The Hall County School District completed its first full week of the school year on Friday, and administrators say the district’s return plan has been a success so far.
District officials and staff have reported continued mask-wearing and overall strong adherence to COVID-19 precautions.
All Hall students returned for the first time on Friday after a hybrid start to the week, and Lyman Hall Elementary School Principal Angel Rodriguez said everything from morning drop-off to classroom activities to cafeteria procedure went off without a hitch, despite the sudden increase in numbers.
“I had my hopes and dreams for what this week would look like, and we hit on all of them,” he said. “This week was everything I hoped for.”
Rodriguez said having all students back on Friday was more exciting than anxiety-inducing, especially for the kids themselves. He said he witnessed several joyous, socially distant reunions between friends, who in some cases hadn’t seen each other since March.
The most difficult aspect of the day for Rodriguez was not being able to hug the students, though “foot fives,” in place of high-fives, have taken hold as the new sign of physical affection.
He said cafeteria protocol, which was one of the biggest concerns for schools coming into the year, was surprisingly smooth on Friday, comparing the Lyman Hall cafeteria workers to “a NASCAR pit crew.”
Students at Lyman Hall have been eating meals either in their classrooms or at outdoor tables and have been entering the cafeteria one class at a time to pick up their food before making room for the next class. Cafeteria staff have ensured there has been no dawdling, according to Rodriguez.
“The class comes in, and within literally a minute and a half to two minutes, the entire class goes through the line and they’re picking tables outside or they’re headed back to the classroom,” he said. “It’s been great.”
Hall County School District spokesman Stan Lewis said he traveled to multiple Hall schools Friday morning and heard several accounts like Rodriguez’s.
Lewis said on one occasion, he even saw a high school student who was running late in the morning go directly to the school’s principal to notify them that she needed to get her temperature checked. It’s the type of personal accountability that Lewis said will be essential to Hall schools staying open this fall.
“It’s easy to get on a roll and get complacent when things are going well, and we just can’t allow that to happen,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to hold each other accountable.”
Lewis said one of the only issues he ran into on Friday was more congested than expected carpool lines, adding that the district may keep them open a bit longer going forward to accommodate parents who are concerned about sending their children to school on a bus.
Mike McQueen, principal of CW Davis Middle School, said the school’s carpool line was one of those backed up on Friday morning, but everything else went “amazingly smooth.”
“Our community has just responded great,” he said. "We're sitting in a very good spot as far as first day back.”
McQueen said the successful first day was the result of a joint effort between parents and teachers, who have all bought in to the district’s planned return.
“I can’t brag enough on our school and our community,” he said. “And that’s the truth.”
Jonathan Edwards, principal of Johnson High School, said he’s also been greatly encouraged by how Friday went.
Edwards pointed to both the extra week of pre-planning given to Hall County teachers and the hybrid start to the year as instrumental in making sure students were as prepared as possible for the first day of full attendance in the classroom.
“Things have been going according to how we’ve been expecting,” he said. “It all comes down to the preparation that we’ve taken a couple months of here of getting prepared for this moment and trying to troubleshoot everything and ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions heading into this. But I’m just so very proud of our team and our teachers.”
Overall, Lewis said the district is "extremely pleased" with how the first week of classes at Hall schools have gone. With one week officially in the books, he said he’s simply hoping that the successful start to the year can continue indefinitely.
“Operations and instruction have gone smoothly,” Lewis said. “We're confident that our months of planning, our extended pre-planning and our hybrid AB schedule have resulted in an efficient and safe beginning.”