back to school

Jerrian Waters, fourth grade teacher at Midway Elementary School, and her daughter, Katie Waters, label file folders ahead of a new school year. The mother-daughter duo are looking forward to a new year, but are anxious about all the unknowns, too. Katie, a 2020 PCHS graduate, will follow in her mother’s footsteps pursuing a degree in middle grades math and science education while her mother nears the homestretch of her teaching career. Jerrian has been teaching in Pierce County schools for 25 years.

School will begin for the 2020-2021 school year Monday, August 10, marking the first time classes have been held in almost five months.

Classes were suspended in March due to the threat from COVID-19 (coronavirus) and the pandemic has prompted new rules and guidelines as this school year gets underway.

Dara Bennett, who will observe her first opening day as superintendent of Pierce County Schools, says she is looking forward to the new school year.

“We are looking forward to getting back to school and some sense of ‘normal’,” Bennett said. “We will be taking all necessary precautions to keep everyone safe. We are looking forward to a challenging year, but also an exciting year with excellence as our standard.”

Over 3,500 students are reportedly expected to start classes opening day. The enrollment is in line with last year’s opening day.

In a change brought about by the virus, a virtual option is being offered by the school system. A total of 515 students have opted to take classes virtually online this nine weeks.

The bulk of students enrolled in Pierce County Schools, however, will be on campus for in-person learning.

As students and staff return to Pierce schools, they will find new guidelines in place due to the coronavirus.

Students and staff will be asked to wear masks, wash their hands frequently and practice social distancing. Parents are also asked to monitor their children and not send them to school if they have a temperature of 100.4 or greater.

Bennett also pointed out visitor admittance to campus will be limited. Visitors will be limited at every campus and all volunteer programs are on hold. Visitors will also be asked to wear masks and no one with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be admitted.

There will be no field trips and athletic events will follow guidelines set by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA).

More lunches will be added at the middle school and high school and more table space will be expanded at the high school for social distancing. At the elementary grades, classes will be staggered in the cafeteria and classrooms on alternating days.

Assemblies and large gatherings during the school day are on hold until further notice.

Transportation to and from school will feature additional measures with the buses sanitized between routes. Hand sanitizer will be available and wearing of masks will be encouraged.

Assigned seats with students from the same household sitting together will be enforced on the bus.

Numerous personnel changes have taken place over the last year. Bennett is the new superintendent taking over for Dr. Kevin Smith who retired in June. Kelly Murray is the new principal at the high school taking over for Bennett who moved to superintendent. New assistant principals at the high school are Brandon “Rock” Jernigan and  Melanie Helms, they will split the position held by Murray before he took over as principal.

Pierce County Middle School also has a new leader as Amanda Gay is the new principal there. Gay replaces Perry Tison who retired. Assistant principal taking Gay’s place is Brandon Carlson.

A number of new teachers  and support staff have been hired for the school year.

School resource officers will begin their second year on all campuses.  

The school resource officers include Officer Breanna French at Blackshear Elementary School, Deputy Carter Griffin at Midway Elementary, Sgt. Chris Hackett at the high school, Officer Andy Johnson at the middle school and Corporal Sidney Dixon at Patterson Elementary.