FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — This month, more students will be heading back to full-time, in-person learning.
On April 19, middle and high school students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will be in person four days a week. Wednesday will remain a remote learning day to help with sanitation and cleaning protocols.
Getting students back to in-person learning has been a priority for the new district superintendent.
Tricia McManus was officially sworn into the position in February after serving as interim superintendent since November 2020. That’s when Angela Hairston resigned to move to her hometown school district.
McManus started with WS/FCS in June 2020 as a deputy superintendent, helping lead the district’s return to in-person learning.
“Our school staff have done a tremendous job at making sure safety protocols are being followed. They haven’t missed a beat. The three W’s are being followed. I don’t worry about safety at all. They are taking it very seriously,” McManus said.
She says each transition to getting more students back into the classroom has taken a lot of conversation and collaboration. She consults with local epidemiologists and the Duke Science Collaborative, as well as local school leaders, on these decisions to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable.
“Every decision is made with such deep research and listening and trying to do what’s right for our kids. There’s no doubt that what we’ve seen is the majority of students need in-person instruction. They thrive in that environment with their teachers and their peers. They thrive in conversations that are a little bit more limited on a virtual platform,” she said.
One of the added safety measures for staff right now is that those who have chosen to get vaccinated should have had both shots by the time they return to the classroom after spring break.
McManus commends the educators who are juggling both students in-person and learning remotely during this time. She says while there have been challenges with remote learning, there have also been some helpful lessons.
“Having the skill to be able to teach a student in this fashion could actually come in handy down the road. Whether it be that we do have to be remote for whatever reason, we can now just switch to that,” the superintendent said.
Some aspects of remote learning are also beneficial to students.
“Plus, when I think about individualized learning, which is something that I think a lot of folks are interested in, how do you best meet the needs of an individual learner, because every student has different needs. Sometimes doing something on a computer that is very individualized for a student is helpful,” she said.
The focus on the individual student is something the superintendent sees as a top priority. She says it’s not just about meeting those individual academic needs, it’s about helping the students as a whole to succeed.
“Our kids are not going to be successful, our students are not going to be successful if they don’t have their needs met, the needs that go beyond just academic needs. There’s not one student that should be falling through the cracks, not now and not ever,” she said.
Helping meet those needs during this time of learning loss has meant adding more resources for students. This spring students have options of before and after school hours, even a Saturday Academy, to get in more in-person learning time. There are similar plans for this summer as well. For the first time the district will have a five-week-long, full-day summer program.
“It’s going to feel like an extension to the school year. But the learning is going to be very hands-on, exciting for students, we’re going to include extracurriculars just to make it a little more exciting for students,” she explained.
Helping students get back on track will be a big priority in the next school year as well.
“So if there are standards students aren’t doing well in, we need to actively focus on those and kind of compact and accelerate the curriculum for the fall. So we have lots of plans to get our students back on track for those who might be behind or just need some reinforcement of certain standards or skills, we’ve got lots of plans in place in order to do that,” McManus said.
For students who are falling behind this school year, there’s a focus on making sure those students are getting the individual help they need. There’s special attention on high school seniors in this situation.
“High school counselors working with teachers to help in the spring and summer with any kind of recovery needed, I believe we can get them back on track so they will be all able to graduate in June,” she said.
And the superintendent has a goal to have an in-person graduation for students this year.
She says looking ahead, her focus will be on closing achievement gaps over the next two years of her contract. She said she wants to make Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools the number one district in the state. That means recruiting and keeping the top talent to help students succeed in the classroom.
McManus said one of the biggest focuses for her is equity. That means in the classroom making sure all students have equal access to rigorous and engaging curriculum, and also making sure the district is equitable in their staff.
“Equity is a throughline with everything that we do. It’s not a standalone. It’s the lens that we look at everything we do, and it’s the way I expect us to do business on a daily basis,” she said.
McManus said overall, she wants to help students succeed and create a culture of diversity for students and staff.