DCSD superintendent talks reopening at state of district

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris held her state-of-the-district address Feb. 23 in Stone Mountain.

Watson-Harris’ address occurred hours after district officials announced that DCSD plans to resume in-person classes in March, and Watson-Harris talked about the district’s reopening plans and other goals at the event.

“We are poised to provide the option for return to face-to-face instruction for our families who would like this format,” said Watson-Harris. “While we recognize there will be challenges ahead, we are ready. We have been one of the most conservative school systems in our response to this pandemic, but we are ready to welcome our scholars back into the building.”

According to a release from district officials, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade, sixth-grade and ninth-grade students may return for in-person learning March 9. Grade levels third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th and 12th may return March 15.

School officials will organize all classes into two cohorts based on last name and/or instructional program to adhere to social distancing requirements, according to a release. District officials also said they will facilitate testing and contact tracing and minimize transmission across cohorts. 

“I am excited about the return to face-to-face instruction,” said Watson-Harris. “This has been a tough, but necessary decision. We will continue to make the safety of our scholars and staff our number one priority and soar together.”  

Spectators placed signs on their cars in favor of or against in person classes at the drive-in state of the district event.

Watson-Harris said some students have excelled during the pandemic and mentioned Zae Brewer from Lithonia High School being named the 2021 Georgia Delegate to the United States Senate Youth Program and earning a $10,000 scholarship. Watson-Harris also said many students are suffering during the pandemic.

“Our data reveals both growth and regression in different grades. It appears learning losses from [fall 2020 to winter 2020] were considerable, while not as large as the early predictions suggested,” said Watson-Harris. “Average losses were normally in the range of one to three months [based on] a typical 10-month school year. As you can see, we are aware of the gaps and aware of where there has been a loss of learning for our scholars, and we are implementing specific strategies to address these gaps.”

Watson-Harris said to address specific areas of regression district officials are extending learning hours and using after-school programs as well as other initiatives such as the summer bridge program.

District officials’ first goal is to address these areas of regressions experienced by students—according to Watson-Harris—and she mentioned reopening schools as something that will help district officials bring students back to speed.

She said other goals include stakeholder communication, staff effectiveness, culture and climate, organizational excellence and improving facilities.

During her state-of-the-district address, Watson-Harris said the district is recruiting and retaining “the highest quality staff,” to improve staff effectiveness, establishing foundation with philanthropic partners to improve their culture and implementing the district’s master plan to improve existing facilities and build new facilities.

She also said district officials are “transforming the way we support disconnected youth.”

“This year, our board of education proclaimed the first Black Lives Matter action week in schools. This provided scholars and staff an opportunity to unpack social issues and begin a dialogue about our hopes and dreams for a more united DeKalb,” added Watson-Harris.

The district’s reopening plan can be found at: https://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/school-reopening/


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