Help Concept hands reaching out to help each other in dark tone

This morning State School Superintendent Richard Woods urged us to choose compassion over compliance in a message to Georgia parents and stakeholders. The correspondence started by praising Georgia’s teachers, educational leaders, parents, and students by them doing a remarkable job during our “new normal”.

Wood continued with, “We have seen public education rise up and make the best of a bad situation. Georgia’s teachers have gone far above and beyond the call of duty to serve their students – displaying the creativity, resilience, and commitment to students that define our profession. I know our teachers, so I am not surprised – but I could not be more proud or impressed.”

While acknowledging the great jobs that educators have done, he also acknowledged that compassion is key to get through COVID-19 and virtual learning.

“At the same time, we know distance learning comes with challenges – for teachers, students, and parents. Even students who are in the ideal situation for e-learning are coping with a crisis. They may have parents or grandparents who are affected by COVID-19 or going to work in a medical setting each day. They may themselves have pre-existing conditions that place them at higher risk for complications from the virus. Their parents may be out of work, or working full-time while attempting to navigate the new learning landscape.”Richard stated in the correspondence.

As districts have discussed the need for universal internet access and enough digital devices, Woods acknowledged how these inequities affect learning in the digital world and that Georgians are not homeschooling but “crisis learning”.

“Other students may have no internet access, no digital devices, or may be sharing a single device among multiple children. They may have little food to eat. Some high-school students are picking up extra hours at work. Other children, heartbreakingly, are in abusive home environments and have lost the refuge of the traditional school day.”

Woods continued his message by adding, “To be clear, we must continue to be vigilant in support of our students. But our focus during this time should not be on test scores, accountability or percentiles. Our marker for success should be that our children got through this time healthy, safe, and nurtured. It is not a time to be rigid or inflexible – it is a time to extend grace to each other.

I would encourage parents to extend that same grace to their child’s teachers and school district.”

While several school districts in the metro area have decided to close school early, he continued with two points on why this was not implemented statewide.

“First, I believe we owe it to our students to keep extending opportunities for them to learn and grow. While it will take continued communication, patience, and creativity I believe this can be done without placing an undue burden on parents or students.

Second, for many students, the support and care of their teachers is a lifeline. For many of us, it was unthinkable to cut off access for those students completely in the midst of a global crisis.

Noting that all school districts are different, the State Superintendent reminded that GaDOE is focused on “providing flexibility from state and federal mandates so school districts have the freedom to focus on learning, growth, and student safety.”

The communication ended with if “we keep the focus on compassion over compliance and extend grace to each other-grace from principals to teachers, from teachers to students, from parents to teachers – we will get through this time together and be stronger for it.”

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