of our families. That, to me, was the number one priority before we even started continuity of learning. And we were able to accomplish that with the help of our student services department, our school counselors, even our SRO (School Resource Officers) get involved by doing some wellness checks.
EEDC: Earlier, you mentioned that 48% of the children qualify for free and reduced meals. How is the school handling this enormous task of continuing to meet those needs?
Dr. Griffith: It started out the first week with 40 meals, and as of late last week, we distributed more than 6,000 meals and snacks. We do meals on Tuesdays and Fridays. So that on Tuesdays they get Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday meals, etc. We’re serving approximately 700 students each week, however, my concern is there’s more out there that aren’t getting the meals. We are continuing to reach out and continuing to offer delivery of meals, if needed.
EEDC: There’s been a lot of discussion in the last couple of days about reopening the schools this year. What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Griffith: What they’re doing now is making decisions in two-week windows, so now May 15th is the last day of the school closure. I just don’t see us going back. That’s my personal opinion, just for the pure fact that we have had increases in COVID cases in Maryland. And not only that, when the governor laid out his plan to reopen, schools weren’t mentioned, but I also know that numbers were mentioned when it came to larger gatherings. So, I don’t see us in Phase One or Two. And we’re not even to Phase One yet, so I’m reading between the lines, and right now, we are preparing for either going back or not going back.
EEDC: if you were to go back, how would that work?
Dr. Griffith: We, I have made it pretty clear to our State Superintendent that if we are planning to go back, we definitely need a week’s worth of notice because we literally had just moved into the new building, and nothing has been unpacked. We also probably need to get out and do one more sweep of cleaning before we do, even though we cleaned everything and locked everything just to be on the safe side.
But we’re planning, for both either way. That includes all of our celebrations. We canceled all our extracurricular activities last week, including all sports for the rest of the school year. We are planning a different kind of graduation, a different kind of celebration of Teacher of the Year, a different kind of celebration for retirees. We’re preparing for different events.
EEDC: Sounds like you have things pretty much under control. That should be comforting for everyone to hear
Dr. Griffith: I have an amazing team of people, and what we try to do is think of all the ‘what ifs.’ I always follow up with ‘what then.’ And we try to work that way in this new environment because we do feel that it’s very important for everyone to have some, I don’t want to say normalcy, but some sense that things are still going to happen but in a different way. And they can look forward to that.