Paducah Public Schools welcomed back students for in-person classes Monday using a hybrid schedule that minimizes the number of people in schools at a time.

Superintendent Donald Shively said of the approximately 3,000 or so students in the district, about 64% chose in-person instruction. To accommodate them, the district split the students into two groups: the Blue group and the Tornado group.

The former attends in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the latter attends in-person classes on Thursdays and Fridays. Meanwhile, Wednesdays are virtual learning days for all students.

“We wanted to reduce the number of children that are here each day. So when we started looking at that, the A/B option was what we felt was best for children. We felt it kept not only our children, but our employees safe,” Shively said. “And so with that, conversations with principals throughout the district, there was a lot of request for us going back-to-back days with children. So if you teach something on Monday, you can continue to teach it on Tuesday if you’re doing a lab, some type of experiment. It just lets you do two days of instruction back to back.”

Although the spring semester began Jan. 4, the first week consisted of virtual instruction for all students. Monday, Jan. 11, was the first day of the hybrid schedule.

“We are very blessed to be able to have our students with us here (Monday) in our school system, and very fortunate that we’re able to work with them in person,” Shively said. “Obviously, a very restrictive hybrid plan that we’ve come back with, and we got right at 32% of the children in the buildings (Monday). And so we are meeting the expectations of the governor’s executive order to ensure that our children are safe.”

Shively said the district believes students learn better in the classroom than online.

“Teaching and learning is very relationship-driven,” Shively said. “And so that’s our district vision, to know each and every child by name and need, and develop that deeper connection when you’re with somebody than you do when you Zoom, use Teams or do virtual assignments.”

While the hybrid schedule is designed to minimize the number of students in school at a time, the district continues to take other safety precautions, such as conducting temperature checks when boarding school buses or when arriving at school, and requiring masks.

“Masks are required at all times throughout the building, and our children have done a great job with that since we started school in August,” Shively said. “So it’s one of those things that I thought could be a challenge for us. We’ve set the expectations, been positive about it, and our children have met those expectations.”

Shively said the district is also planning ahead.

“We are definitely, right now, are in the red as a county when you look at statewide map,” Shively said. “But we’re already starting the conversations and planning on what’s the progression of this look like as the vaccine becomes more readily available. And with that, ramping up the percentage of students in our building each day as we expect to move from red back to where it’s green as we go through this spring semester.”

Shively said as of Monday, 65% of the district’s employees, including himself, have decided to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

Paducah Public Schools moved to all-virtual instruction in November as COVID-19 cases increased in the community. Shively said the staff and students have done a great job adjusting to the changes.

“It obviously has been a tremendous challenge. But as you can see, we have tremendous teachers that do a great job, and we got wonderful children that I think are excited to be here,” Shively said “I’ve been in every school and met with every principal, and there are a lot of smiling faces, not only from children but adults. Obviously, there’s always a little bit opportunity for anxiety with us coming back right now. But I think we got the right plan and strategy in place to ensure we don’t transmit the disease as we continue to learn at school.”

In addition to safety, another priority of the district is racial equity. The district has enlisted the help of Dr. Greg Vincent with the University of Kentucky and Dr. Roger Cleveland with Kentucky State University to conduct a racial equity audit, said Assistant Superintendent Will Black. The audit will gather community input and examine district policies.

“We take a look at what are we doing well, what are areas we can improve, and develop an action plan based on those results,” Black said, adding he’s in the process of forming a committee that will be tasked with creating that action plan. The district has been planning to create a racial equity committee for a long time.

Black said the racial equity audit is expected to begin in February. He hopes the action plan can be presented to the school board in late April or early May.

“We are always focused on racial achievement gaps, and that’s gaps in student test score data that follows racial lines and that’s certainly an issue that we’re going to be looking at,” Black said. “But more broadly, we want to engage the community and really get their opinions, their perceptions on what issues exist and how we might improve that.”

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