The Simpson County School Board has approved the construction of a new fifth grade building in Mendenhall.
The new facility will accommodate the fifth grade students from the former Mendenhall Junior High School, who will be removed as a middle school class and made the upper grade of the elementary school.
Initial plans were to renovate an existing building on the Mendenhall Elementary Campus, but the bids for renovation were so high that the board determined it would be less expensive to build a new facility. The board told Superintendent Greg Paes to proceed with the demolition of the existing building which they had already approved at a previous meeting.
The action will also start the process of securing bids for a new building to include engineers and contracting services.
The board then discussed COVID-19 and its impact on students. School principals have expressed concern that some students may be getting far behind in the hybrid system (alternating days spent in the classroom and at home learning through internet programs) and virtual (internet) learning that was established to deal with the threat of COVID-19, to the point that they would not be able to get caught up to pass their current school year.
The board concurred that unless there is a medical reason, all students would be required to return to the normal classroom setting rather than continue with partial or total internet learning at home. The board also identified the primary source for outbreaks in Simpson County schools as being contact through athletic programs.
Board member Lillie Hardy requested that Superintendent Greg Paes research the reasons that students are failing at virtual learning and report back to the board.
Superintendent Paes reported to the board that discipline problems have reduced drastically during the hybrid learning.
The board heard reports from county schools that have P-16 committees. These advisory committees of community members were set up at the schools designated as being “at risk.” Their job was to help improve the school ratings and communication between the school and the community. Some of the committees are currently in place and others are reorganizing.
Currently, the State Department of Education plans to require state testing at the end of the school year to determine the level of student learning. The state has not yet determined what the standards for completion will be. However, Paes said what is currently being done with virtual learning is not the best option for learning. He said it needs to be “in person in the classroom.”
A work session on a proposed bond issue for the Simpson County School District was held the first week of the month. Board President Danny Cowart said the board agreed to wait until after the presidential election in November before they re-visit the school building plans that would require the passage of the bond issue.
Deputy Superintendent Debbie Davis reported that professional development for teachers has been focused on virtual training for the classroom environment. She said it is a goal to have county teachers Google Certified for classroom instruction.