Profiles in Leadership: Dr. George Parker

Q: What have been the biggest challenges for you during this time?
A: Maintaining safety has always been at the forefront of our thinking and planning. If someone contracted COVID-19 because of something that we initiated, I would feel terrible. As the pandemic began, we were dealing with a disease that, at the time, we did not know much about, but we knew decisions that we were making could literally be life-or-death decisions. We also wanted to continue to provide some level of normalcy for all of our students and provide resources that would help them during this difficult

Q: What are some of the positive things that you’ve seen during this

A: The most positive thing that I’ve seen during this time is the love and dedication from our staff and also our students’ love for our staff and each other. Those are things that in normal circumstances are easy to take for granted. Seeing the individual interactions that take place, whether on Zoom or other virtual platforms, have really stood out to me.

Q: What are you most proud of as your team has navigated through
this time?

A: The willingness to go above and beyond and the daily dedication of our Child Nutrition Services, security, and bus drivers who kept our meal distribution sites running efficiently have been a blessing to the community, our students, and families. Also our teachers who go above and beyond the requirements in connecting with their students multiple times a day to provide a sense of normalcy and consistency for them. These demonstrations of dedication have been exceptional among our staff.

Q: What community partnerships have been beneficial to NNPS
during this time?

A: We worked very closely with the Library System and Soundscapes who rolled into summer programming and are still trying to find new ways that they can provide opportunities for their students who they no longer see face-to-face. We also worked very closely with the City of Newport news as we transitioned into Phase Two, to bring back some level of childcare and Parks and Recreation. We have also partnered with the Newport News Police Department with our graduation ceremonies, which was a huge puzzle piece as we transitioned toward the end of the year. In addition, we partnered with the World Food Kitchen and the Virginia Peninsula FoodBank, who utilized our food distribution sites to provide additional resources for those who may be in need throughout our community.

Q: Tell us a little more about the tremendous planning that went into the Class of 2020 graduation.
A: First, we surveyed all of our seniors. My student advisory team, SAGE, which includes some AAD students, let me know that it would be a good idea to survey all of our seniors and ask them what would be ideal for them for graduation under these conditions. Overwhelmingly, our seniors indicated that they did not want a solely virtual graduation and that they wanted to walk across a stage in their caps and gowns and have their close family participate in some form of a ceremony. So we put together a program to do just that. Students received their caps, gowns, and regalia and physically attended a program where they had their name called and received their diploma in front of their families in a traditional sense. We were one of the first school divisions in our region to go public with our graduation plans. At the time of the announcement, we were in Phase One and limited to 10 people in a large venue, so we chose Todd Stadium as the venue. Fortunately, we moved into Phase Two which allowed 50 people to properly social distance together in a large venue, and we were able to have the ceremony live as well as livestream it on our Newport News Public Schools TV channel. This was an important tradition that we did not want to take away from our seniors.

Q: What opportunities do you see in the future of education post-pandemic?
A: With every challenge, there is opportunity. The opportunity from COVID-19 is that we are training a significant population of our students and our staff to become accustomed to a virtual learning environment. Teachers are getting more familiar with providing virtual learning instruction and continuing to build their skill set. Our 1-to-1 device initiative will also be expanded to grades 6-12 next year to train our teachers and prepare our students for a blended or virtual learning environment next year. Even when we are back to whatever “normal” will be, some of our instruction will be both face-to-face and online. This gives us flexibility to make adjustments at the secondary level. Elementary will follow suit as appropriate, as devices become available, but with elementary students, there needs to be another level of engagement that you can’t duplicate with an online format, so we will have to factor that in as well. As we move forward into the new school year, we must make sure that we are able to reach not only some students, but all as we begin teaching new curriculum as well.