Growing up in New Jersey, the start of school was always after Labor Day. After moving to Florida and enrolling our three sons in the public school system, my family shifted to an August start date.
Even in a world filled with COVID-19, it appears that kids will be going back to school by Aug. 21 in Orange County this year. The only question is, how will they go back? This conversation has been going on since March when schools had to close and distance learning became the new norm.
Since then, Dr. Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, and the OCPS board members have been working hard to determine ways to bring students back while working with the governor’s executive order. This is no easy task and it has not been taken lightly.
OCPS asked for input from the community and they got quite a bit. Over 100,000 people responded to surveys. On top of that, during one of the meetings for school board members to consider the various options, eight and a half hours of public testimony was heard from123 members of our community.
I learned this by listening in during the virtual OCPS board meeting on July 15. I don’t have kids in school anymore, but I’m often asked questions on an array of topics as WOCC president. So I wanted to be informed. The other reason is more personal: two of my dearest friends serve on the OCPS board. Pam Gould has been the District 4 board member for eight years, and Teresa Jacobs just joined the board last year. Friends support one another in hard times. I was listening in for moral support.
In the end, their decision wasn’t made that evening. The board requested even more information so they could develop the best options for families. The decision, which included innovative learned called LaunchED, was made several days later and submitted for the governor’s approval. All details are on OCPS.net. It will be up to the parents to select the way their students will learn.
I know we will hope, for everyone’s sake, that the plan will work. Some good news is after many years of OCPS trying to get more funding for teacher salaries, the legislature approved and the governor signed a budget that will raise starting teacher salaries to $47,000. After so many parents had to be teachers during the spring, including legislators, the consensus is likely that the salary is still way too low. Take it from me, a former substitute teacher, there is no salary high enough for our teachers!