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Editorial: A tough year and some well-deserved honors
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Fair Street International Academy teachers squirt students with water bottles and water guns May 19, 2021, on the last day of school in the Gainesville city system. - photo by Shannon Casas

The final bell has rung for those attending public schools in Hall County and Gainesville, and one of the most difficult years in the history of public education is now part of the permanent record.

Typically, school years come and go with a metronomic precision and sameness, but 2020-21 was anything but routine for those attending our local schools. That the year has reached a successful conclusion is certainly cause for celebration.

One of the traditional elements at the end of any school year is the recognition of exemplary achievement and performance through awards and honors programs. Before getting too far into the seasonal summer recess, we thought it appropriate to add a few special recognitions of our own.

To the students who weathered a school year unlike any other, congratulations on a job well done. A worldwide pandemic, remote learning, hybrid schedules, mandatory masks, social distancing and a nasty disease all combined could not stop you from achieving your goal. To each of you we award an honorary degree of “Hard Life Lessons Learned,” with advanced placement honors.

To the teachers who made it happen, God bless you. In a chaotic world where both work and home lives were turned upside down more than once, you managed to impart knowledge, solve problems, counsel scared students and parents and make the school year meaningful. We recognize the effort in maintaining any semblance of sanity during months when doing so sometimes seemed impossible. To you we present honorary degrees in “Passionate Commitment to Public Education.”

To the school administrators and central office staff, whose decisions were often maligned and challenged, we say thanks. Pandemic-mandated rules and regulations fell upon your shoulders to manage, as did the substantial challenges posed by socially distanced classrooms and remote learning. The fact that you were flexible enough  to give families options as to whether to have class virtually or in person is remarkable.The importance of what you do and the skill sets needed to do it well are underappreciated. Consider yourself awarded honorary degrees in “Methods and Motivation over Madness.”

To the support staff in all school endeavors, know that it could not have been done without you. Cafeteria workers concerned about feeding not only those students who were in school, but those who were not. Bus drivers concerned not only with transporting students safely but keeping them healthy along the way. Custodial staff demonstrating exceptional rigor in cleaning and sanitizing. Clerical staff keeping everyone straight. Honorary degrees for “Exceptional Performance in Essential Roles” for you.

To the superintendents, Hall County’s Will Schofield and Gainesville’s Jeremy Williams, congratulations on a job well done. Not only did you manage your systems through trying times, but the efforts to remain transparent and open in decision making so as to keep all stakeholders informed along the way were exceptional. No one in these positions can make everyone happy all the time, but the fact that you steered your respective schools to successful years despite the odds deserves recognition. To you we gladly present “The Buck Stops Here” honorary degrees.

To the parents. What a difficult, challenging time. Convincing a 5-year-old to wear a mask for hours every day, consoling a teenager deprived of a social event over health concerns, managing to juggle work demands and remote learning, often with little advance knowledge of what would be expected at any given time. Whatever success the students and school staff encountered is a direct result of the effort you made to make it possible. You have earned “Perseverance in Parenting” honors.

And lastly to the community, what an incredible show of support for public education over the past 10 months. Local businesses strapped for funding themselves finding ways to financially support school events. Public displays of support for educational efforts. Rallying around tough decisions with an attitude of determination. Ours is indeed an incredible community in which to live and work, one more than deserving of an honorary degree in “Community Caring.”

We all look forward to something closer to normal for the school year that will start at the end of summer. If current trends hold and the number of COVID cases continue to drop over the next couple of months, it is reasonable to think we may be able to reopen the school doors without the necessity of masks and with less concern about social distancing. But much can happen in the coming weeks, and it’s still too early to make those determinations.

We are convinced that one way to hasten that return to normalcy in the schools is for everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

While it is uncertain what the 2021-22 school year will bring, there is certainty in the fact that the year just completed was remarkably successful given the challenges faced, and all those involved deserve special kudos for making it so.

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