Chatham County schools need to open and open full-time. Science supports this.

By Ryan Armstrong

Pittsboro, NC – Ms. Henry, thank you for your Chatham Chatlist post on the “Recap of Chatham County School Board Meeting.” We certainly share your genuine concern and passion for the welfare of our children’s education. Nothing is more important for their future and the future of our country than a solid K-12 education, and virtual-only instruction is simply inadequate.

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That night’s board meeting was yet another example of the need for change. Three plus hours of presentations, discussion, opinions, resulting in more indecision largely hindered by a complete lack of meeting preparation, course of action development, and contingency planning. It’s hard to decide to open schools when you have not coordinated and communicated any plans to do so. Thus, the easy solution is the status quo: keep the schools virtual and blame it on “selective” science.

Schools need to open and open full-time. Science supports this. For parents who are not ready to send their children to school in-person, there must be virtual accommodation. Students riding buses and attending school will wear masks, lunch periods will be staggered, and classrooms and buses disinfected every evening. These measures are being done successfully throughout other parts of the country and students are remarkably resilient, adaptive, and safe.

However, detailed planning to coordinate all of the systems required to execute such a plan is required. The board should provide the guidance and the superintendent, and the school system should develop two to three courses of action and present to the board for a decision.  Once the board provides its final guidance, the superintendent will drill down on the approved course of action, vet the plan with teachers, parents, contractors, and other stakeholders, finalize and brief the plan to the board for final approval.  The plan must include trigger points and timelines. Once approved, the plan must be made available to all and rehearsed. This is what is missing, not just for the COVID situation, but also for future contingencies. Additionally, the current school five-year plan expires this year.  What happens in January? Most of the school board work must be done outside of and in preparation for the board meetings and board members must be willing to do their “homework.” Envision the image of an iceberg when considering the board:  the meeting is just the tip of all the unseen work that is being done.

Ms. Henry, we are both aligned with what it will take to move our schools forward and we have the wherewithal to make it happen. We bring senior-level leadership, management, planning, and decision-making skills honed throughout our military careers, and refined in our business careers. We know how to assess, supervise execution, adjust, and keep moving forward.  In-decision is never an option, especially when it comes to the welfare of our children.

It’s time to get ahead of the curve and plan for contingencies.  It’s time for our children to get back to school. It’s time for a change, new leadership, and better results.

Ryan Armstrong and Dennis Lewis
Your Candidates for Chatham County School Board