Collierville High School Principal Roger Jones speaks to the lengths that his administration and faculty have gone to ensure a relatively smooth transition to online learning. Mr. Jones also addresses students, their parents, and seniors on this episode of the Main and Mulberry Podcast.
See the transcript below.
Anna Bell: Hello everyone, I’m Anna Bell. Today, I’m thankful to have Collierville High School’s principal, Roger Jones, on the phone with us to talk about how he and his staff are continuing to educate Collierville High School’s students, even if the school’s doors are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Principal Jones, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Principal Roger Jones: No, thank you for inviting me. I really do appreciate it.
AB: Yeah. So tell me, how has it been working without a playbook, so to speak, and now everybody is trying to, to find their way right now, but you in particular, how’s it been working to keep the school going with the physical doors shut due to the coronavirus?
RJ: Well, I will say that you put it perfectly. I don’t think I couldn’t say that better, to be able to maneuver through this time without a playbook. That’s exactly what we’re doing because we are a one-to-one school. We’re a one-to-one district. We still don’t do everything completely online. So this has been a complete change for us, a complete 180. So for us, it’s been a labor of love for all of us. What I typically do is I have, department chairs meetings weekly. So what I do is I have my principal’s meeting every Wednesday. That’s when our superintendent delivers anything that we need to know. Anything that we can share with parents and things like that or students. Right after that meeting, what I’ll do is I’ll have then an admin meeting with my administration team to let them know of any type of changes and things like that that we’re about to unveil.
RJ: Share with the students, the parents, share with teachers and everyone so they’ll know what direction we’re taking for the week. And then after I meet with my admin team, then I meet with my department chairs, and I have at least seven, eight of them altogether, on the line in which we all talk about what we’re going to do for the week. My teachers meet within their PLC. That’s our professional learning communities. And what they do is they come together and they put together activities for the students to do throughout that week. So if it’s a standard class, every class, except for our advanced placement or our dual enrollment classes, they submit activities for a two week period. But our advanced placement and our dual enrollment courses, they submit plans on a weekly basis because, because they’re dual enrollment, that’s a college-based course.
RJ: They have to do things on a daily basis because they’re learning and learning new materials. Um, and those materials are not optional. Everything else is optional but because those students are going to receive college credit and dual enrollment, that is not optional. In doing that and their PLCs, once they have everything that they want to submit for that week, then I create personally a one drive folder for every department. They go in and they load the assignments in PDF form. Of course we want to make sure it’s in PDF form because you don’t know what type of software the students are working with at home now that they’re away from school and you want to make sure that they can open it up when they’re at home. So we create PDF documents, we load those into a one drive, and then our district technology department, they then take those assignments and load them onto our Collierville schools webpage for students to be able to access. So it goes through a lot of hands before students can even have access to it.
AB: You spoke for a minute about your admin calls. What is the morale like with your staff right now? We’re multiple weeks in. How are they doing and how are you connecting with them?
RJ: Like I said, I have a Zoom meeting with my admin team and chairs and throughout my counselors and everyone, for the most part, we’re doing somethings every day. The morale is, surprisingly very high. I say surprisingly because we’re in education and education, you know, that our job is centered around kids. And in being centered around kids, I mean, everything that we do, it’s an interaction with kids. So when you can’t see them on a daily basis, it’s very difficult on everyone. That’s why you see so many teachers, they want to do a parade and they want to do Zoom meetings. They want to be able to check-in with the kids. You know, the, the thing about it is, I mean the old saying, you never, tend to miss a good thing until it’s gone.
RJ: You know, we love education and our educators love what they do and to be told that, Hey, at this point in time you cannot engage with kids face to face. That is very, very difficult. And so, my teachers, although the morale is pretty good, it’s very difficult knowing that we pretty much had our last day of school right before spring break. That was in March. I mean, we’re now getting set to move into May, so that’s very difficult. It’s very difficult with every student, but it’s extremely difficult knowing that we won’t really get a chance to share those final moments with our seniors and the way that they were looking forward to that, that that’s the most difficult part about it.
AB: I know our hearts go out to all of the class of 2020 seniors right now. I can only imagine just the range of emotions that they’re going through. Maybe you can talk to us a little bit about what the conversations around honoring those seniors has been like?
RJ: The conversation. They don’t stop at all. So let me just kinda tell you what those conversations look like. I get ideas from parents themselves almost daily. I get ideas in email form. I get, you know, I get suggestions from even seniors. I have one senior that emailed me at 1:00 AM in the morning. Just, I mean, it’s constantly on their minds. I mean, I couldn’t imagine being in their position. It’s really difficult for any senior knowing that they won’t be able to experience the traditional, our graduation ceremony that we did..
AB: The pomp and circumstance, right?
RJ: That’s right. Over the years. But you know, and you feel bad for any senior that doesn’t, that won’t get a chance to experience that. But I will tell you as a parent myself, and I only have one child, so I can’t imagine having one child that’d be, you only got one opportunity to experience every great celebration like that. So if you have an only child that that has to be extremely difficult to know that your child won’t enjoy a traditional ceremony. So, getting back to your question, daily I get suggestions. And so, what we’ve been doing each day is, especially this week especially, we’ve really gotten on top of, what are some of the suggestions that we’re receiving? What do we believe is something that we can actually do, because the decision that is ultimately made, it’s not mine alone.
RJ: If it were mine alone, I would have a graduation ceremony today if I could. We have to have approval. And then of course, you know, everything is based on for the most part, the recommendations of the CDC. So it’s very difficult. You can put a plan together. And by golly I’m doing my very best to have a traditional ceremony and to put plans in place. You just want to make sure that, you’re putting your best foot forward and giving your seniors the best experience that you can possibly provide them with at a time. Like this.
AB: Talking about communication, how concerned are you kind of about your students’ emotional wellbeing that they have? The support and the services that they normally would receive if they were in school?
RJ: I will tell you we’re very concerned about that. And for many reasons, you know, one of the things that we need to understand is that families are facing more than just, Hey, my child is not able to go to school right now. They’re facing a lot of things, especially when you watch the news and they say, well, only the essential workers are working at this time or what have you. So you gotta worry about the child who knows that their mom or their dad is considered an essential worker. And they have to go out into the environment to work those jobs, which puts them at risk in some way of maybe getting Covid-19 and those students, that’s stressful to them, knowing that my parent is running a risk of getting this, you know, also with the essential workers need that some parents, the jobs that they do, they may not be considered essential workers.
RJ: Well, what does that mean? You know? Well, whether it’s completely laid off, whether it’s on what it does, you know, some of those things are in combination, but so now you have a child who’s internalizing mom and dad. They’re struggling. They may not be able to pay the rent or what have you. Things like that. When our kids are going through difficult times like that, one of the great things about school is that we have counselors that are available. We have teachers that are available that kids can go to and make connections with, you know, different teachers and different counselors and administrators in the building for one reason or another. And they feel very comfortable going to that person when they don’t really have that everyday contact. It makes things very, very difficult.
AB: Is there a particular place for them to go and to contact someone if they are struggling emotionally?
RJ: Actually, there is. Our counseling department has also put together a website where parents can go through, go to get resources, and ideas for how to help their kids cope with this experience and for parents to get some ideas on how to cope with. And our counselors are always available as well. They’re just an email away. And we’re very fortunate. We have Dr. Nancy Kelly that’s in our district that really helps us when we have, you know, students who are going through some struggles very, very personally to help them get through. You can just imagine, I mean, one thing about, our kids naturally are very caring individuals, especially when it comes to their moms and their fathers. So if they see that their parents are going through a tough time, again, they really internalize that and they need a place to go. And so our district has provided our parents with some resources, some ideas and places that they can go. And it’s on our website. And we sent that out to our parents through what we call our Blackboard Connect. That’s our mass communication system, where it says to let parents know that it’s available. But that is one thing that we’re definitely concerned about, especially in this time.
AB: So good to know though that you can go to the school’s website to find that information or through that, the Blackboard that you mentioned. So, kind of tell us Principal Jones: What is your hope for when schools reopened and the COVID-19 crisis is behind us? Will there be, you know, maybe new sanitation methods or, or are you preparing any distancing measures? What’s that gonna look like when we go back to school?
RJ: Well, I will tell you this, I know that you stated one thing, you said, when this is behind us, the first thing I want to say is I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I don’t know if it will truly be behind us. I do know that things are going to change. When we start back up, I don’t, of course, everything for the most part will be recommendations that come through from the CDC recommendations that then have to also come through with our state, our local government, and what our district is being held to. Whether they say that, Hey, you can’t come into contact with kids in this manner or make sure that you have hand sanitizer in various locations, whether it’s making sure that kids are washing their hands properly, although these things that we already do. But again, it puts everyone on high alert, now that this has taken place.
AB: Principal Jones, I’d like to kind of give you the floor here. Do you have a message to parents or caregivers or students that you’d like to communicate right now? A kind of, it’s high anxiety times with this coven 19 virus. What, what message would you like to share with those that are listening with us today?
RJ: Well, if I could thank you for giving me this opportunity to say this. I want to start it in a number of ways. The first thing I want to say. I want to thank all of our caregivers, all of our people who are out on the front lines that are still taking care of our citizens on a daily basis. Whether you’re there working in a grocery store or whether they’re working in the medical field, or what have you. I want to thank those people who are essential workers, who are doing their very best to keep things moving along for everyone in this community and communities throughout the United States. Quite frankly, I want to say to our parents, I want to thank them for their support that they have continued to give us throughout the school year.
RJ: I know how many of them feel, I’ve talked to many of them. I’ve emailed with many of them. I know that their kids are struggling with this unique experience because that’s exactly what it is. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime and I don’t think anyone anticipated that, that we would see a day like this, where we are pretty much stuck in doors. I mean, we’re human beings and part of being a human being is to socialize. And so I know that this is very difficult for parents, whether they’re working with their kids at home academically, whether they’re just trying to explain to their students how to get through this difficult time. But I want to just thank parents for all that they’ve done to keep our students engaged academically because a lot of them are having school at home.
RJ: I just thank them for all of ’em, you know, their positive comments that they sent us and all that they do to continue to work with our kids, to keep them on track. So I thank them, and I just want to reassure them that we’re in this together and we still hear them and we’re still going to work for them to make things happen as much as possible to get things back to normal as much as possible. And last but not least, I just want, I want to thank our students. I just, this is such a difficult time. We love our students so much. We cannot imagine as educators, like I stated, having a day where we can not engage with students face to face. I know that students find this to be a very difficult time, and to know that, especially, you know, seniors kind of countdown for the days when they’re going to be out of school, but I guarantee you they wouldn’t want their days to end like this.
RJ: We hear from them every single day from the emails that I’m receiving from them. I just want students to know that we love them. We care about them. We want to see nothing but the very best for them when this is all said and done. And just let them know that, I see us coming back even stronger than ever as the CHS family, the Collierville family as a whole. When it comes to education, we cannot wait to get back to our students. We can’t wait to see them walking through our hallways. And I just want them to know, I want them to be encouraged. I want them to know that we want to see them as soon as possible, and we want to get things back to normal as soon as possible. I can’t say it enough, it sounds like something very small to say, but we truly mean it when we say that we loved him and we want to see them back.
AB: I think a key piece of that messages, we’re gonna make it through this together and that, right. We’re all gonna make it together. Absolutely.
RJ: We will make it together. And we’ll be stronger after this because we’ll all learn from this as well. And how we can either prevent this from happening in the future or be better prepared. I email one of my students, that student that I was telling you about this morning, just to tell her one of the things that I think could possibly come out of this is that this senior class is so unique, that we have some extremely smart individuals in it, for them to live through a time like this. And then an experience like this, I believe that it will spark many minds to go on into the workforce, whether after college, whether they go into the medical field, whether they go into something that’s science related, that they’re going to use their skillset, their knowledge base to ensure that nothing like this has to happen again for any other senior or for any other person in our community, that no one will ever be affected by a virus like this again in the future.
RJ: We have those types of bright minds here in Collierville, in Collierville schools, and I believe in them and their abilities. And I think we’re going to see great things from them. I think we’re going to see excellent things from them.
AB: It’s another experience we can all add to our playbooks. Right? Principal Jones, thank you so much for your time and your insight today. We certainly appreciate it.
RJ: You’re so welcome. I thank you for giving me the opportunity.
AB: And for all who are listening, I’d like to send you all well wishes from my home to yours. Until next time, I’m Anna Bell.