An interview with Cannon County Director Of Schools William Curtis. Here is the entire question and answer session. The interview was conducted last week during spring break. We now know schools will be postponed at least until April 24th.
Is this the first spring break in your career to where you've had a situation outside the norm waiting for
you when school resumed?
"Keith, let me first thank the Cannon Courier for your giving me the opportunity to address the Cannon County Community and specifically, our parents/guardians, citizens, and our Cannon County Schools Family during this unprecedented event in modern times. I have told several individuals regarding my particular 'Spring Break 2020', has been that 'Spring' is on its way, but there has been very little 'Break' for the Director of Cannon County Schools this week. This Coronavirus - COVID-19 situation, event, crisis, pandemic, or whatever word one would use for this occurrence, is unique, and I have never seen an event that changes so rapidly. Sometimes the changes occur so swiftly, and information is sent so rapidly, that one can sparsely keep up with it. This situation seems to be changing hourly and sometimes even more like every few minutes, and is unprecedented in modern Tennessee and United States History. Over my thirty-four (34) years in education, I have never seen such a 'wide-spread' event evolve so rapidly and effect so many. We were fortunate in a way that Cannon County Schools were on Spring Break when this event happened. Last Saturday Afternoon, March 14th, 2020, I began my "Spring Break 2020" by meeting with 11 other Upper Cumberland Region Directors of Schools in Cookeville, TN. Then on Monday, March 16th, 2020 came Governor Bill Lee's recommendation to close schools to March 31st, 2020 and beyond. Many of my Director of Schools colleagues in other School Districts have had to adapt nearly instantaneously with their response, whereas, Cannon County Schools personnel have gotten to rest and relax somewhat before our response. But to answer your question, I have never had a situation like this to respond to after any 'Spring Break.' This is truly 'one for the history books,' and a situation like none that I have ever seen!"
At this stage, what are the main concerns of the school system heading toward the end of the school year?
"Cannon County Schools top priorities for the school system is continuing to fulfill our goal - 'Provide a safe and supportive learning environment.' Throughout this past week our guiding principle has been: 'The health, safety, and well-being of our students is the most important thing we do.' This will continue to be our guiding principle as we endeavor to serve the students of Cannon County through what we do for our students.
Our main concern is our students' safety i.e. their health - and we can meet that need partially through our Nutrition Program. Unfortunately, some of our students get their only basic nutrition from our School Breakfast/Lunch Program from our Food Services. We will continue our School Breakfast/Lunch Program in some 'remote' fashion to see this basic need of our students is fulfilled. Various Churches in the Cannon County Community have reached out also to assist, and we will examine ways to take full value of these potential partnerships.
Our second priority after health and safety is 'learning environment.' This is perhaps the most challenging of all during this COVID-19 situation. Our remote delivery of instruction to our students is evolving and will involve multiple outlets for getting instruction to our 2,000+ students. We will be working with our Cannon County Schools Supervisors and Principals to examine ways to see this accomplished. To that end I have called for a Cannon County Schools Central Office Staff Meeting for 8:30 AM on Monday, March 23rd, 2020 and a District Leadership Meeting with all Supervisors, Principals, and have also invited Cannon County Education Association President Brad Underwood to represent Teachers at this important meeting. This is a fluid and ever changing 'learning environment' and all avenues will be pursued to make sure that our goal - 'Provide a safe and supportive learning environment' is achieved in this situation. Innovation and creativity will be necessary, and I am calling for an 'All Hands on Deck' approach as we explore ways to achieve our goal."
If school was in session now, what measures would be taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Cannon County Schools?
"If schools were in operation now, we would be following our guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education, the Center for Disease Control, and the Tennessee Department of Public Health. These measures would include evaluating sicknesses and working with Local and State Public Health Officials to give guidance and direction. We were already putting this in place, before the closure recommendation came down from Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn.
In fact, we will be working this next week to have our Custodial and Maintenance Staffs to 'deep clean,' disinfect, and sanitize all surfaces that our students and staff come into contact with. Training will be necessary as there are major differences between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. These staff members will be taking advantage of our buildings being empty to do major cleaning projects that otherwise could not be accomplished with students in the buildings. The Cannon County Schools Maintenance Staff will be working on projects that could not be done or accomplished if students were present, thus taking advantage of this unfortunate set of circumstances. Furthermore, if this situation goes long-term, our roof projects at Cannon County High School, Woodland School, and Woodbury Grammar School may begin earlier than expected and be completed by August 2020."
What happens after April 3rd if the recommendation remains to keep postponing school?
"In regard to testing, this situation has recently been addressed by the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn with an appeal to the US Department of Education and the Tennessee General Assembly passed Senate Bill 2672 / House Bill 2818 which will 'excuse' all TCAP TN Ready Assessments for the 2019-2020 Academic Year. I have monitored this legislation with great interest the past several days in the Tennessee General Assembly, and been in constant communication with Tennessee House of Representative Mr. Clark Boyd and Tennessee State Senator Mr. Mark Pody regarding this important legislation. Both bills passed unanimously in both houses of the Tennessee Legislature on Thursday, March 19th, 2020 and will be signed by Governor Bill Lee. I have attached a Bill Summary to this correspondence, as well as, a copy of Commissioner Penny Schwinn's appeal to the US Department of Education. If and when we do return to school after April 3rd, 2020, we will determine regarding our voluntarily taking these assessments for local evaluation and accountability purposes. This measure will certainly put parents/guardians, students, teachers, and administrators' minds at ease regarding these assessments. The 2019-2020 Academic Year has had its share of unique circumstances and testing after these situations would not have been advantageous for our respective students and schools.
As to other school events, we are in 'a holding pattern' as it relates to Sports and Other Events. As stated previously 'ALL athletic events and practices are cancelled as of this date (03-16-2020), and we will try to reschedule once the crisis has diminished.' This is an unfortunate situation for our Spring Sports - CCHS Baseball, Softball, Boys Soccer, & Tennis, as well as, Middle Grades Baseball and Softball. This will also effect conditioning going on with the Fall Sports - Football, Basketball, Volleyball, and Girls Soccer.
If this situation lengthens into April or beyond, other activities could also be affected, and Cannon County Schools Officials may have to make adjustments accordingly. We recently postponed PreK-Kindergarten Screenings and Pre-Registration until some future date."
What's the plans for getting meals to the students during this break?
"Our main concern is our students' safety i.e. their health - and we can meet that need partially through our Nutrition Program. Unfortunately, some of our students get their only basic nutrition from our School Breakfast/Lunch Program from our Food Services. We will continue our School Breakfast/Lunch Program in some 'remote' fashion to see this basic need of our students is fulfilled. Various Churches in the Cannon County Community have reached out also to assist, and we will examine ways to take full value of these potential partnerships. We will be meeting on Monday, March 23rd, 2020 with Food Service Supervisor Jennifer Insell and all of our District Leadership Team to examine and look at the logistics for the 'remote feeding' of our students. We have received multiple Nutrition guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education and Tennessee has received numerous waivers from the US Department of Agriculture that finances and supervises the Federal Breakfast/Lunch Program. ALL students under age the age of Eighteen (18) will be fed. Our Food Service Staffs will be letting our Parents/Guardians and students know about what will occur this next week in regard to getting meals to these students. More details are forthcoming, and will become available in the coming days. Cannon County Schools will be doing our utmost to see this accomplished through April 3rd, 2020 and beyond if needed."
State says school year is cancelled. What then?
"That question is in the back of everyone's mind in the past several days. It is the 'What if's' and the 'unknown' that is a concern to all of us, in and out of 'Education.' I think this will be in three or four 'stages.' We are in Stage 1 currently with our initial response. We are about to enter Stage 2 - from March 23, 2020 through April 3rd, 2020 and how we respond and get acclimated to this 'new educational environment.' Stage 3 - will be from the week of April 6th, 2020 through approximately April 30th, 2020. During this Stage, the possibility of cancelling Senior Trip which occurs April 19th, 2020 - April 25th, 2020 will have to be taken. Stage 4 - would be from May 1st, 2020 through May 22nd, 2020. If school is still cancelled into Stage 4, there will be cancellations of major activities such as CCHS Prom - May 8th, 2020, CCHS Graduation - May 15th, 2020, and End of Year Trips for the Elementary Schools. We do know this as of this date: With the passage of HB 2818/SB2672 that all students on track will be promoted and will graduate as scheduled. This will be examined in multiple ways as this situation lengthens in time. I commend the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education for working proactively in this unfortunate and unforeseen circumstance. Many questions have been answered and still more will occur, but working together we can and will succeed to aid OUR students.
On a separate but related matter, one other major issue that I am very concerned about is the coming Budget for 2020- 2021 Fiscal Year. The same time that House Bill 2818 / Senate Bill 2672 passed, so did the Tennessee State Budget for FY2021. This was a VERY different budget from the one proposed by Governor Bill Lee just last month in February 2020. This budget is VERY 'bare bones' and any increased funds from the State of Tennessee has been greatly curtailed. According to State Representative Clark Boyd in a text last evening (03-19-2020), 'the Appropriation of $250,000 to restore the Cannon County Adams Office Building was not part of this budget.' Thus Cannon County will not receive these anticipated funds. The BEP has been 'fully funded,' but we are anticipating shortfalls in the current rate of expenditures in the Cannon County Schools budget and drastic and historic measures will have to be addressed in the coming - days, weeks, and months in the FY2021 Cannon County Board of Education Budget. In meteorological terms, as Director of Cannon County Schools, I foresee storm clouds on the horizon and a 'Fiscal Tornado Watch' issued and a possible, if not very probable, a 'Fiscal Tornado Warning' being a necessity. The Cannon County Board of Education and this Director of Schools are faced with a formidable task of major cuts in expenditures.
It is my sincerest hope that this COVID-19 situation/event/crisis/pandemic dissipates and diminishes sooner than later. My hopeful desire is that the Tennessee General Assembly can get back on June 1st, 2020, revise the budget to better assist us in Cannon County, and let things get back to 'normal' as quickly as possible.
We must remember, 'We ARE CANNON' and know that OUR
MISSION - 'Preparing All Our Students for Their Future' through OUR VISION - 'The New E3 - Engaged in Excellence Every Day' motivates us to go forward to achieve our goals even in challenging situations such as these multiple ones.
As a spiritual person of Faith, I ask that all Cannon County Citizens remember our students and their families, as well as, our Cannon County Schools Family in their thoughts and prayers as we try and navigate 'unchartered waters' and 'unprecedented' in modern times. Your patience and understanding, as well as, your possible assistance is greatly and sincerely appreciated. The historian in me diverts back to the Influenza Outbreak of 1918 as the most similar circumstance in Cannon County history to compare this latest situation. But what I do know, is that our ancestors - our grandparents and great grandparents, not only got through that time in our history, but thrived through a Depression and World War II. Cannon Countians worked together then, and we can do it again with God's help and sustenance."