WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There are armies that have not pivoted as quickly. One minute, children throughout Florida were sitting in a school classroom. The next, it seemed, they were distance learning from home -- a move triggered by the coronavirus. It's a moment that may forever redefine the nature of schooling.
WPTV NewsChannel 5 recently spoke with Dr. Donald Fennoy, superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, who answered questions from viewers sent via Facebook.
Fennoy oversees the nation's 10th largest public school district. How big is it? That's 176,000 students, nearly 13,000 teachers, 179 schools and a $3.5 billion budget.
With that size comes the complexity of a move no school district anywhere could have fully imagined.
"This is completely uncharted territory," Fennoy said. "So I think we definitely get an 'A' for effort in the fact that we were able to turn around traditional brick-and-mortar into this distance learning in a matter of two weeks, and it's evolving, so we're constantly tweaking it and learning. I would also argue that we have close to 98% of our students who are engaged in distance learning in some form. Now, there are still students out there who are, through the reality of economics, not having internet access or things like that, and we are driving and finding those kids and creating packets to try to stay engaged with them in those communities."
Of course, plenty of questions posed to Fennoy asked what school will look like for the upcoming academic year.
"In the fall we're not going to dismantle our distance learning," Fennoy said. "I think families will be choosing, in some cases, to not send their kids back in the building even if we are given the all-clear. There are children like my own personal child -- I have children in the school system -- and, you know, they're on this platform every day, and so I think we have to think differently about attendance. We have to think differently about all of this, but I think until, you know, there is a vaccine, we are going to have to have some form of distance learning taking place, because you never know when the call will come down from the president or the governor for us to shelter in place again if there's a second wave."
Touching on a wide range of topics during the interview, Fennoy also explains why the district is moving forward with virtual graduations instead of delayed in-person graduations like some other counties, offers his thoughts about those parents who have been considering holding their children back and discusses what is being done to keep children and faculty safe when they eventually return to the classrooms.
DR. FENNOY DISCUSSES GRADUATION, SUMMER SERVICES
DR. FENNOY DISCUSSES DISTANCE LEARNING, MAKING THE GRADE
DR. FENNOY DISCUSSES UPCOMING SCHOOL YEAR
DR. FENNOY DISCUSSES DISTRICT BUDGET, FINANCES