Jackson R-2’s new associate superintendent Dr. Jessica Maxwell spoke about her School District during the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast Aug. 21.
Maxwell, formerly the principal of East Elementary, replaced Dr. Beth Emmendorfer, who retired July 1.
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with the schools. Before students returned to classes on Monday, their last day on campus had been March 13.
“We took lemons and we made lemonade,” Maxwell said. Students finished their education for the year online.
During the summer, school staff helped feed needy students.
“The Jackson R-2 mission is to love all and serve all,” she said. “In the past five months while school was closed, our team served over 170,000 meals. To put that in perspective, that’s 1,000 meals for 150 days. We knew that we had students in need, and we were not going to let this pandemic defeat them or us.
“Our goal has always been, but now more than ever, to meet every need of every student we serve,” she continued. “Yes, we have to educate them, but we also have the responsibility to ensure that our students’ physical needs are met, and most importantly, in my opinion, their social and emotional needs.”
Maxwell recounted how she and Merideth Pobst, director of communications for the School District, delivered meals to families this summer and had “quite an adventure” as they got lost driving on county roads and had no cell service to use Google Maps.
They finally found the home they were looking for. As they pulled in, they were surrounded by dogs and chickens. The house sat on a hill, and they would have to climb a mud slope to the front door.
A girl who was about 11 years of age came running toward them with a big smile on her face.
“She talked to us about her animals, but mostly she told us about how she couldn’t wait to be back in school. It was at that moment I had all the confirmation that I needed to know that the District had made the right decision to bring students back on campus Aug. 24. These students need us. We are their safe haven and for many of them, we are the only smile they see all day, and maybe the only kind words they hear.”
Maxwell spoke about how school is different this year.
“Things will look different. Teachers and students will be wearing masks, and we’ll all be social distancing. And while we have a majority of our 5,622 students enrolled to attend face-to-face, 554 of those students have enrolled to be educated virtually online through ‘Ignite Online.’”
Jackson could have purchased an online education package but chose instead to use its own teachers to teach its pupils online. “We truly believe that our teachers are the very best of the best,” Maxwell said. Within two to three weeks, the District created its virtual option.
Students learning at home will “be taught our curriculum at the pace our face-to-face students will also be receiving,” Maxwell said.
Superintendent Dr. John Link sent out a back-to-school message to teachers last Thursday, which listed the goal for teachers this year.
“We are asking our teachers to teach each day like it is the last time their students will see them teach,” summed up Maxwell. “We know the possibilities of short-term closures, but we are choosing to win each day. We are taking it one day at a time and we are celebrating every day that we have with our students.”