MBS rises to meet COVID-19 challenges
Mountain Brook Schools strives to provide an effective, challenging, and engaging education for every one of its students. That has not changed amid the coronavirus pandemic, even as circumstances have made that mission tougher to accomplish.
To ensure academic prosperity and community safety during the 2020-2021 school year, MBS has adapted, invested, and pivoted like never before and expects to spend more than $1 million on its coronavirus response. Federal and state financial assistance provided through the Coronavirus Relief Fund and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund will help defray those costs.
“What our faculty and staff have done this year to prioritize health and safety while ensuring the continued provision of a top-notch education has been astounding,” MBS Superintendent Dr. Dicky Barlow said. “I am remarkably proud of the work they have accomplished and their unwavering desire to serve our students."
Creating a safe and healthy school environment topped the district’s priority list over the summer. Led by Director of Administrative Services Dr. Lisa Beckham, MBS performed its due diligence in assessing the quantity of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies needed to outfit its campuses adequately.
The goal was to equip all employees with sufficient resources and materials.
“We really tried to look at every angle and do as much as we could to keep us in school as much as possible and as safely as possible,” Beckham said.
MBS purchased washable masks, disposable masks, face shields, protective gloves, and gowns for employees, in addition to a mountain of cleaning supplies. The district bought hand sanitizer with trigger spray bottles, alcohol wipes, disinfectant spray, spray foggers, heavy-duty paper towels, and touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers for each of Mountain Brook’s six schools.
It also acquired cup dispensers and paper cups so that direct use of water fountains could be avoided.
“Everything we purchased as a district we will continue to provide for as long as we need," Beckham said.
MBS also invested in additional personnel for the school year.
At the elementary level, it selected five teachers to build and lead the virtual program and then hired new teachers to fill their spots in the classroom.
According to MBS Director of Instruction and Special Education Dr. Missy Brooks, the district wanted virtual teachers who already knew the school system inside and out.
"We wanted to be sure that they knew what Mountain Brook was about, knew how we assessed, and knew what our standards were for each nine weeks of a grading period," Brooks said.
Rachel Doggett (kindergarten), Elizabeth Walker (first grade), Claire Thomas (second grade), Cindy Peavy (third/fourth grade), and Lawson Hollans (fifth/sixth grade) are guiding the elementary virtual program from a temporary office space created at the Mountain Brook Board of Education. Each teacher provides comprehensive instruction to her students.
At the secondary level, MBS created virtual liaison positions at Mountain Brook Junior High and Mountain Brook High School. While classroom teachers are in charge of delivering content to their virtual students, the liaisons serve as the primary points of contact for virtual students and their families. They play key roles in facilitating learning and academic progress.
"They're following up with student work and deadlines, having those student meetings, and talking with parents," Brooks said.
It was unfeasible for MBS to hire virtual secondary teachers due to the need for state certifications in specific subject areas. As a result, teachers at the junior high and high school have adapted their content to different platforms to serve traditional, virtual, and quarantined students. That hasn’t been an easy task. Teachers have juggled lesson planning and grading while communicating and supporting students both in class and at home.
MBS considered live streaming as a possible solution. But after the district reviewed various models and procedures regarding students accessing live classes from home, concerns emerged about confidentiality and the strain on teachers of managing virtual and traditional students simultaneously.
Nevertheless, MBS continues to reimagine ways for students to access content, instruction, and teacher support.
"We will continue to do everything we can to care for our students and teachers and ensure their success," Barlow said.
In addition to shuffling faculty, MBS restructured its nursing department to meet the demands of COVID-19. The district's lead nurse, Sandra Overstreet, left her post at Crestline Elementary to become the MBS COVID-19 coordinator. Missy Cummings has stepped in at Crestline while Overstreet helps guide the district's coronavirus response.
"We're really grateful for the support of our Board to be able to adjust those structures to better support our families and our students, as well as work collaboratively with the Jefferson County Department of Health," said MBS Director of Student Services Amanda Hood.
In her new role, which will exist for the pandemic's duration, Overstreet spearheads preventative education and supports all coronavirus-related communication across the district. She also is the point person for the county health department.
"She has been instrumental in assisting us in developing procedures and processes regarding communication with the health department as well as with families, students, and staff within our schools," Hood said.
The MBS technology department didn’t expand its staff this school year, but it did complete one of the district’s most daunting projects. In less than a month, it transitioned MBS to a new learning management system called Schoology.
Schoology houses courses for every grade level and has allowed MBS to streamline its instructional delivery rather than rely on multiple platforms. The shift has enabled the district to enhance its support of students and families.
“What we would normally take a year to polish and work through we did in about two to three weeks,” said MBS Director of Technology Suzan Brandt.
Schoology’s rapid implementation created its own challenges. Teachers, students, and parents had to learn to use it quickly so that assignments could be posted and submitted. But the new learning management system's long-term benefits will make the speedy switch worth it.
“We thought this would be an opportunity to reset what we have been doing and hopefully provide an organized way to do a face-to-face program, a hybrid program, and a virtual program,” Brandt said. “So no matter if a student’s in school or learning at home, they can get to what they need in an organized way.”