Henry County superintendent: Why we keep schools open amid COVID

Henry County Schools reopened today with face-to-face classes. Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis explains why she made the decision to reopen in-person for her students. (Bob Andres/AJC)
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Henry County Schools reopened today with face-to-face classes. Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis explains why she made the decision to reopen in-person for her students. (Bob Andres/AJC)

In-person learning rather than isolation provides students stability, she says

Henry County Schools reopened today with face-to-face classes. In a guest column, Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis explains why she made the decision to reopen in-person.

By Mary Elizabeth Davis

If it seems like we have been here before, I can sadly confirm that we have. Four times in fact.

The many lessons learned make operational management and educating students a bit easier, but the impact and reaction still remain pungent due to the reality that we all thought that surely this would be over by now. And I can confirm, too, that it is not over.

With the reality that we have and must continue to provide access to an education in the age of COVID-19, it is more important than ever we simultaneously talk about the importance of student stability in the age of COVID-19.

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Henry County Schools Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis. (Courtesy of Rod Christopher)

Credit: ROD CHRISTOPHER

Henry County Schools Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis. (Courtesy of Rod Christopher)
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Henry County Schools Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis. (Courtesy of Rod Christopher)

Credit: ROD CHRISTOPHER

Credit: ROD CHRISTOPHER

One of the most consequential takeaways over the past 22 months is that there is no doubt our young people need the positive influences and safe spaces our employees and school campuses provide more than ever. And as the variants and spikes in COVID-19 cases continue to change as rapidly as the Georgia weather, we must stand firm in our commitment to provide a reliable, steady, in-person learning experience for our youth.

As educators grapple with our second straight holiday season of being impacted by the virus that just won’t go away, we are thankful to at least have made many advances since this time a year ago. Our learning options for students and families are more adaptable. Our partnerships with health and community leaders are more robust. Support for those in need is closer than ever. And our mitigation strategies continue to evolve and strengthen, with many taking advantage of readily available vaccines.

In starting the second semester, we do so with great optimism because we know how to provide a high-quality education while still being cognizant of and navigating the health impacts surrounding us. We have done it before, and these experiences give us the confidence to steadily press forward when many would say the easier step would be to shut everything down.

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We also start the second semester aware that in-person learning is not perfect and requires us to remain nimble. But it is time to pause and acknowledge that teachers, principals and school support professionals, including bus drivers, school nutrition employees, and substitutes, have played an extraordinary role in the hope and strength of our community and the future of our children. As school buses roll in Henry County for the first day of the second semester, I invite you to join me in celebrating their heroism, brilliance, and unwavering answer to the call to inspire our children and young people to achieve all they desire to be and more!

We take great joy in seeing our students in classes each time our school doors open. We’re ready to open our doors for this second semester and keep them open for our young people, and, when necessary, apply the nimble approach to targeted closures that are precise and based on the information we have available that we did not have a distant 22 months ago.

The stability needed by our children is not provided in isolation. It is the epitome of team efforts. It requires everyone working together, from professionals at schools to parents at home and everyone in between, in order to support what we know to be the most crucial component to success in life — access to a high-quality public education provided by educators, the most skilled and caring humans on this planet. To be called an educator requires a humble commitment knowing that your success is found in the success of hundreds of students that you have impacted over the years in classes, hallways, studios and athletic fields. And to be called a partner or supporter of an educator requires continuous encouragement and appreciation for the incredible work of those in and around the school buildings.

We may have taken for granted in pre-COVID years that school buildings would be open for teachers to teach and students to learn. But this pandemic has forced us to realize that is far from reality without everyone working and focusing all of their energy and efforts on safe and healthy learning spaces while placing a high value on those who make schools the great learning refuges they have come to be.

Pandemic or no pandemic, our belief in the power of in-person learning will remain strong, and we will continue to do everything we can to provide that wholesome experience for the success of our youth, the longevity of our profession, and the vitality of everyone who calls our community home.

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