School Superintendent Shares Hope For Getting Back To A New Normal

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JAMESTOWN – “I had said, number one priority is keeping kids safe, keeping our employees safe. Keeping everybody safe is number one. Second to that is education,” explains Jamestown Public School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Whitaker who is sharing the school’s evolution in the way it has handled battling the pandemic. 

The superintendent noted how the initial switch to virtual learning caused anxiety amongst students and how important it is to keep students in-school and together.

“Our challenge last year was the six foot rule,” says Whitaker. “The six foot rule basically said you had to keep everybody separated by six feet, and in our building, with our classroom sizes, we just didn’t have the space to do it. So we had to come up with something creative. When that six foot rule was eliminated and it really turned into the three foot rule, then we could make something happen.”

Though Whitaker notes that the jump from 500 kids at Jamestown High School  to 1400 has been stressful, it has not greatly increased the transmission of COVID-19.

He furthers that currently, there are no cases of in-school transmission, for which he gives credit to their updating of policies as well as masking and vaccination.

“I really think if we can get our kids vaccinated at a certain level, whatever the science tells us, 80 percent, 70 percent, we’re gonna put a major dent in this COVID thing and we’re gonna be able to get back to normal,” hopes Whitaker.

Getting a vast majority of students and adults vaccinated within the school is the way the superintendent believes masks will come off for good.

“Kids have, they are very flexible and adaptable and it’s been really amazing to see how well they’ve coped with that pretty challenging request we and the state health department have asked of them,” says Whitaker about masking.

He also praises the staff for their handling of the process, saying that the relationships they have built with their students helps them relate to each other and makes the enforcement process easier.

“The reality is that our procedures and requirements and quarantines and all those things have been slightly modified all the way along the path,” explains Whitaker. “So whereas say a year ago, we had everybody quarantined all the time. And even at the beginning of this year I think it was, even as of the summer it was anybody on a team, anybody who’s part of an association, a club, whatever. One person tests positive, the entire club, the entire team, no matter what the contact rate was or ratio was, everybody had to quarantine. Well that’s different now, and that changes that have been incremental along the way have moved us pretty significantly.”

He also notes there are now different lengths of quarantine, close-contact standards, and no quarantining for vaccinated and masked individuals three feet apart.

The superintendent praises the community for rolling with the punches and taking on this challenging landscape as the school has learned and evolved.

Though Whitaker’s goal is to keep kids in school, there are backup plans for virtual learning in case the new Omicron variant and winter surges lead to tighter restrictions.


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