TIFTON — State School Superintendent Richard Woods paid a visit to Tift County High School Thursday, Aug. 20.

The visit was part of a four-county tour for Woods to take a first-hand look at how school systems are handling the return to school, pandemic style.

“It looks a little bit different from one school district that has 100 kids in the entire school district to here at Tift County where you have thousands of students,” he said. “It is a different challenge wherever you’re at. Today is just recognizing the good things that are going on.”

Tift County School Superintendent Adam Hathaway and new TCHS Principal Chad Stone accompanied Woods around the school, where the state superintendent looked into classrooms and observed how teachers and students are going about the business of education during a pandemic.

“From the state level, being able to come in and see what local education agencies are doing and the decisions they’re making around providing the safe environment for students is an important thing,” Hathaway said. “Being able to come in and see that we are capable of social distancing and that we are doing everything we can in order to keep our community and our students safe is a big thing.

"Having him here on campus and showing that he is concerned about making sure he gets us the resources we need in order to operate is a big thing for us.”

Woods’ visit came just ahead of the Tift County school system transitioning from Yellow, where students split time between face-to-face learning at virtual learning at home, to Green, where 70% of students who are signed up for in-person education will be in the classroom full time.

"Being able to make sure that we have great communication with the state school superintendent so that when we hit those hurdles we can use him to be able to provide the resources to us to overcome those means a lot to us as a local school system,” Hathaway said.

Stone and Hathaway showed Woods methods used by the school nutrition staff to get meals out to students both inside and outside the school building.

“Our school food nutrition program has done an absolutely amazing job feeding kids throughout this entire pandemic,” Hathaway said. “Even back in March they never stopped. We continued to feed kids every single day and provide meals for them, which is an essential thing for all communities but especially here in Tifton.

"Our school food nutrition director Vanessa Hayes has really pushed her team to do some really out-of-the-box things in order to provide meals for kids.”

Woods said access to good food is key to students learning.

“To be able to think about the ABCs and 123s, you’ve got to have fuel,” he said.

Both Woods and Hathaway stressed the importance taking protective measures both inside and outside the school buildings.

“We have to understand that COVID does not stop at the school door,” Woods said. “The goal is that once we start school, let’s don’t stop school. We want our kids to be in the best place for them to learn, but if that’s going to happen then that means we’re going to have to be a team. Being a team means that we have to follow everything that we know works best, whether it’s washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask and following the recent guidelines that we have.”

Hathaway said that the school system will remain transparent about its data and decision making.

“I think it is absolutely crucial,” he said. “I think that the more we inform people of the efforts that we’re taking and what the numbers and what the data looks like, the more we can inform people, hopefully the more calm people will be and the better they will behave about the decisions we’re making."

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