by Danny Wade
When the Humboldt School Board voted Lillian Shelton as interim superintendent Monday, July 13, Tuesday morning she hit the ground running. Shelton brings 40 years of experience as an educator to the superintendent’s position.
Shelton said coming in two week into the fiscal year was not the best case but none-the-less, the first few days were very productive.
“It’s been a busy three days,” Shelton said last Thursday morning. “Everyone has been so nice. I know the people at the central office. I taught some of their children. Everyone has been very nice and gone out of their way to make me feel welcome.”
One of Shelton’s first tasks last week was signing papers, including working on a $432,000 grant from the state. She and her staff shared ideas of which areas and what portion of the grant needed the funding. The team decided to use a portion on personal protective equipment for staff and students. Shelton said they hope to hire an addition licensed practical nurse to assist taking temperatures of students and staff coming into the school buildings.
Shelton discussed when school will begin and what it will look like. Although July 31 was scheduled to be the first day of school this year, Shelton said that will not be the case. Before a set day is determined, she will meet with all superintendents in the county and see what their plans are.
She is hopeful all five school districts will come up with one unified plan. County superintendents meet regularly to share advice and hold planning sessions.
Without a hard start date, Shelton projects the first day of school in Humboldt to be toward the middle or end of August. This will give teachers, students and parents time to plan.
Shelton said the state has offered four options as to how education will be during the pandemic. Options are virtual learning, modified schedules, take home packets or a combination of any of the first three.
Virtual learning would require a computer at the student’s home along with internet access. Shelton expects about one-third to half the students will utilize virtual learning.
Right now, there are enough laptop computers for students at the high school, Shelton said. New computers are ordered for Stigall Primary but they are not sure when they become available and shipped. Junior high and East Elementary do not provide laptops for students in grades two through eight. School personnel are looking at ways to accommodate those students with computers. There are computers at the alternative school.
The second option from the state is the use of modified schedules. This is another option Shelton plans to utilize but the schedules are not yet set.
Shelton estimated 40-percent of Humboldt students would fit in this option and physically attend school inside the buildings. The days and hours have yet to be determined. Some strategies other schools plan to apply would have one group of students attend Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while another group will attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. An option that could come into play would be to have one group attend class in the mornings and another group in the afternoons.
Shelton said for students who do attend class in person, the size of the class will be small, 10 or fewer students with one student per table. Instead of students changing classes and teachers having one classroom, the students would remain in the same classroom and teachers would rotate from room to room.
Option 3, approved by the state, would entail teachers put together a lesson packet with instruction and materials for a full week of education. Shelton said the state only requires reading and math for this option but Shelton plans to add social studies and science in the learning packets.
With just a few days under her belt leading Humboldt City Schools, there are many decisions to be made in a short time. Shelton said getting parent involvement is key to making any of these options to work properly. Parents and students must sign up for the option they believe fits the best. There will be a 2-week period to try out the options. Shelton said it is imperative to get feedback from both the parents and students.
Busing is another slippery slop schools will have to deal with. Shelton said this is another issue to work out. Some plans call for only 12 students on a bus at a time and prior to entering a bus, students’ temperature will be taken. Logistics for busing will be a major undertaking; depending on how classes are scheduled and how many students will actually attend class in person.
Shelton said her philosophy for education has three primary focuses: safe plan for opening schools, discipline and student achievement.
For safety, Shelton has given the principals a procedure handout to take to their staffs. In turn, the principals will come back to the superintendent with the feedback. As a team, they will discuss the safest and best way to begin education during the pandemic.
Shelton is a firm believer in discipline. Getting students to come to school has been an issue in the past but Shelton said the school system has done a good job raising attendance the past two years.
As principal of the alternative school for the past five years, Shelton has seen many students sent to alternative school. Last year, 113 students were put in alternative school—some for a short stint and others the entire year.
“I have success in discipline,” Shelton noted. “I will work with principals and teachers. Together we can bring new ideas for discipline.”
Shelton’s final focus is student achievement. During her tenure in Humboldt, Shelton has worked in each school building and worked with each grade.
“I will make every effort possible to raise scores,” Shelton explained of her plans. “I’ll present new ideas to teachers to improve scores in the classroom. I share ideas I’ve used as a teacher and administrator, using 9-week objectives. Some students learn quicker than others.”
One example of her plan is aimed at students that may not have performed well on a test. Student will be offered the opportunity to take test over to assure they learn.
“We want all students to learn the objectives,” Shelton said.
Shelton is a product of Humboldt City Schools, graduating in 1976. She attended UT Martin, receiving her Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education. In 1983, Shelton earned her Masters from UT Martin and later received her Certification of Principal from Freed-Hardeman.
She began her teaching career in Adamsville Jr./Sr. High School where she taught 12 years. Shelton came back home to Humboldt in 1992 where she taught at both the middle school and high school. In 2000, Shelton was promoted to principal at Stigall Middle School before moving to the Jr. High principal position for 11 years.
“As a veteran school administrator and organizational development leader, I plan to work with the board members, school administrators, teachers and staff to create a school environment conducive for learning,” said Shelton. “We will inform parents and the community of our plans via social media, all call and local news by July 24, 2020 on how students will return to school.”
Virtual education has been in place for most colleges and universities. These virtual classes for Humboldt students will better prepare them as they progress to higher education.
“This may become the new trend—going virtual,” Shelton noted of technology. “We’re going to learn from each other. We (teachers and administrators) are going back to school too.”