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Shumate reflects on first half of school year

When school first started back in August, Superintendent Brian Shumate said he was unsure the Troup County School System would make it to this point without having to shut down.

“I had to be optimistic, but yeah, I had my doubts,” Shumate said. “[I thought] if we can get through the first couple of weeks and get used to using the computers and the Canvas system, that would be a victory. Then, we made it through Labor Day, and we didn’t have crazy numbers. We got a little worse after Thanksgiving and we were able to manage.”

During the first semester, three schools had to shut down and go virtual for at least one day, but there was not a systemwide shutdown as TCSS was able to keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively under control. The numbers were the worst right before the Christmas holidays, so Shumate pushed the return to in-person instruction back one week. Instead, all students will return Jan. 5 for virtual classes for one week.

“Overall, we’ve done some good work, and I want to commend everybody who has had a hand in that,” he said. “Our school board has been supportive, the vast majority of the community has been supportive, and our staff and families.”

TCSS, like many other school systems nationwide, is seeing grades drop in virtual students. Shumate said part of that struggle is that there’s still a human element to teaching.

“You have to get their heart before you get into their head, meaning you have to build positive relationships with kids before they really learn from somebody,” Shumate said. “The virtual platform, while it’s good for certain kinds of kids and certain personalities, it’s harder to build that relational part of it.”

He said that if students have the correct technology and internet in place, a personality suited for virtual instruction and have an invested parent then they are more likely to succeed in that format. 

“If you can’t guarantee all three of those, then you are reducing your chances for a positive result,” Shumate said. 

Shumate said the school system has gotten better through COVID-19 because communication has improved and leaders have had to grow into new roles.

“We’ve adapted and adjusted probably in ways that we might not have otherwise done,” Shumate said. “Moving forward, I don’t want to lose all those lessons learned. We are going to parlay those lessons and use them as a springboard for what our future should look like, which is finding a place for every kid that I talk about.”

Shumate said looking ahead to 2021 includes preparing for staff to get vaccinated and knowing that COVID-19 likely isn’t going away any time soon. 

Educational faculty and staff members are supposed to get the COVID-19 vaccine in phase 1B, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

GDPH is still in the midst of phase 1A, and no timeline is in place for teachers to receive the vaccine yet. 

“We still have a long spring ahead of us. This is not going to go away in the next couple of months, and I imagine we are going to be functioning the same way for the next five months,” Shumate said. 

“We need everybody’s patience and continuing to be safe. If we can hit the ground rolling in August of 2021, we want to parlay these new lessons learned into a different vision of where we are going in the Troup County School Systems.”