It was a great day for a talk from our very own Dr. Joe Buck about the status of the Chatham County school system.  Laura Lane McKinnon filled in this week for President Gordon Matthews and reminded the club that Harriet Meyerhoff has designated RCSE as a place to donate money in honor of Eric.  If you would like to do so, please send a check to RCSE at POBox 60822, Savannah, GA 31420.  Once all Rotary business items were discussed, Laura Lane turned the meeting over to Joe Buck.    
Joe began by saying what a pleasure it was to be back seeing all his fellow Rotarians again.  They are still working on the premise that school will start the first week of August.  The State of Georgia has given each local school district its own decision making ability based on what the local department of health says.  At the beginning, Chatham County's COVID numbers weren't very high.  However, with everything opening up, our numbers are starting to go up sizably.  If you have low to no spread, school would open as it has in the past.  If there is minimal to moderate spread, then it will result in a hybrid of learning.  If there is substantial spread, school will have to wait to open or do distance learning across the board.  If the distancing rules continue to be applied, it will change the way schools operate.  Most likely everyone's temperature will need to be taken before anyone is allowed into the building.  Under the current guidelines, a school bus can only carry 8 kids rather than 80 which is impossible/not feasible to run.  
Joe was very excited when Dr. Ann Levett, School Superintendent, announced we need an online school running from Grade 3 - Grade 12.  A Virtual Academy will begin on July 1 and has been approved by the State.  Students participating in the Virtual Academy can still join clubs/sports of own school.  Teachers will be hired to only do virtual learning.  They are also looking at running school in sessions - maybe a morning session and an afternoon session if they are limited by class size due to social distancing.  Joe has never seen such cooperation from school and parents.  Recently, they had 3300 people watch a board meeting.  The Superintendent has formed a task force made up of people from the chamber, PTA's, church groups, etc. and they are really diving into the deep end in order to help answer questions.  There is a survey on website which helps give them information and lets them know the will of the public.  They will have a pilot week coming up to see how things might work.  When schools closed when pandemic hit in March, Joe got questioned time and time again about how to feed all the children.  Since then, they have been able to  serve 3/4 of a million meals to kids in this community.  Joe is very proud of this for many reasons with a few being:they were able to keep hourly employees employed through heart of pandemic, they were a sign of stability in children lives, and the kids came running every time the bus came.  Mayor Johnson has done a great job and Anne Levett has risen to the occasion and is doing a superb job
After Joe's presentation, he opened the floor up for Q&A.  A question was asked about budget and financial concerns.  Joe said that they will be okay for this year but that the following year is the most concerning to him.  Another question was about students learning retention since they will have been out of school for so long.  Joe said every day students are losing what they learned during the school year and that there will be more remediation for kids across the board than they have ever done.  Joe wanted to commend our community because it has stepped forward in such a great way.  There are 36,000 students in our school system and they estimate that they need 26,000 devices in order for every child to be able to learn from home.  So far, 26,000 chrome books have either been donated or purchased in order to fulfill this need.  Xfinity is working on a program so kids can log on to the internet for a minimal amount.  They are also looking at hotspot buses for areas with very little wifi.  They have been talking to other counties and the state is looking to Chatham County because we seem to be ahead of the curve.  Dr. Ann Levett says there are wonderful opportunities surrounded by this chaos.  Joe said the single biggest challenge is poverty.  In the school district, 70% of kids meet federal criteria for free and reduced lunch.    Joe believes Mayor Johnson has done a great job and Dr. Levett has risen to the occasion and is doing a superb job. Terry Enoch then said that Joe's relentless leadership has been fabulous and that everything starts with him and his leadership and trickles on down. In conclusion, Joe believes distance learning is not going to be good for every kid.  It's only as effective as the parents are engaged, the teacher is dedicated and good, and the student is able to be molded into place so they can learn.