Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd

Mark Byrd

Wilkes County School Superintendent Mark Byrd said providing the best instruction possible for academic growth and maintaining the well-being of students and staff will remain the primary focus in the second half of the 2020-21 academic year.

“Nothing is more important to us right now than keeping people safe. That always has been and always will be our number one priority,” Byrd added.

He emphasized the importance of making sure students don’t fall behind academically during the pandemic and are prepared for success. He praised Wilkes teachers for how they have helped ensure this.

COVID-19 cost students tremendously in many ways but didn’t lower expectations for their success, Byrd added.

He said the current A/B schedule in middle and high school grades will continue for the near future and all Wilkes elementary schools will continue full-time, in-person learning the remainder of the school year, or for as much as possible.

With the A/B schedule, half of students are at their middle or high school for in-person learning and half at home for remote learning each day. This is alternated each day. Students still have the option for fulltime remote learning

“While we had tremendous success with our students in grades K-5 returning to school for face-to-face instruction each day, I don’t anticipate that being an option for students in grades 6-12 in North Carolina until we see a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases across our state.” He said Wilkes County Schools will welcome having all students in their schools daily when this is allowed by the state.

“Our students, staff and parents set an example for the entire state on how to successfully operate schools while following COVID-19 protocols.” Byrd said Wilkes school officials were concerned about how students would react to having to wear masks, and found that to not be a problem. He said students met high expectations for COVID-19 precautions set by teachers.

He cited a focus this spring and summer on helping students who aren’t having the success they had in previous years. “Engagement and student success will continue to be an area of focus for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year and beyond.

Adults have struggled with the challenges of COVID-19, “and we have to teach our students how to best overcome these challenges as well.”

Byrd said he anticipates improved student engagement and academic progress in 2021. “Our students are resilient, and if we can provide them with needed resources to overcome challenges, they will succeed. Our teachers are becoming more adept in utilizing an A/B schedule as well.”

Byrd shared that he hopes modified athletic schedules will allow students to return to some “sense of normalcy” and that this will help improve student engagement. “Our students have missed out on many opportunities over the past 10 months, and we hope to see an increase in the number of opportunities available to them in upcoming months.”

Byrd said Wilkes County Schools would have had very strong state testing results in 2019-20 if that school year hadn’t been interrupted by the pandemic. “While I’m not always the biggest fan of how we utilize some state test results, I know how hard our students and teachers worked last year, and I would have liked for them to have had the chance to show others the progress they were making.

Byrd said retirement of the debt from building four middle schools at the end of December, along with capital fund balance savings in the past few years, should create opportunities for facility upgrades in coming years. He said Bergie Speaks, director of maintenance for the Wilkes schools, and his staff have done a good job maintaining school facilities.

Byrd said progress was being made on strategic and long term planning before it was interrupted by the pandemic, but it will resume in 2021. He said this planning is needed “to help us get where we want to be.”

He said many teachers told him they’re stronger in their work now than ever, and many learned new things that improved their teaching.

There will be exploration of interest among students in increasing virtual and remote learning opportunities in the Wilkes schools, as well as what is needed to accomplish this.

“I would like to remind students and staff of the importance of paying close attention to precautionary (COVID-19) measures and being very diligent in ensuring that they are followed.

“Our people did so well with this at the beginning of the school year, and we need the same attention to detail as we return to school. This can have a tremendous impact on our school year moving forward.”

He said his goal in 2021 is to provide the best educational opportunity for every student in Wilkes, no matter the challenges. “As I have said many times in the past five years, I believe our students deserve this.”

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