By Dana Ayers

Whirlwind! The online Cambridge Dictionary defines this as “a situation that happens suddenly and that is full of lots of quickly changing...activity.”

That has been the extent of my first month in the superintendent role. I could not be more proud of the many things that are happening in Jackson County Public Schools this past year and during the month of June.

I began my tenure on June 1 and attended seven promotion and graduation ceremonies at six schools in just four days. The resiliency displayed by our students and staff is absolutely unmatched. I watched staff plan for ceremonies that hadn’t occurred in over a year; I saw students celebrating with their families at the accomplishments of being promoted or graduating.

I observed our staff working diligently to prepare for a summer program that was short on planning time and recruiting, not because of JCPS but the quick turn-around time of the state mandated hours. And, again, I am proud.

The summer program, quite possibly the largest ever in JCPS, consists of more than 600 students from kindergarten through high school with approximately 100 staff members. This district program is taking place at three sites, Blue Ridge School, Fairview and Smoky Mountain High School.

During this summer, staff are transporting, feeding, teaching, enriching and caring for students all day for seven weeks. Activities are focusing on core academic areas such as reading, writing and mathematics while also allowing for physical activity, guest speakers and enrichment hands-on lessons that are outside the normal classroom expectations. So, if you see a JCPS employee this summer, please tell them “thank you” for pouring their hearts into our children!

Knowing the summer program is successfully underway, my attention turns to the upcoming 2021-22 school year. We are each ready for normal, and that is precisely what JCPS is planning. 

The next school year resumes on Monday, Aug. 16, and students will attend five days per week on a normal schedule. I am grateful for the creative planning that took place this past year but am eagerly looking ahead to a new normal.

At this point, the state is not requiring daily health screenings for students and staff. However, as of the date of this printing, masks are still required to be worn. That may all change in the coming weeks, but I want to ensure parents and the community are well aware of this requirement.

Beyond my desire for normal operating routines are my goals for Jackson County Public Schools. I recognize the need for increased communication, academic growth, early literacy, early education and increased programs/services to best serve our students.

These are my focus areas for upcoming years to ensure that students of JCPS are receiving the very best education we can offer in Jackson County. I have spent a tremendous amount of time over the last few weeks meeting with colleagues around the county that wholeheartedly support JCPS. I am fortunate to have the collaboration of so many in the area who all yearn for progress and improvement for our schools and students.

The new normal ... that is what is on the horizon for JCPS and this wonderful community!

Athletic workouts and practices are taking place throughout the summer, professional development is being offered for staff, plans are being made to welcome students for the fall and we are preparing for the best school year ever!

Dana Ayers is superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools.