Task forces to begin meetings on options for NHCS high school graduation ceremonies

Interview with Dr. Del Burns, Interim Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Work is starting this week on developing options to celebrate high school senior graduations in New Hanover County Schools. According to Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns, two task forces will begin meeting with the goal to have recommendations by June 1st for graduations in traditional and non-traditional high schools. Graduation for the county high schools is currently scheduled for June 13.

“The state Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education provided some guidance recently,” Dr. Burns said. “It is conditional on the restrictions that might be present when graduation ceremonies do occur.”

Dr. Burns said the task forces are comprised the senior class presidents of each high school, faculty senior class advisors, the principals from each of the high schools, the deputy superintendent, the directors of secondary education and safety for the school system, along with a public health official.

“I’m really pleased, in fact I’m excited to have students as part of this because this is really about them and trying to meet their needs, and giving them the most meaningful experience that’s allowed,” Dr. Burns added.

Legislation passed over the weekend by the North Carolina General Assembly, and signed today by Gov. Roy Cooper, set the start date for the 2020-2021 traditional public school year on August 17, 2020, with the end date scheduled for June 11, 2021. Dr. Burns said the schedule will include 190 instructional days, and five will be remote learning days. What is still up in the air is how student learning will take place when that year begins, whether schools will be closed as they are now or will be open in some capacity for more face-to-face learning. Here again, Dr. Burns said the state has sent guidance on how local systems should prepare for all options.

“There’s been discussion regarding how things might look in the fall,” he said. “We do not know what the conditions might be, what restrictions might be in place. The Department of Public Instruction and State Board of Education are providing lots and lots of good information. However, it is very much dependent on the conditions at the time and what restrictions might be in place. The closer we get to the end of this year the more likely it is we’ll understand better what the beginning of next year might look like.”

Dr. Burns said the school system distributed about 4,900 devices to students and families to help with distance learning since classrooms closed in March. He expects more WIFI hotspots to be delivered to families to improve internet connectivity. The school system, he said, has contacted 99 percent of the students since March 16, with the most success coming in the elementary schools. Establishing that contact and maintaining it through this difficult transition has been important to ensure the children continue to learn. He acknowledged that students will not be at the same level they would had the pandemic not caused the current situation.

“Remote learning is not the same as face-to-face instruction,” he said. “There’s been a great effort, the teachers have done amazing work, truly amazing work,” the interim superintendent said. “In fact, I’ve been consistently and constantly amazed at the great work that’s going on. Students will not be at the same level that they might others have been at if we had continued face-to-face instruction. There will be efforts over the summer, part of the legislation (bill signed by Gov. Cooper) supports summer camps and other opportunities for students to have remedial activities. When we start on August 17th, we’ll begin assessing students to determine what the needs are, and we’ll do our best to support them going forward next year.”

Copyright 2020 WECT. All rights reserved.