‘Very encouraged’: Orange County Superintendent optimistic after hearing Biden education plan

‘Very encouraged’: Orange County Superintendent optimistic after hearing Biden education plan

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — During his first full day in office, President Joe Biden set his education plan into motion.

The President says reopening schools safely and providing administrators the resources they need is a top priority for his team.

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins is a member of the Council of Greater City Schools, made up of 70 superintendents from the country’s largest school districts.

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When Biden won, all those superintendents wrote up a detailed list of education recommendations for him.

With more than 30 years of experience, Jenkins says she’s seen new education policies from a number of different presidents.

“President Bush had an initiative. Fast forward to President Obama. The last previous president...”

President Biden signed an executive order Thursday directing the Education Department and Department of Health and Human Services to give guidance on how to reopen schools safely, and keep them open.

“We are very encouraged, extremely positive,” Dr. Jenkins says. “It might be premature, but very encouraged that he is pro-education.”

The president’s plan calls for testing and contact tracing to ramp-up at schools.

It also includes speeding up COVID-19 vaccinations for school staff, something Dr. Jenkins says she was hoping for because, “...we’ve been unsuccessful here at the state level.”

Dr. Jenkins says funding will be another concern moving forward with the new administration.

“If our democracy depends on a strong public education system, then we are at a pivotal point where we have to invest.”

In the economic stimulus plan President Biden pitched to Congress, he calls for at least $130-billion in funding for K-12 schools.

Administrators could use that money for things like extra staff, PPE, technology, ventilation systems, and more.

In Orange County, Dr. Jenkins says the number one concern they’d address is learning loss.

“There have to be resources to help recover those gaps,” she says.

Jenkins says the district first noticed students falling behind by the thousands in the spring, during their time away from class.

“So we need extended tutoring, and extended day programs, and Saturday school, and a significant summer school program.”

Jenkins says it would likely take more than a year to recover those learning losses.

“That’s not realistic...I would suggest that we would probably need a couple of years.”

When asked if she thinks the current learning options- in person, online, or hybrid- might soon become a thing of the past, Jenkins says, not likely.

Dr. Jenkins says parents will just go looking for those choices elsewhere if public schools take them away.