Back to School 2022: New Hanover County Schools optimistic for return to normalcy

Monday’s first day of school is the first for which masks are not required since 2019.
Published: Aug. 29, 2022 at 2:20 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - As students arrive to Porters Neck Elementary School Monday morning, they are met by teachers ecstatic to have smiling faces in their classrooms once again.

Monday’s first day of school is the first for which masks are not required since 2019. For this first week of school, Principal Paul Slovik says his staff is focused on making students feel comfortable as they return to school.

“That’s the key thing to do, build that relationship,” Slovik said. “Because if you can relax and you can be calm and you have that positive relationship with your teacher, you’ll grow tremendously throughout the school year.”

Teachers across the district have adapted their lessons to a “post-pandemic” setting and found new ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.

“I’ve done a lot of videoing and I feel like I’m really good at Google Classroom,” said 4th Grade Teacher Emily Willis. “So, I feel like when students are now absent I have a way to have them still learn while they’re at home or if they go, you know, somewhere else. It’s still like a way to be present with students.”

The district, however, still has several long-term goals to achieve throughout the entire school year. Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust hopes to recapture learning lost over the last two years.

“We had almost two years of, yes, we were educating kids, but we had some kids who were in school, some who were not in school, some who didn’t come back to school, but they were doing it online,” Foust said. “This year, everyone is back in place, so a strong focus, so we have an instructional framework that we have built.”

That framework includes specific goals for each level of education. At the elementary school, the district’s goal is to have 90 percent of third graders reading at grade level. In the county’s middle schools, that focus is on science, and the push in the high schools is to increase proficiency in math.

“So the state tells us this is what we have to do, and I talk about it as an input-output,” Foust said. “The kids, if they absorb it, they’re going to give it back out, and we have to do some benchmarking and checking to make sure that the level of rigor is where it’s supposed to be.”

To help guide students towards improving test scores and grades overall, the county has introduced more intensive professional development and leadership training for faculty and staff. The goal here is to help them adjust to new teaching practices.

“You just can’t go based off of what you learned when you were in college or there was a program that took place and you learned a little bit about it,” said Foust. “We have to then go in and measure and see ‘Okay, this is what we need and this is our focus.’ So, our teachers go through professional development and we may not necessarily call it - but we call it professional learning communities. That’s a form of professional development [held] weekly.”

Tuesday marks one year since the shooting at New Hanover High School. Foust says the district is working on improving school safety, including installing vestibules at the entrance to each school which would direct visitors through three levels of security before entering the main hallways.

WECT’s back-to-school coverage continues throughout this week.