TSS Blog

RECAP: TSS and TennesseeCAN’s Back to School Conversation

Tennesseans for Student Success in partnership with TennesseeCAN hosted a Back to School webinar on Wednesday, July 29th. 65 teachers, parents, and school leaders from across the state attended the robust discussion to voice their concerns and questions regarding schools reopening. The panelist included House Education Chairman Mark White from Memphis; Senator Dawn White from Murfreesboro; Danny Song, School Leader from Believe Memphis Academy; Derek King, Assistant Principal from Southwind High School in Memphis; Laura Lavery, Spanish Teacher at Poplar Grove Middle School in Franklin; and Allison Simpson, MNPS parent and Site Coordinator at Amuqui Elementary at Community in Schools. 

For a quick review on our conversation, keep reading below. Additionally, the discussion was recorded and it is our hope that it will be a helpful resource for you. The chat provided a helpful platform among teachers, parents, administrators, and lawmakers to discuss back to school concerns and questions. 

Chairman Mark White covered Governor Lee’s plan for reopening schools, lauding the state for providing educators with PPEs and sanitization supplies, while other states are failing to make those investments. Chairman White also talked about the differences rural vs urban districts are facing, the challenges that schools are experiencing as they go back to school, and how districts have flexibilities to create individual plans to address the needs of their students. 

Senator Dawn White spoke of the need for parents to choose what is best for their child, taking into account that parents know their child’s medical history and social needs best. Senator White also spoke to a large number of social services that schools provide and her concern that students might miss out on essential services they would normally receive in school.

The discussion to be virtual and the disproportionate ways COVID-19 infects the black community is an issue that hits close to home for Danny Song. His concerns for the safety of his students come from a school district where more than 70 percent are black. As a charter school, they’ve opted to remain virtual until further notice. With this decision, they’ve been able to quickly draw from best practices nationally and put together a virtual learning school day that includes music enrichment and PE coupled with small group instructional time during the week. Shelby County Schools plan to go back in-person on August 13th with options for parents to remain virtual.

Laura Lavery stressed the need for a focus on the social-emotional needs of students during this time. She has found ways to connect with her students by sending them digital cards on their birthday and inviting their pets on zoom calls. She remarked that it was critical to make personal connections and build trust with students and parents in order to keep them engaged with learning. Laura also reminded the other teachers to check on their colleagues during this time and found that the collaboration of teachers to share what is working and what is not working with their students helped them have a successful virtual learning experience. 

The conversation shifted to the need for administrators and teachers to focus on social and emotional learning. Derek King, from Southwinds, said that his school is trying to find ways to support teachers by providing them options to be in their classroom during virtual learning. King’s school is also working to find ways to support new teachers to his team. Song said they are both trying to make sure teachers have all that they need to educate students this fall while addressing staff safety, mitigate isolation by maintaining community, and creating protocols and expectations clear to support educators. Song believes that creating clear expectations for educators, maintaining flexibility for staff to balance family/work life, and preserving the community in this new virtual environment is critical for supporting teachers.

With so much unknown, it’s critical to continue learning and help each other navigate these new experiences to prioritize the future of Tennessee kids. That said, please join us for part 2 of our discussion around going back to school on September 2nd. This discussion will serve as a check-in about your experiences, concerns, and questions as you return to school, whether you are virtual or in-person.

Sign up to get in on this conversation here.

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