WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. — The school year is underway at Lexington School District Two as students continue to learn in a new environment during the pandemic.
Superintendent Dr. Bill James said the district's first day of school went well.
"The teachers did a really good job in their classrooms of getting kids socially distanced, kids wearing their masks, rooms were decorated really nice," said Dr. James. "Just that part of it was like a regular opening for school. A lot of excitement to be back in the building."
The school district has two options available for students this year, a hybrid in-person model and an all-virtual academy.
The first day of school for students was Tuesday, September 8. The first group of students came in that day. Wednesday was all virtual for students. On Thursday, the second group of students will arrive for the first time in the classroom. The superintendent said it's sort of like having two first days of school.
"Driving home was a really good feeling because we spent a lot of time and a lot of people have been involved in coming up with this plan and choosing Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday as opposed to a Monday-Tuesday and Wednesday-Thursday, we put a lot of thought into how this would work," explained Dr. James.
One thing the superintendent said has been helpful has been meeting with other superintendents in the Midlands.
"We meet during the COVID crisis, we've met virtually every two weeks," said Dr. James. "Having the Midlands superintendents and the other school districts to draw on and share ideas with, that's a great experience, even when you're not dealing with something like this."
According to the district, over 700 individuals came in during the summer for training for three days to get prepared for the virtual side of things this school year.
Buses are running differently this year. Drivers have extra masks and sanitizing solutions.
When students get on the bus, they sit in the back and fill to the front as more are picked up. Social distancing is being practiced and seats are marked.
"Our bus drivers are really, and I think overall bus drivers, are special people. They're the face of the district first thing in the morning. They can change the course of an entire day for everybody within the school district when they greet a child early in the morning. If it's a really positive experience, a child is going to have a good day and that means that teacher will probably have a good day," Dr. James said.
Since all students are learning virtually at some point, the district also has an IT team to assist any students and staff.
Because the district includes some rural areas, the superintendent said they appreciate state leaders providing access to hotspots so students can continue to learn from home.
Dr. James announced earlier this year he would be retiring at the end of the school year.
"When I envisioned this, I always thought it would be just like a regular school year and you'd go around and do the fun things that are involved with school and now we got kids who are spread out and a third of them in the buildings and a pandemic going on. Everybody's trying to do things that we don't have a model," said Dr. James. "No one's done it before. We're kind of building the airplane as we fly. It's a unique time to finish up my career."
He believes the administrators, teachers and students are resilient and are prepared for whatever challenges the pandemic may bring.
"I think it's a good time for everybody to pull together because no one in the entire country has ever gone through anything like this. The last time anything was even close to this was the pandemic of 1918," explained Dr. James. "No one person is the keeper of knowledge. It takes working teachers, custodians, bus drivers, administrators, building level folks, board members, it truly is a pull from everybody for the best ideas that you can get."