State superintendent visits St. Simons Elementary

There are a lot of fourth-graders in the state of Georgia, as State Superintendent Richard Woods pointed out last week during a visit with St. Simons Elementary.

Only so many, though, get an opportunity to meet the state superintendent himself and receive their own pocket-sized Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, which Woods gave to each fourth-grade student at the local school on Friday.

Woods’ stop in Glynn County had two purposes, though. He also hoped to learn during his visit about how local schools are faring with the challenges of the pandemic and what state leaders can do to support local education.

Woods was met Friday by a greeting party that included local superintendent Scott Spence, school board member Eaddy Sams, St. Simons Elementary principal Katy Ginn, state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, and several others.

“Hopefully we’ll get back to a regular year next year, but we’re getting ready to go into the legislative session so we’re trying to hear some things, how we can help and how we can advocate for y’all up in the Atlanta area,” Woods told them. “… A lot of policy decisions are made but at the end of the day we don’t live with them. You live with the repercussions of everything, and we want to make sure that we’re not being obstacles to your success down here.”

The group took Woods on a tour through the school, during which he met with a classroom of students mid-math lesson as well as the entire fourth grade class in the cafeteria. He answered students’ questions about his job, his travel schedule, his cat Mittens and more.

During the tour, Woods asked the local school leaders about the procedural changes made to adhere to COVID-19 risks, what virtual learning looks like and what the biggest challenges are for school staff.

Across the state, instructional models vary from school to school, Woods said, and some metropolitan-area schools have yet to reopen with face-to-face instruction. A major challenge for most schools offering some form of face-to-face learning, though, is the quarantining requirement.

St. Simons Elementary, like other local schools, has had to deal with this challenge, Ginn said, and with the difficulties posed to teacher planning.

“It’s really hard for them to prepare for both virtual and in-person learning,” she said. “Even if they’re just teaching face to face, they still have students who may be at home so they’re preparing lessons online for those kids who are not in person and then getting kids caught back up when the come back from virtual or from being quarantined.”

When describing his job while meeting with students, Woods said he’s like the school principal for the entire state, supervising roughly 2,300 schools in total.

“Really my main job is to make sure you have a great education so that one day when you graduate high school you can go get a good job, you can continue on with education and be a really good American citizen,” he told the students.

His favorite part of the job, he said, is visiting with students around the state. And with fourth-graders in particular, he likes to leave them with a gift that showcases how much he cares about their education.

“This is their first year studying the Declaration and the Constitution,” Woods said. “… I was a history teacher. It allows me to go back to my roots a little bit.”