Most people do not like to deal in hypotheticals, but when John Milledge Academy Head of School Jessica Jones was asked whether her school would resume face-to-face learning in August should conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic remain the same as they are presently, she paused a few seconds before giving her reply.
“With the proper protocols in place, yes we would,” she said. “Our stakeholders (families) want to be in school. If school was opening tomorrow, we would try to make that happen in the safest way possible.”
Jones, getting ready to begin her fourth full year at the helm with JMA, went into further detail as to why the push to return to normal instruction is being made.
“This is no longer an unknown entity. We know COVID-19. There’s a test for it and we know how to disinfect. Just like with the flu, all we can do is treat it and move forward… We can’t stop people from getting sick. All we can do is make sure we offer the healthiest, safest environment possible while educating our kids.”
John Milledge administrators, similar to other schools around the state and country, have been busy this summer piecing together plans to bring students and staff back to campus safely. Decisions made so far include having elementary students eat their daily meals in their classrooms and replacing the cafeteria hand scanner system with lunch cards for the older student population.
Further measures that have to do with scheduling and matriculating between classes are being discussed, but Jones knows the school may have to pivot.
“Our conversation has been that there is a handful of things that we’re not really going to be able to troubleshoot until we get students on-site because some things might work in theory, but when you get 200 kids trying to go to the cafeteria under a staggered bell schedule that’s a whole other problem,” she said.
Like most all schools across Georgia, John Milledge closed down its campus in mid-March as the novel coronavirus was becoming more prevalent in the state. The private school located on Log Cabin Road moved to a distance-learning model for the remainder of the 2019-20 year that ended for most students May 8. That end date was sooner than originally planned, but Jones felt like her school’s students and families earned it.
“Our families and kids were incredible,” she said reflecting on the period of online learning. “We had a 98 percent engagement rate with our students and parents across the board, which is huge. Everyone was at home working and the kids finished strong. Nobody wants to do it again, but they really did invest in the end of their school year.”
JMA had 525 students last year and is tracking towards a similar enrollment in 2020-21 according to the head of school.
“I have more children than brand new lockers in the high school right now, so that’s a good problem,” Jones said.
Although John Milledge hopes to return to regular instruction at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, teachers are undergoing training with technology this summer should a return to distance learning be necessary.
John Milledge Academy teachers are scheduled to begin reporting Aug. 4, while the first day for students is set for Thursday, Aug. 13.