Blytheville adjusts to virtual instruction

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Blytheville School District administrators applauded staff members for their handling of temporarily moving to fully virtual last week because of issues with COVID-19.

Blytheville pivoted to virtual instruction last Monday, Oct. 19, and is scheduled to resume in person classes on Nov. 2, though the district’s Point of Contact (POC) Tiffany Townsend, the BHS nurse, told the Blytheville School Board Monday evening that she suggests Blytheville remain fully virtual through the end of the semester or at least add another week because it is in the red zone.

When pressed by school board member Desmond Hammett, Blytheville superintendent Bobby Ashley said a week could be added, though Ashley pointed out numbers would have to support that and they appear to be going down even with the district in the red zone.

Ashley told the NEA Town Courier Tuesday morning that there is no plan at this time to go fully virtual, though he noted there was a meeting planned Tuesday afternoon to discuss the data, which determines how the district will proceed regarding adding another week of virtual.

Blytheville Elementary principal Chanda Walker and Blytheville Middle School principal Mike Wallace both told the school board that teachers have done a good job communicating with parents and they thanked their respective staffs for their hard work.

“They are getting the hang of the virtual side of instruction,” Wallace said.

He added teachers are making extra effort to contact parents, noting when that occurs the children are more dedicated to virtual learning.

“We’re more than ok where we’re at,” Wallace said.

Walker noted the elementary school worked hard distributing Chromebooks, and she has seen teachers communicating well with parents.

“I have been really impressed with the way they have embraced virtual learning,” Walker said.

Townsend explained the process of moving to virtual, pointing out the district meets with the state POC and discusses the COVID-19 data with the individual before making the move.

She said on Friday, Oct. 16, the state POC suggested the district pivot to virtual for two weeks and the decision to do so was made the next day.

Townsend said she personally believes the district might need to look at going virtual for the rest of the semester because of the rise in cases in the area. On Tuesday, Mississippi County had 286 active cases; there were 94 active cases in the county at the beginning of October.

Board members asked that they be notified before administrators make the decision to pivot to virtual.

Ashley noted he sent a text message to board members before announcing the move to virtual.

“I will be more mindful about sharing a little more information with the board and try to do it in a timely manner,” Ashley said.

In other news, Ashley reported the district held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the massive new arena last week. He noted it may provide tours of the 2,200-seat facility to the public on Thursday, with limited sized groups.

He said the district has paid all of the expenses of building Chickasaw Arena, except $10,000, and it would need to use $2,200 of second lien bond money.

Ashley also reported on Engage Arkansas, which assists districts in identifying students struggling with virtual and how they can be helped. They will determine how the pandemic has affected student enrollment and create strategies to find “no show” students, identify “at risk” students who are disengaged, and help keep students continuously engaged in learning.

In other news, the board approved the purchase of 270 Chromebooks for fourth and fifth grades and accepted the resignation of BHS teacher Cordie Gardner.