A planned large Fort Smith Public Schools professional development event scheduled for Dec. 7 will have a virtual option for those wanting to attend after all.
School officials originally told Talk Business & Politics a virtual option would be available for the event. Social media response indicated that the teachers were told a virtual option was not available for all. The school district on Tuesday (Dec. 1) confirmed to Talk Business & Politics that what the teachers were told is correct and though the event would be live-streamed, only teachers in quarantine would be able to access that stream.
Wednesday night (Dec. 2) staff who had registered for that event received an email saying the event would be available virtually for all who preferred that option. The district plans to hold a middle school kickoff professional development Dec. 7 at the Fort Smith Convention Center.
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 2021-22 school year.
“As we stated a few weeks ago, we are constantly assessing the safety and well-being of our staff in relation to this event. Based on the needs in the district right now, we have decided to offer a virtual option for our (Dec. 7) Middle School Kick-Off,” noted the email from Dr. Courtney Morawski, FSPS supervisor of professional development.
In November, COVID-19 deaths rose by 26% throughout the state, known active cases were up 56%, hospitalizations rose by 54.5%, and ventilator use rose by 69%. In Sebastian County, there are 639 total active COVID cases with a total cumulative 7,300 cases in the county, according to the ADH website. There have been 119 deaths. The FSPS district has had 497 total cumulative COVID-19 cases, according to the Arkansas Department of Health Educational Institutions Report from Nov. 30. Of those, 347 were students and 138 were faculty and staff. There are 48 active cases.
There are approximately 310 teachers who “may be interested in knowing more about the plans for organizing middle schools scheduled to open in Fall 2021,” said Zena Featherston Marshall, FSPS executive director of communications and community partnerships.
In August, FSPS will open new ninth-grade centers at 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 event is designed for training and information designed for that transition.
The email to those who had registered said the district would determine details about the event after they determine who indicates on a form they wish to attend virtually. Marshall said Thursday (Dec. 3) that those participating in the virtual option of the event will do so in their classrooms.
“We understand the caution that most are feeling at this time regarding in-person events and we believe that a virtual option for this event can help to alleviate some of that fear,” Marshall said in an emailed statement. “(Dec.) 7 is scheduled as a Digital Learning Day throughout the school district. That means that all FSPS staff are working in buildings on that day. Participants who choose to attend the middle school event virtually may log-in to the training from their classroom. Virtual participants will be required to keep their camera on during the training to receive professional development credit for the event.”
Along with the Middle School Kick-Off, there is a high school event scheduled for the same day. Participants will report to one high school for the event and follow standard safety protocols, which include face masks and observing appropriate distance from others, Marshall said.
“This will be an opportunity for staff in elementary and junior high schools to learn about high school programming,” she said.