Feeding students becomes focus of Pulaski County Schools, community

“Friday at 4 p.m. we were an education agency. By Wednesday we will be a large-scale meals on wheels, serving some 40,000 meals a week. To do that kind of transition that quickly is pretty amazing.”

Dr. Kevin Siers

Pulaski County School Superintendent

By MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

Monday evening key members of the Pulaski County School System’s administration reported to the School Board on efforts to continue educating and feeding the county’s students in the face of a two-week school shutdown brought on by the coronavirus.

The meeting became a celebration of what the school system had accomplished in just a little over three days, and featured tears of appreciation.

Last week’s announcement by the Governor that all schools in the Commonwealth would be closed for two weeks to lessen the spread of COVID-19 sent Pulaski County School officials into action.

School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers is credited by many for putting the county in the lead among area school divisions in getting Pulaski County ready for the impending shutdown, by ordering schools be closed on Friday, March 13 to give teachers time to prepare learning packets to go home with students. He instructed teachers to prepare 10 days of lessons for the packets.

In the meantime, nutrition staff focused on the huge chore of providing meals to students while they are out of school. It’s a well-known fact that, for many students, the best or ONLY real meals they receive each day come at school.

Maintenance staff began the chore of cleaning and disinfecting 15 full size school buses, seven pupil transportation vans and two “Cougar” buses to haul meals. Bus drivers and para-educators were lined up to man the vehicles.

Custodians focused on cleaning and disinfecting school buildings for the eventual re-opening of classes.

Every school system employee along with volunteers and several local churches played a role in the effort to feed kids.

The mobilization of the school system to feed the students continued until Wednesday when the first batch of 3,972 meals were prepared at Critzer and Snowville elementary schools and at Pulaski County High School and taken to several pickup sites throughout the county.

Students are being provided two breakfasts and two lunches on Monday and Wednesday, and one breakfast and lunch on Fridays.

Several locations throughout the county have been established for drive-thru pickup via buses in the parking lots. Pickup times are 1 to 3 p.m.

Those locations include French’s Chapel, Critzer Elementary, Fairlawn Baptist Church, Parrot Church of God, Pulaski County High School, Dublin United Methodist, Snowville Elementary, Morgan’s Chapel and Abundant Life.

Buses will be parked as pickup points at Old Hiwassee Elementary, Washington Square Apartments (1-2 p.m.), Old Draper Elementary School, Meadowview Apartments (2-3 p.m.), Central Gym and Abby Court (1-2 p.m.).

The school system has established an email (pulaskicountyschoolmeals@pcva.us) and phone number (540-643-0104) for individuals to request meals and instructional packets.

“This has been a very hectic and crazy couple of days,” Siers told the board. “Everyone has really risen to the occasion. Everyone has stepped up their game to try to make things go as smoothly and successfully as possible.”

While reporting on Pulaski Middle School’s preparations, Principal Adam Joyce noted that – when it was announced schools would be closed – “I thought this will break (Ethelene) Sadler’s heart. But she has risen to the occasion.”

Sadler, Director of Nutrition, said she is “so grateful and appreciative to this community.”

“I don’t care what people say about Pulaski County, it is a wonderful place to live and work,” Sadler said.

“The outpouring of support has just been overwhelming and I am very grateful for that,” she added.

“This has been a huge undertaking. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m not complaining,” she said.

She added tearfully, “I say this with all my heart and mean it. It’s worth it! I know because of the efforts of all of us, the nutritional needs of these students will be met.”

“That is where my heart is and not only mine, but all of my school nutrition staff and everyone in this division. I am so appreciative,” Sadler said.

“I want to thank Ethelene,” Siers added. “She has been under the gun. Some in the community weren’t exactly kind about what we were trying to do.”

“Friday at 4 p.m. we were an education agency. By Wednesday we will be a large-scale meals on wheels, serving some 40,000 meals a week. To do that kind of transition that quickly is pretty amazing,” Siers added.

“It’s a credit to Ethelene and the nutrition staff that they’re able to make all this happen and we are happy to support it in any way we can.”

Siers added that over the next couple of weeks, it will be the focus of the school system to make sure kids are getting meals, and education will be secondary.

Just how long feeding students will be their priority isn’t known for sure. Siers said while the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending schools be closed for eight weeks, Pulaski County will follow state recommendations.

“Unless we have a verified case here, we’re going to go with what the state is telling us to do because they are going to waive the instructional requirement for the days the governor shuts us down,” Siers said, meaning school days being missed won’t have to be made up at the end of the year.

However, once again being proactive, Siers said in anticipation of the shutdown lasting longer than two weeks, “we’ve started to look forward to how we’re going to operate if we have an eight-week shutdown.”

“I want to thank everybody,” Siers stated. “It truly has been a team effort for every single member of Pulaski County Schools.

“It’s been a very hectic time and a somewhat trying time. But it also shows what we are made of. Just a bunch of really good, dedicated people who want to make sure our kids have meals to eat while this is happening and that they are able to continue with their education to the best degree possible.

“I think everyone should be proud of every employee we have in Pulaski County Public Schools, as everyone has contributed to make this a success,” Siers said.

Robinson District school board representative Dr. Paige Cash noted, “I told Dr. Siers last week – this community came through a tornado. It can come through this.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with how the community has pulled together to make this work. Everyone in Pulaski County should be really proud of the job this group has done,” she said.

“Thanks for all you are doing,” Massie District representative Beckie Cox told the administrators.

“Ethelene Sadler – I thought of you all weekend. I knew you were busy, but I knew this was also your forte’. I knew you wanted kids to have food.”

“I had a discussion over the weekend with someone about the timing of this for some people. If they are on a monthly pay cycle and get their money at the beginning of the month, they didn’t have the option or the money to run out and stock up like some people did,” Cox said.

“There is going to be a lot of people who are in a really bad spot in this community and I feel for them and I pray for them.

“Thank you all for what you are doing,” Cox added.

“We’ll do everything we can to help our families out – whether their kids are school-aged or not,” responded Siers.

School Board Chairman Timmy Hurst said it best in the end about the school system’s effort.

“There’s not a better group of people anywhere!”