By Andrew Houlihan
In recent weeks, the COVID-19 crisis has upended daily life as we know it.
The current school closure, which began March 16 and will now extend to May 15 in our state, has caused Union County Public Schools to face unprecedented challenges. It is not lost on me that the effect of this school closure extends far beyond our 41,000-plus students and 5,000-plus staff members. School closures are also touching nearly every person in our county, state, nation and world.
In these times of uncertainty, circumstances can quickly change day to day, or even hour to hour. It is impossible for anyone to have all of the answers to every question.
Even so, we have been in constant communication with local and state health officials as well as the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to not only receive the latest updates but also share accurate information with parents, students and employees. I am extremely thankful to the Union County Board of Education, Union County Government and local health departments for all of their support and guidance during this time.
I am also immensely proud of UCPS staff members’ creativity and determination to make this transition as seamless as possible for families.
As soon as we learned of the school closure, our School Nutrition Services team quickly mobilized grab-and-go meal sites to provide free, daily meals to children. With the help of local law enforcement partners and school staff, more than 14,000 meals were distributed during the first week.
Additionally, UCPS has received an outpouring of support from community members, businesses and local organizations who have provided free meals, supplies and other critical resources for our students and families.
It is because of these generous donations and support that we are able to remain focused on prioritizing the safety, wellbeing and health of employees and students during this pandemic.
As we navigate this school closure, our school system is committed to providing ongoing guidance and education resources to students and parents.
Through our EmpowerED Family Portal, we are continuing to connect students across all grade levels with more than 60 free digital texts and resources. On our website, we have also provided more than two dozen optional remote learning opportunities.
Additionally, three weeks’ worth of daily supplemental resources have already been provided to students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Middle and high school parents have received information about UCPS’s phased-in remote learning plan. Additional information will be shared throughout the school closure.
From virtual storytime sessions and teacher parades to morning announcements live-streamed through social media, our school administrators and teachers are also proactively taking advantage of virtual platforms to stay connected with their students.
The coming weeks and months may be challenging for all of us as we adjust to our “new normal” of daily life.
At UCPS, we will rise to the challenge and focus our efforts on continued learning for students and employees as well as the health of our community.
As we continue to work with local leaders, businesses and organizations, I am confident in our ability to come together and navigate this unprecedented time together.
Andrew Houlihan works as superintendent of Union County Public Schools
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