Many top administrators in the Wilkes County Schools rolled up their sleeves and spent days working in school cafeterias to help make sure students were well fed when there were 12 food service vacancies, not counting people out due to medical leaves or COVID-19-related situations.

During the Oct. 4 Wilkes school board meeting, 42 central services staff members were recognized for pitching in this way to get a very important job done.

Marty Johnson, director of child nutrition for the Wilkes schools, said then that it’s a blessing to be part of an organization with people who work to support each other in situations like this. Later in the meeting, it was announced that the majority of these 12 vacancies have been filled.

Johnson recognized by name the central services staff who helped serve meals: Mark Byrd, David Johnson, Dr. Donna Cotton, Seth Prevette, Elaine Martin, Dr. Westley Wood, Bergie Speaks, Tammy Blevins, Timmy Davis, Aaron Blackburn, Tim Pruitt, Jake Barker, Scott Church, Angie Lamb, Angela Bell, Dr. Joe Bullis, Morgan Mathis, Jeffrey Johnson, Robin Stanley, Melissa Shepherd, Callie Grubb, Ramona Burkhart, Dawn Michael, Elaine Carson, Julie Triplett, Loretta Shumate, Nicole McNeil, Donna Absher, Julie Benton, Brandon Walker, Abbey Dyer, Rosanna Reyes Limon, Darlene Shumate, Michele Parsons, Makala Absher, Maria Bailey, Jan Burgess, Chrissy Howell, Betsy Nance and Allison Wingerson.

These people demonstrated the same can-do, team spirit exhibited in the Wilkes schools when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden transition to 100% remote learning statewide.

Teachers and other Wilkes school employees pitched in by taking on responsibilities well outside their normal duties, including by staffing school buses that delivered school meals to students. Consider the importance of this in the many food-insecure households in Wilkes.

School staff have gone the extra mile to check on the welfare of students throughout the pandemic.

Recent standardized test scores indicate the Wilkes schools also rose to meet academic challenges presented by the pandemic.

The Wilkes County Schools ranked 18th out of 116 districts statewide in percentage of students who scored either grade level proficient or career/college ready on standardized math, reading, science and ACT tests combined in the 2020-21 school year.

Jeffrey Johnson, director of testing and accountability for the Wilkes schools, said 53.6% of Wilkes students scored grade level proficient or career/college ready on end of grade and end of course test results combined last year. That compares to 45.4% statewide.

The Wilkes schools ranked 26th in 2020-21 in percentage of students with scores indicating career or college readiness alone. This doesn’t include the lower grade level proficient scores.

The pandemic’s toll has been huge, but better times are ahead. Much has been learned from this experience, including the ability of local institutions like the Wilkes schools to rise and meet challenges.

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