21-22 School Year Starts: Principals Discuss First Day, Superintendent Discusses Last-Minute Mask Mandate
Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Edmonson County Schools were back in session as the 2021-22 school year started today. Principals from all five schools spoke to the Edmonson Voice about their experiences, which all went smoothly, despite a last-minute mask mandate that had administration and staff scrambling yesterday afternoon.
Kyrock Principal Shaun Stice said that the entire community is glad to back in school today.
"Parents, teachers, and students are all smiling," he said. "We have had no issues with masking. The parents have been very supportive and understand that this is something we are being required to do."
He said that the school staff had received no negative comments in-person, although there was plenty of upset parents that took to social media last night.
"We really have a fantastic staff up here that goes out of their way to make sure every child's needs are met who can adapt to change without any problems," Stice said.
Mrs. Sarah Hatton, new Principal at South Edmonson Elementary described the school's first day as "fabulous."
"Students and teachers were smiling today and it was just great to be back at school," she said.
Although it was more than hot today, she said that kids were able to go outside at different times for mask breaks.
"Yes, we were hit with some last-minute changes, but this staff stepped up and everyone agreed, 'ok, this is what we're going to do,'" she said. "All our parents and students did great and I couldn't have asked for things to go more smoothly."
She continued not only bragging on the SEES staff, students, and parents, but also the PTO, who has helped acclimate the new principal to the community and the school.
"They've done such an amazing job introducing me to families and getting to know everyone. They've been wonderful and today was great. I'm looking forward to having a great second day tomorrow."
Edmonson County 5/6 Center
Newly named Principal at the 5/6 Center, Chad Johnston said his school saw a great day.
"The atmosphere was great at the 5/6 Center today," he said. "Our students showed up with a positive attitude and were eager to get back to school. Our teachers worked hard for the students and had fun with them all day long."
Mr. Johnston said there were no issues with students and masking today.
"The staff and students were obviously ready for school to begin and we look forward to having a great year."
Brandon Prunty, Principal at Edmonson County Middle School said their school got off to a great today.
"The teachers and staff have done a wonderful job to prepare for the year," he said. "Even with the mask mandate curveball thrown at us at the last minute yesterday evening, we were able to successfully communicate that to our parents and students through OneCall and our Facebook page. I appreciate our students' willingness to follow the mandate and wear their masks. We've been fortunate to have no issues so far. "
Prunty said he utilized new technology by having a school-wide Google Meet this morning will students in the classrooms.
"We discussed school rules and expectations, like we would in the gym on day one in a normal year. We talked about everyone giving their best each and every day; teachers and staff will give their best, so we expect the same from our students. Google Meet is just another example of how we've learned to adapt on the fly as new things come our way. I'd ask parents and guardians to be patient with us as we navigate through anything else that we might face. If parents have any individual questions or concerns about ECMS they can give us a call or check our Facebook page."
Principal Jonathan Williams said he didn't know what to expect this morning with the changes that were thrown at the school system yesterday afternoon, but he said the high school had a great first day.
"We had a lot of energy flowing in the building and our staff was extremely glad to be back and have our kids back with us," he said. "It was great to have the whole student body here at the same time for my first time as principal. It is always busy the first day back but it was a fun day."
Mr. Williams said administration had some conversations with students about the mask mandate.
"We had some students question the mask mandate and some who didn't want to wear a mask," he said. "First of all, I assured them I personally didn't want to, either. Secondly, Mrs. Culbreth (Assistant Principal) and I met with them and had an awesome discussion about executive orders, the legislative and executive branches of government, and about our options as a school district. I respect our students very much and enjoyed the conversation with them. It was so encouraging and refreshing to have adult conversations with them and I left very impressed."
Williams said he hopes ECHS can get past masking and other distractions and keep moving toward a positive year.
"I hate it that we are having to go through this again but I feel resolve among our people, students included, to rise above and have a great year, regardless of the circumstances. Once A Wildcat, Always A Wildcat," he added.
Superintendent Brian Alexander
Mr. Alexander was candid about the surprise mask mandate ordered by Governor Andy Beshear yesterday afternoon. He said a frustrating point of the executive order was that local schools had no indication that this order was coming and that school districts across the state found out at the same time the public did.
"The number one thing I am most upset about is the lack of regard given to families in Edmonson County, and across the Commonwealth, in terms of the Governor’s executive order," he said. "I have been following the surge in positive cases since mid-July in an effort to stay informed and to keep our Board informed. I have been watching this trend for quite some time and the Board and I, as well as Central Office and Building administrators, have discussed the surge in cases. Local health providers have kept me apprised of case numbers. So for me to know all this with my limited resources makes me wonder why the decision made yesterday wasn’t made sooner by our state leadership, with the vast resources at their disposal. Again, I represent Edmonson County and it’s people. I think the decision, for our families and our county, could not have had worse timing. I don’t like to see attention taken away from the excitement of the first day for students."
While administrators discussed positive days today, they immediately had to adjust yesterday afternoon with no notice.
"Also, I am a big believer in local control," Alexander said. "This has been taken from us in this instance. I have been asked about personal freedom by many parents since yesterday afternoon. I do believe in personal freedom. I own guns. I worship God. I respect the fact that people have the freedom to do this or not to do this. That’s part of what our country was founded on. However, as a school district, we have been placed in a position where we must follow this executive order. In Kentucky an executive order is law. As a school district we can’t start picking and choosing which laws we follow and which ones we don’t. That is not the example we need to set for our kids."
Although Mr. Alexander worked with all local schools today to help adjust to the changes, he said he couldn't be more pleased with how the first school day ended.
“I’m extremely proud of our teachers and staff at each school, both new staff and veterans, for their hard work and preparation that made the first day of the 21-22 school year so successful," he added.
"Each of our schools has excellent leadership and our administrators work hand in hand with our teachers and staff to make this day successful. Our central office staff has worked with our schools throughout the summer since the end of school last year as well to make today, and this coming school year, a success. Our transportation department has dealt with road closures and COVID restrictions as well, but continue to safely transport our kids."
He finished his interview with thanking Edmonson County students and families for trusting the local school system throughout the pandemic with COVID limitations and restrictions.
"We work hard to provide the best educational experience possible," he said. "The great thing about Edmonson County is the love we have for our kids and how we pull together for our children.”