New semester brings opportunity

Lenoir City High School students Lauren Greene, right, and Lillie Lovelace enjoy lunch Monday on the first day of the alternating day schedule.

With a new semester underway, educators at Loudon County and Lenoir City schools are preparing for a great start to the spring.

Mike Garren, Loudon County director of schools, hopes county schools will be able to stay in-person throughout the semester like in the fall.

“From looking at some of the grades that the high school kids got on their end-of-course tests in the fall, it looks like we’ve done a pretty good job meeting their needs, and I think it’s obviously better if we can have them in person to address any mental health needs that they have in addition to academic instruction,” Garren said. “Our goal is to stay in-person in the spring like we did in the fall. Hopefully, that’s possible, but it’s a day-by-day process. In the fall semester, we didn’t see any transmission of the COVID virus within the schools and our staff stayed heathy to where we could cover classrooms for those that were out or quarantined.”

Garren said the number of students who opted for online learning at the beginning of the school year fell drastically at the beginning of the spring semester.

“At the beginning of the year, we gave parents the option if they wanted to go virtual they could or if they wanted to come in person,” he said. “We’ve still got that. We’re not necessarily letting any new kid go virtual unless there’s a medical reason behind it. … At the beginning of the year we had about 750 kids that opted to go virtual. Starting this semester, we’re at about 450. About 300 of those kids have decided to come back to in-person because they felt like that was a better fit for them. Hopefully at the next break, at spring break, there’ll be a few more who feel comfortable to come back in person as well.”

Emphasis is placed on ensuring students have mastered skills they were supposed to learn last spring that were interrupted by COVID-19.

First- and second-graders are a priority for catching up on missed instruction, Garren said.

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said the effort is “accelerated learning.”

“We’re calling it accelerated learning to pick up what skills weren’t covered,” Barker said. “Honestly, we covered the skills. What we missed was when students practiced them and have repeated opportunities to practice those skills and make them automatic. … They got instruction. They just didn’t have a lot of time to practice everything that was taught. That’s how people learn. We learn by doing.”

Barker said the city will continue a focus on CTE, STEM and “college to career training” through the new semester and hopes to provide more opportunities for students to earn college credits.

Structurally, the spring semester will look different for Lenoir City students in grades 6-12. Barker has removed the hybrid schedule used in the fall and implemented a new alternating-day schedule with days labeled “black” and “orange.”

The new schedule started Monday and will be in effect at least through March 5.

“The hybrid didn’t work well for a lot of students last time,” Barker said. “There was just too much time missing between the days that they attended. What the alternating day does is every student is in class five days a week. It’s just they are either in person or sitting at home, but they’re logging in at the same time. They’re getting the same lesson, and then there is a touch point with a teacher every other day. If a student has a question and doesn’t get it answered during class or is working on an assignment, they’re going to see the teacher the next day.”

The goal of the new schedule is to provide consistent instruction for students, while maintaining COVID-19 safety precautions.

For pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, class schedules remain the same with five days a week of in-person learning. Barker said a new teacher was hired to reduce the number of fourth- and fifth-graders in a classroom.

“We’re limiting the number of students who are physically in a classroom because that is the one thing that we were unable to do is the social distancing part,” she said. “What happens when you cannot social distance students, we end up quarantining several, too many. Then they’re out 10 or 14 days. They miss class. Even though we’re going through and making sure they have their assignments and technology, it’s still difficult. We’re trying to keep from quarantining students and teachers, trying to keep that at a minimum and still keep consistent instruction for kids.”