Feeling a mom’s frustration, Horn, Board of Ed to begin voluntary ‘KCS at Home’ Apr 6 online, packet ‘review’

As both a mother of a Farragut schools child and as Knox County Board of Education chair, Susan Horn understands and shares the frustrations as schools are closed through at least April 24 — while Knox County School’s “KCS at Home” looks to fill the void.

“I understand why people are upset,” said Horn, who represents District 5 (includes Farragut), noting she had received feedback from a number of parents seeking guidance regarding what is now in-home education as local entities navigate the current COVID-19-related circumstances.

“But this is an unprecedented situation and the staff has never been in this situation before,” she added. “There are a lot of moving parts, and it’s hard for many community members to understand.”

However, the components of KCS at Home, as spelled out in a press release by superintendent Bob Thomas Monday, March 30, stated “educational resources for all grade levels will be posted online each week. Paper packets will be made available for elementary and middle school students, and complementary videos will be posted on the district’s KCS-TV Comcast Channel 10 and our YouTube channel.

“For high school students, the district will have a limited number of electronic devices available with certain peramenters to check out on a first-come, first-served basis,” he further stated.

“Distribution of materials will begin on Monday, April 6, and all resources will be based on content that was already taught during the school year. Participation will be voluntary and completion will not affect a student’s grade.”

More details about KCS at Home can be found at www.knoxschools.org.

Horn and other members of the Board, along with Thomas and other KCS officials, met electronically Thursday, March 26, to discuss steps going forward, and she said they received some very clear directives on what can and can’t be done.

“We needed to know what we can and can’t do under the law,” Horn explained. “And we shared with them our feedback we had been getting.”

Horn said parents’ biggest concerns pertained to online curriculum, while the school system’s challenges included how best to address special education needs, access of materials and Internet/computer access.

Two issues she specifically asked about: whether teachers would be able to contact students directly, and if school principals could send informational newsletters that promoted more grade-specific content, were answered affirmatively by district officials.

“I was concerned about that because I know parents want to hear from their children’s teachers — they know them best,” she said. “And I was told the teachers were going to be able to do that, and principals could send out information as well.

“I know that we will be making sure kids can check out Chromebooks this week, if they need to,” Horn added.

With a “review” focus on the main subjects of mathematics, science, social studies and English, “It’s hard to do performance-based classes like CTE or the arts, those sorts of classes, from a distance,” Dr. Jon Rysewyk, assistant superintendent and Chief Academic officer, said during the meeting.

For high schools, “We do have software in a learning platform in Canvas, Aspen, Microsoft Teams,” he added.

At the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade level, packets will target kindergarten-through-second, third-through-fifth and sixth-through-eighth-grade levels. In addition to printing the packets via online, “We feel like we could distribute them through our 25 sites where we’re doing food distribution for students who couldn’t get online,” Rysewyk said.

“This is a work in progress,” Horn said. “But we need to make sure out kids keep reading, and work on their math skills, while the schools are working to give some clearer directives.”

Horn is very aware of the impact of current events, closer to home, as her younger daughter, Reagan, is a junior at Farragut High School, and older daughter, Madeline, is currently finishing up her freshman year online with the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

“It’s not the way (Madeline) wanted her freshman year to end up,” Horn said. “And I’m heartbroken for our students, especially our seniors, who are missing spring sports, and not knowing what will be done about prom or graduation.

”I hope once we get a little more direction, and the kids are settled and learning, hopefully some solutions can be figured out,” she added. “The uncertainty of not knowing is so hard, but we will just have to wait and see.”

Our pastor’s [the Rev. Seth xxx of Christ Covenant Church] sermon today was about how we are in a period of waiting, and really, all we can do is wait.”