Shelby County Schools Supt. Dr. Joris Ray (Courtesy photo)

by Dr. Joris Ray —

While it is my honor to serve as the superintendent for Shelby County Schools, my greatest role is father – to be more precise – the father of a college student and the husband, brother, uncle and cousin of teachers. These hats are not unique to just me – my entire leadership team includes wives, husbands, mothers and fathers.

In planning to re-open schools this fall, these personal roles are as cherished as our professional responsibilities. We are not just planning for the safety of the district’s 100k students during these unprecedented times, but also our own children, grandchildren and spouses.

This is why I can assure you that while there is no manual for how we hold onto the tradition and excitement of back to school while mitigating the spread of a highly contagious virus, we have explored, vetted, planned and replanned for every aspect of our opening procedures.

Yet even today, as we prepare to announce final decisions and protocols, I cannot assure you that it will not change again, because that is how quickly the virus impacts the information we use to make decisions. This is why, in these next few weeks, I am asking that we all demonstrate an extra measure of grace and patience as we explain and answer your questions about how students will learn next year.

I need your grace in understanding that the government did not and cannot provide us with finite resources to bring students back to school. We’ve allocated resources to keep students as safe as possible from a virus that has no vaccine, and to ensure they have a device to continue their learning if we have to close schools. The district cannot afford one teacher for every ten students and it does not have space in buildings to spread students six feet apart.

Working parents need grace from their extended family, churches and the community to help with their child’s education. Schools are going to experience rolling closures this year and probably more than once. Parents have got to be thinking about how they will ensure their children will keep up with their schoolwork and they probably won’t be able to do it alone. If you don’t personally need help, please help someone else.

Students need grace as they grow another year in a changing world. Birthdays, field trips, recess, sports, dance, and more are going to be different, but not necessarily over. In regards to our students, let’s not confuse grace with low expectations.  It is because we love students that we will not lower expectations. Grading, attendance, and homework will all be a part of the school year, no matter where learning is occurring. We cannot rob students of their future by allowing a virus to lower the bar for expectations.

Teachers need grace as they return to school and adjust to routines that will be heavily modified to keep them and their students healthy. They will also need grace as they convert all of their materials and translate their creativity and passion to online teaching for students they may have never yet met in person.

Principals will need grace as they modify buildings, courses, classloads, lunch schedules, and more to support a school community that will now spread between the building, living rooms and kitchen tables.

We all need to practice a little bit of grace before we recoil, rebuke and rebuff on social media and other public spaces. Leaders – all of whom go to sleep each night as husband, wife, father, mother and Memphian – are working together, seeking wise counsel, and diligently serving our community. We can achieve, with grace, together. Coronavirus will not defeat us. We are 901!