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Superintendent pleased with first weeks of hybrid learning

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said he and his staff have been pleased with the way students have been resilient and adapted to the hybrid learning environment while teachers and administrators have innovated to keep children safe and maintain a strong learning environment at their schools.

Middle and high school students who chose the hybrid option have finished their first two days back in school since last spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Elementary students completed week two in the hybrid environment.

“The first thing I’ll say is that the kids are super excited to be back,” Gordon said. “Super excited to be back. The second I’ll say is the staff has been so energetic, showing that teacher ingenuity.”

Gordon has been among the many administrators popping in at the division’s schools over the past two weeks, and many of them, and the schools, have shared snippets of what has been happening at the schools on social media.

He recounted popping in on a Hybrid Sync class at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School in which the virtual students were projected onto an interactive whiteboard and could be heard through speakers as if they were in the room.

“This is what I’m talking about,” Gordon said. “We’ve got some experts that are doing a great job.”

Most middle school teachers were using the Hybrid Sync model to teach their students. In Hybrid Sync, the teacher instructs both in-person and virtual students at the same time. Some middle school classes are teaching in the Hybrid 45 model — the first 45 minutes of class for in-person instruction and the second 45 minutes for virtual instruction.

And while Gordon noted a few positive COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks of hybrid learning, schools have been able to isolate those cases — one of those being at Elephant’s Fork Elementary in the first week of hybrid learning, according to the division’s dashboard, which is updated every Monday. All schools have isolation rooms for possible COVID-19 cases among anyone who is in the building.

“We’ve still got to make sure that parents still do the screening,” Gordon said. “That’s really important. We’ve had some positive cases, so now it’s just about making sure we don’t have any outbreaks. I don’t want to shut a school down.”

He said everyone is keeping their fingers crossed to keep schools open, but they are also practicing proper mitigation measures.

“The kids actually are doing a great job,” Gordon said. “They wear their masks like it’s nothing, and they’re socially distancing when they’re walking to the classrooms.”

While at Col. Fred Cherry, Gordon noticed that the cafeteria flow was such that students could go in and out without having to cross paths. The tables serve, essentially, as an aisle, and when children come in, they go one way and get their food, go eat, and then when they leave, they exit out of a different area.

“There’s never a crossover of students, and those are some of the logistics that we’ve really been impressed with,” Gordon said in praising the setup of Principal Daniel O’Leary.

At Nansemond River High School, Gordon said it also handles a busy lunch well.

“The team did a good job of having signs up all around,” Gordon said. “Kids are on their phones, which has just been serving as their entertainment. They’re having conversations with the six feet (of distance) across the distance from whoever’s at the table.”

In the first week of hybrid classes, Suffolk Public Schools reported four cases — only one, the previously mentioned one at Elephant’s Fork Elementary School, at a location open to students.

“I had prepped the (School) Board that once you get more people back into a building, your chances of having a case increases,” Gordon said. “So now this actually helps us to reinforce the mitigation strategies, because now parents know if we have to shut down a classroom, that’s two weeks of face-to-face instruction that you’re going to lose.”

Gordon said it will take constant vigilance on everyone’s part to keep schools safe and open.

“Talk to me after spring break to make sure that no one laxes up,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure that no one goes by the wayside.”