Fort Smith Public Schools to conduct large in-person event for middle school prep

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,892 views 

Despite making school virtual for the entire district Friday (Nov. 20) because there were too many people out, Fort Smith Public Schools administration is hopeful it will be able to hold a day-long in-person professional development workshop at the Fort Smith Convention Center on Dec. 7.

The district has had 436 total cumulative COVID-19 cases, according to the Arkansas Department of Health Educational Institutions Report from Nov. 19. That is up 34 cases from Nov. 16. Of those, 307 were students and 113 were faculty and staff. There were 85 active cases, up 11 from 76 on Nov. 16.

FSPS is a red district, meaning the new known infection rate in the past 14 days is 50-99 per 10,000 people, living in the district’s boundaries. It is the second-highest coding rank, with purple being the highest. A purple district indicates a new known infection rate of 100 or more per 10,000 people. The ADH site indicated only seven districts marked purple Monday.

In Sebastian County, there were 759 active cases as of Nov. 22.

Because the district could not provide all students supervision and services, FSPS pivoted to online instruction Friday, according to Zena Featherston Marshall, FSPS executive director of communications and community partnership. The district was virtual Monday and will be Tuesday as well.

However, the district still plans to hold a middle school kickoff professional development Dec. 7 in person. The kickoff was originally scheduled for April, but was postponed because of the COVID pandemic, said Dr. Ginni McDonald, FSPS director of secondary education. The kickoff will include several professional development workshops designed to help prepare teachers for the new middle schools that will emerge with the 2021-21 school year.

In August, FSPS will open new ninth-grade centers at both Northside and Southside high schools as part of the district’s 2023 initiative. All four of the district’s junior high schools will move from serving seventh through ninth grade to having sixth through eighth-grade students and will be renamed middle schools.

The keynote speaker for the event will be Dr. Debbie Silver, presenting a two-hour session on “Why Middle School Matters” in the morning. Silver is a speaker, author and educator who has become a popular presenter for professional development in education.

About 150 teachers have already signed up for the in-person version of the conference, which also will be available virtually for those preferring to keep their distance, said Dr. Courtney Morawaski, FSPS supervisor of professional development.

FSPS administration is taking all necessary steps to ensure the day of professional development is safe for those attending, McDonald said.

“We will check everyone’s temperature before they enter, clean frequently and of course the convention center will be cleaned before it begins. We have been working with the ADH to ensure all of our plans are in compliance with regulations,” she said.

If conditions in the district or state change before Dec. 7, Morawski said the district will adapt to a solely virtual program.