During difficult times, our work together will benefit children
At the beginning of every school year, I typically welcome employees with a back-to-school message that focuses on what’s new in GCPS or special initiatives of the district. I think we can all agree there is nothing typical about this year. While new and special initiatives are important, I feel it is important to address other, more pressing issues instead.
During these times of COVID-19, safety and effective instruction are on everyone’s mind. I believe most educators would agree there is no replacement for face-to-face interaction between a teacher and students. And, while we continue to get better at teaching in a digital setting, we are eager to return children to the classroom where they learn best. As you know, we started this school year digitally, and begin to transition to both in-person and digital learning for students this week. The best-case scenario would bring all students who desire in-person instruction back into their schools by September 9.
That goal creates a dilemma as there are teachers and staff who have concerns about returning to the school or worksite. We work in education because we care deeply about young people, the future, and our community. For some, however, that concern for students is in conflict with the fear they feel for their own well-being and that of those close to them. It also raises questions in their minds about the district’s commitment to its employees.
I believe that past behavior is indicative of future behavior. For almost three decades, the Board of Education and administration have gone to extraordinary measures to thank, protect, and reward our teachers and staff and show them that they are valued. In lean budget years, and in uncertain years like this one, we have shielded teachers from staff reductions or furlough days, and raised salaries when other districts did not. We continually recognize and reward outstanding teachers and employees, support them with quality professional development, provide a comprehensive benefits package that is among the best in Georgia, and invest in their future through the robust Gwinnett Retirement System. The school district’s reputation as an outstanding employer draws, every year, thousands of applicants who want to work in a district where “our people are our most important resource.”
The return-to-learning plan we developed may not have garnered unanimous support, but that would have been true for any plan in these uncertain times. So, we are moving ahead with what we believe will deliver both the structure and the flexibility that will allow us to take care of our people— our employees, students, and their families. We put in place safety measures and protections that should reassure the majority of our workforce about returning to service. We also continue to review the current situation, listen to concerns, and adjust our plans where we can, always making decisions that balance what is in the best interest of students, our employees, and this organization.
In early August, I asked for your patience, understanding, and cooperation in helping us achieve a positive, safe start to a school year in which we face vastly different challenges than ever before. I believe we will persevere as long as we face them together. That means each of us doing our part to combat COVID-19 by remembering to…
— Wear a mask properly, covering nose and mouth, when in our facilities and on our buses.
— Maintain physical distancing from others as much as possible.
— Wash your hands frequently.
— Stay home if you are ill or if you have had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
These are difficult times that could have far-reaching implications for our students, our community, public education, and our nation. I wrote back in March that I believe America’s long-term prosperity depends as much on your work in public education as it does on the work of those in the medical field. Both are essential professions. That statement is as true now as it was six months ago. We have important work to do and I am confident it can be done effectively, enthusiastically, and safely through our collective determination. Thank you for being part of the solution, and for all you do for Gwinnett’s children.
J. Alvin Wilbanks