GALLIPOLIS — Teaching and navigating the school system under a global pandemic has challenged educators across the world. Educators and school boards have had to make difficult decisions to ensure the best possible education for students and Gallipolis City Schools Superintendent Craig Wright believes the city schools are on the right track.
“It’s been a difficult time and it’s been an emotional time,” Wright said. “Our goal at the end of the day is, let’s get our kids in-seat and let’s keep them safe. I feel like we’re doing a good job of that and our support staff.”
Currently Gallipolis City Schools currently have an optional mask policy. However, in the city’s “safe return to school plan,” if a building exceeds seven percent of COVID-related absences, masks will be required for 10 days, Wright said. The plan has been in place since the start of school and only had to be implemented once, Wright said.
At the time Ohio Valley Publishing spoke to Wright, the schools had two in quarantine and one active COVID-19 case.
Wright said with over 2,200 students and staff, the health of the schools are thanks to proper sanitation measures and mask cooperation.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Wright said. “With our sanitation measures and the measures that we have in place in school, and then the cooperation of students who are wearing the mask — and we haven’t had any problems with students who have been required to wear masks, we call that in-school quarantine.”
While the city schools do not have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, they do provide the chance for those interested to receive the vaccine.
“We do set up opportunities for not only our staff, but also our students to get vaccinations at school,” Wright said. “We just recently had a booster for staff after our professional development day and we had a good attendance.”
A number of things have been implemented within the schools to help students and bridge the gap made during the pandemic.
There has been a time scheduled for high school students to make up work with additional support.
“We have ICU, which is [grades] 9 through 12, at the high school. It’s actually scheduled into the class day, so it’s one class each Wednesday,” Wright said. “It allows students to make up work and allow for support from staff.”
The addition of ICU has helped with students being in-person again.
“One thing that you notice is with COVID, it has been difficult to get assignments done,” Wright said. “Some students are behind because of the learning loss from online learning from last year and so we put that in there to help.”
The schools also have a number of ways to communicate with parents.
“We also notify our parents with text and also email about work that needs to be made up for those particular students so that there’s communication with them,” Wright said. “We feel like that communication is important.”
A credit recovery program has been added to the schools.
“This was put in place so that students could catch up on credits that may have been lost last year due to the lack of learning, or participation due to COVID,” Wright said. “Improve graduation rates, accountability and comprehension.”
Schools are offering an after-school program.
“[It] allows for tutoring and skill building,” Wright said. “It’s our staff, our teachers that are giving that added support.”
The offered summer school program has been extended from three hours to four hours this year.
Wright said a full-time attendance officer has been hired to help ensure educational needs are being met, communication is happening with families and accountability.
Along with the new and improved services, Wright said speech, health and mental health services within the schools have been extended.
“We understand that that’s important for our students,” Wright said. “We not have a nurse in every building throughout the district. That helps with COVID, but also mental health. We also did a contract with Hopewell [Health Services]. So, we have a mental health counselor in each of our buildings as well, that work full-time with our students.
“We added another guidance counselor at the high schools, we have two of those now, a guidance counselor at the middle school,” Wright said.
“So, we’re putting supports in, we want students to be successful,” Wright said.
Wright said they knew the health benefits for the students were needed.
“We knew that when we went last year, they called it remote learning, but it’s a hybrid learning,” Wright said. “Our teachers were doing online learning and also in-seat learning. I think we had 49 percent of our students online, our classrooms smaller, that was part of the guidance there. Others had concerns about sending their children to school, so we were doing both and it was difficult. But accountability with online learning was difficult.
“It was just a lot. This year we decided we’re going to do full in-seat learning, which we did,” Wright said. “Our data has showed that there’s some learning loss and we’ve been aggressively trying to close that gap.”
Wright said the biggest struggle currently is the pandemic-induced learning gap.
“We saw some growth there [after summer school] based on our data and we’re seeing that now,” Wright said. “But you know, a lot of the frustration comes from trying to close that gap. We’ve got students at different levels in each of our classrooms. So, that’s a struggle for a lot of our teachers. The other struggle we’re seeing is the mental health, where students have been in isolation and now they’re coming back to that social structured environment, they’ve had difficulty with [it], so we have seen an increase in behaviors, and we didn’t anticipate that.”
Wright said these difficulties led to all of the additional supports being adding as students returned.
“We all know if you can’t meet the social emotional needs of that child, you can’t meet the educational needs,” Wright said.
Wright said the district received federal funding related to COVID that allowed for the extra supports, needed sanitation equipment and a new system for improved air quality. He said many of the supports need to be feasible long-term.
“We’re trying to utilize that [funding] the best that we can and also forecast that into our financial budget, because those are things that need to be sustainable,” Wright said.
Wright said that while there are many negatives to COVID, there are also advantages to COVID, which are the improvements and advancements made.
“We’ve invested in technology. We have one-on-one with all of our students with Chromebooks,” Wright said. “We’ve also provided connectivity through  hotspots with all of our families. Something we couldn’t do before, we couldn’t serve our students online. Our staff now can build online platforms and create lessons and communicate with families. The assets fund is a benefit, because it’s federal dollars to improve air quality, classroom expansion and safety.”
Wright said the new HVAC systems throughout the district will improve air quality and efficiency through ionization and UV lighting, as well as reduce energy costs.
While Wright has more plans and ideas for the future, he said the schools are doing well.
“I think the system that we have in place is effective and it’s working,” Wright said. “We’re in a much better situation than we were last year.”
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Brittany Hively is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @britthively; reach her at (740) 446-2342 ext 2555.