We were so prepared to have students return to school on Monday, Aug. 16. It has been a summer full of planning, organizing, shifting spaces, sprucing up buildings, upgrading equipment, purchasing new resources and training staff on the use of these new resources.

This list certainly is not exhaustive. In fact, it does not include the most important thing which is preparing to safely welcome students back to a five-day a week routine. I am elated with the return to a sense of normalcy in our school schedules.

One critical factor that will assist in keeping our students and staff safe amid the COVID pandemic is wearing a mask. The Board of Education voted at the July 27 regular meeting to require face masks for all students, staff and visitors while indoors.

Jackson County Public Schools was the first public school system in the Western North Carolina region to mandate mask-wearing after the governor’s previous order expired.

This mask requirement, along with the updated protocol, will allow us to keep schools and classrooms open and safe as much as possible. Of great importance is the following: “students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student where both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks are not required to quarantine.

This exception does not apply to teachers, staff or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.” (retrieved from the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit: https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/media/164/open) 

Over the last several weeks, I invited students, families and the community to “Meet the Super!” events at three locations. The response was excellent.

We followed those events with schools successfully hosting in-person Open House events. Each Open House was well-attended, and families conveyed their excitement at a return to normal practice of meeting the teacher before the first day of school.

I am genuinely delighted about the academic progress that will surely come with the purchase of a new reading curriculum for our kindergarten through eighth grades.

Materials have arrived, training is occurring and soon materials will be in the hands of our students. I am confident that these new resources will equip teachers with the proper tools to grow our students’ reading skills.

Finally, I want to thank our community for supporting all Jackson County Public Schools. The outpouring of supplies, funds, resources and time that has been dedicated to JCPS is unmatched! My theme for the year is “Gratitude and Growth.” We are surely grateful for the aid and commitment our community exhibits!

We are off to a fantastic start in Jackson County Public Schools. Don’t forget there will be no school for students or staff on Monday, Sept. 6, in observance of the Labor Day holiday.

Dana Ayers is superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools.