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Richmond County plans ‘cluster academies’ for easier virtual learning

Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 5:26 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - With campuses coming on and off the closure list due to COVID-19 activity, the Richmond County School System has a new strategy to get teachers to combine resources.

As cases rise, so goes the challenge of school. Just ask Jasmine Goldsberry.

“I’ve had to learn five different ways to access and go through and my children’s assignments,” Goldsberry said.

She’s a parent of five children in Richmond County schools. Their grades have dropped this year.

“They are used to being taught in a different manner, and it transitioning to what it is now, is not the same. They aren’t grasping things the same way,” she said.

Some parents argue there’s nothing like walking through school doors to get an education, and online learning takes a toll.

“How do you make it smooth? I don’t know that you can. But we try to be as prepared as we can,” said Dr. Malinda Cobb, associate superintendent of Richmond County schools.

Cobb says administrators are encouraging better communication and telling teachers to be sensitive to the best types of assignments for the learning model or situation.

“When we have strong communication and the teachers, parents, and students know what to expect, it’s easier,” she said.

But a new idea, cluster academies, is offering a new challenge. Basically, one teacher, for example, would teach fifth-grade math at several different schools virtually all at the same time.

“Got the same number of teachers, same number of buildings, and same number of students. How can we get creative?” Cobb said.

School officials say it’s a solution that came about due to a big change. This semester schools averaged about 50/50 online and in-person.

In January, they expect that number to change to 70/30, with parents favoring face to face. That change caused staffing issues.

“We didn’t want to have to say that this particular school can’t have online instruction,” Cobb said.

So in January, they are going to group some virtual classes together, to keep social distancing and give all parents a different option.

“The schools are communicating with them, so there is no surprise. You don’t have to worry, ‘are we going to be one of the cluster schools?’” Cobb said.

Richmond County schools say they are working to keep schools open at all costs. But if it’s not safe, or critical staff is quarantining, that’s when these closures are being made.

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