BERRYVILLE — Teachers in the Clarke County Public Schools perhaps will have the most challenging year of their careers, their bosses acknowledge.

It won't be a picnic, either, for students whose learning suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall results of state Standards of Learning (SOL) exams taken last spring allude to their setbacks. (See related story.)

Now that classrooms have reopened five days a week, teachers basically will be tutoring and teaching at the same time to ensure students don't get behind further.

"Teachers have an incredible amount of work to do," said Ed Shewbridge, the school division's director of technology and testing.

While teaching grade-level content, if they realize their students aren't grasping it, they will have to stop and do remediation until the youngsters conquer their "unfinished learning" from the past year, Superintendent Chuck Bishop said.

Obviously, they aren't able to teach two full years' worth of content at the same time. But when spotted, students' learning deficiencies must be dealt with immediately, Shewbridge said.

It could require sudden, sharp deviations from lessons plans.

"We know what we need to do," Bishop said. "It's just a tall task ahead of us."

Asked if teachers will be able to withstand the stress, Shewbridge replied, "I hope so."

Shewbridge said he also hopes the division will come up with incentives — financial or otherwise — to compensate teachers for contributing extra time and effort.

The Clarke County School Board should provide teachers "whatever they need" to help remediate students, said Vice Chairwoman Katie Kerr-Hobert.

Interventionists and specialists that the division has hired, such as for reading, should help ease the burden on teachers, Shewbridge said. For instance, if a teacher realizes that a few students aren't grasping a concept, an interventionist can take the students aside and help them grasp it, enabling the teacher to proceed with the regular lesson plan. When those students catch up, they can rejoin the larger group.

Even before the pandemic, details of how individual students fared on the SOLs in a particular year have been forwarded to their teachers the following year, Shewbridge said. That has helped teachers determine unique strategies for helping those students learn anything they've missed, he said.

Not promoting students to the next grade at the end of a school year is almost out of the question. Shewbridge estimated that only about a half-percent of CCPS students are retained annually.

"In the past 20 years or so, people (educators) have gotten away from that," said Shewbridge.

A report on the website of AASA, The School Superintendents Association (formerly the American Association of School Administrators), asserts that retaining students can do more harm than good, such as by lowering their self-esteem, which can hinder learning more.

Prevailing thought among educators has evolved from, "You didn't get it so we're going to hold you back," to, "You didn't get it so we're going to find a way to help you get it" and move along with your peers, Shewbridge said.

Bishop emphasized that low scores from last spring's SOL exams were "no reflection on the quality of our teachers or ... our students."

Ones who usually do well on the exams didn't this time around, Shewbridge said.

Rather, the pandemic created "a set of circumstances we have to overcome collectively" to help students get back on track at learning, Bishop added.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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