In response to COVID-19, schools across Tennessee are welcoming back students in a variety of innovative ways, and the SCORE team has highlighted several school systems that are leading the field. Most recently, Clint Satterfield, superintendent of Trousdale County Schools, shared with us his priority to balance health and safety with the educational needs of students as schools opened on July 30.

In June, Trousdale announced they would reopen schools using a hybrid-instruction model where students receive in-person instruction twice a week and work asynchronously at home on the other days. “Our priority behind the hybrid model is to have as much in-person learning as possible and to provide high-quality instruction every day — regardless of whether students are at home or in person,” Satterfield said. As a small, rural district, Satterfield acknowledged that Trousdale could not solve its digital divide. With the majority of students lacking internet access, it was critical for the school district to ensure some level of in-person synchronous learning where students could work directly with their teachers.

Trousdale County Schools spent significant time focusing on how best to serve their students in this new model. Most importantly, district and school leaders want to keep kids safe and healthy while providing opportunities for authentic learning. In addition to reducing building capacity by half using staggered scheduling, the district hired additional nurses to complete daily symptom screenings and temperature checks and require all students and teachers to wear face masks when they are outside of the classroom. By dedicating time and resources to meeting federal and state safety protocols, Trousdale County Schools built trust with their community that they can keep students and teachers safe this year while maintaining some in-person instruction.

One challenge of implementing the hybrid model was making sure that families had access to necessary childcare and support on at-home learning days. To support K-5 families for whom this presents the greatest problem, Trousdale offers in-person enrichment on Wednesdays when students can be at school and have access to music, physical education, and activities — like 4H  — led by support staff. This day is also open for students with disabilities to come in person and receive additional instruction and support from their teachers.

This year, Trousdale is working to implement a flipped classroom model. On days students are working from home, they watch recorded lessons to introduce new material. This means that in-person days are spent getting individualized support and more targeted instruction from teachers.

Educators in Trousdale have already noted that the hybrid model actually allows them to be more effective than what is possible in a typical year. Specifically, the reduced class sizes allow teachers to provide more personalized instruction to their students, and planning days give them the necessary time to prepare high-quality lessons and feedback.

Earlier in the spring, the district learned that offering virtual instruction placed a significant capacity strain on their educators. To ensure that teachers have the ability to prepare high-quality instruction for all students this year, Trousdale designated Wednesdays as professional support days when teachers can lesson plan, record videos, and provide feedback to students.

The motto for Trousdale County Schools this year is “just okay is not okay.” District and school leaders are deeply committed to keeping students and faculty safe while holding the same expectations for learning as a typical year. By utilizing their innovative hybrid model, the district is able to keep schools open and offer high-quality opportunities for students to learn and succeed.

Alexis Parker is SCORE’s research and data analyst.

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