Guest Column

Superintendent: Shelby County Schools will reimagine education

By , Guest Columnist Updated: May 19, 2020 12:09 PM CT | Published: May 19, 2020 11:00 AM CT
Joris Ray
Guest Columnist

Joris Ray

Dr. Joris M. Ray is superintendent of Shelby County Schools.

The first and last days of school are two of my favorite days of the year. These special times embody an energy that vibrates with potential – potential of what is to come, potential of what has been realized, and potential for curiosity and exploration by our community’s amazing children. 

Like so many of you, the Shelby County Schools team finds ourselves mourning the loss of our traditional last day of school in this unprecedented, pandemic-impacted year. We miss our students more than words can express. 

With the “last day of school” upon us, we are setting our sights on a return to school that will be unlike any first day of school we have ever experienced. Every day, my team and I are working through the complexities of opening schools in a world that continues to evolve.

SCS: Hybrid model likely for first semester of 2020-21 school year

Keeping our students and staff safe and healthy while aggressively addressing lost learning time are paramount priorities. The reality is we don’t know what hold this virus will have on the community when school starts, and we must be prepared for a variety of scenarios. 

In the short term, for example, our popular Summer Learning Academy will look much different this year as we prioritize our programming for early grades, scale down the number of participants, and explore virtual enrichment activities.

<strong>Joris Ray</strong>

Joris Ray

Although we may be in the shadows of a crisis, our commitment to improved literacy for all students, as our number one goal, has not wavered. Despite the limitations on in-person contact, we continue to emphasize the integral role reading plays in preparing children for success.

Our new normal in the days ahead will very likely include adjusted bus routes, temperature checks, and scheduled hand-washing. We will change how students eat lunch and have recess, as well as restructure after-school activities. If it is determined that sending all students to their assigned school at the same time is not safe, we will employ staggered shifts and hybrid learning models that could include a combination of face-to-face and distance learning experiences.

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As our new normal emerges, we must remember that SCS students are children first, and admonitions of “social distancing” go against the very notion of being a child. Because we know these times have been disruptive for children, caring for students’ social and emotional health is also at the forefront of our planning. Students need authentic opportunities to interact with one another, be seen, and be heard and we commit to making that happen.

These challenges are not insurmountable and we are approaching them as opportunities to innovate, maximize resources, and reimagine the way teachers teach and students learn. Whatever structures and processes are in place when school opens will undoubtedly require the full support and engagement of parents and all members of the community. We cannot do this work alone.

As superintendent, I am committed to involving the community in our re-entry planning. Currently, a technology advisory committee is meeting weekly to make recommendations to close our digital divide. A Re-Entry Task Force of community members will be convened to work through the many challenges of reopening schools. Moreover, I will be holding listening sessions – in person and online – to hear parents’ ideas and concerns. The best solutions are no doubt embedded in our collective thinking. 

As a product of the very school district that I now lead, it is my honor to serve as your superintendent and roll my sleeves up alongside this beloved community. The coronavirus will not defeat us. We are stronger together. WE ARE 901!


Superintendent Joris Ray Shelby County Schools COVID reopening


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