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Unicoi County Schools prepare for restart

Director of Schools John English (Erwin Record File Photo)

By Richard Rourk

Classes for Unicoi County Schools are slated to begin in about a week and students and staff are preparing to embark on a new adventure.

The Unicoi County Board of Education voted unanimously to start the school year virtually with a one week of in-person instruction to prepare students for weeks of online learning. This announcement came during a called Unicoi County Board of Education meeting on Thursday, July 30.

The board unanimously agreed to the following:

• That teachers report on Monday, Aug. 3, in person to get acclimated with online the virtual academy.

• Students will come in to get learning devices – Chromebooks or iPads – on a staggered schedule from Aug. 17-21.

In the days after the board’s vote, The Erwin Record reached out to several teachers to get a better idea of what the upcoming start to school year looks like.

“We are starting on a hybrid-style schedule,” Unicoi County High School teacher Elizabeth Watson said. “When the students come in to pick up their Chromebooks, we will be working closely with them so they know what to expect.”

For Rock Creek Elementary teacher Kelly Pate, the start of the year is not ideal but the staff at Unicoi County Schools is prepared to take on the challenge of a virtual start to the school year. “During our teacher inservice (on Aug. 3) we were given our Chromebooks and all week we’ve been learning about the platform we will be using so we are able to catch the students up when they pick up their Chromebooks,” Pate said.

According to Unicoi County Schools Director John English, one major hurdle he and his staff have had to overcome is providing a classroom for those students who may not have internet access.

“We have folks that live in areas that can’t get reception,” English said. “We are working with those families with different means. We are working to get as much of our planning offline as possible and in some cases we are actually physically going to have to take packets to those students.

“There are no perfect or great answers for a lot of these challenges we face. We do know who the students are and our administrators are in the process of game planning to provide the best education experience, given the circumstances to those families.”

Unicoi County High School students are scheduled to visit the school from Aug. 17-21 by grade level to pick up their Chromebooks. Kindergarten through 8th grade students will come in individually to get their Chromebooks. All students have been notified of the dates and times to retrieve their Chromebooks by school officials.

English hopes to shift back to a more traditional classroom for those wishing to return to an in-class experience.

“We have a number of students and their families that wish to return to a physical classroom as soon as possible, and we hope to be able to offer that as soon as possible,” English said.

A decision of if, or when, those students who wish to return to a physical classroom is scheduled to be made by Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 4 p.m. The proposed scheduled return date for those wishing to return to a physical classroom will be Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The virtual academy will be available throughout the school year, according to officials.