More time, more training needed for learning platform

Featured Stories

learning platform

Photo by Susan Kirkland
Aaron Holland, the newly appointed BOE member listens to presentations from staff.

More time and more training on the online learning platform was a consistent mantra at a Pickens County Board of Education special called meeting today. Teachers and staff have been busy learning to use the new platform for virtual learning. ItsLearning, the new learning management system for schools to use when schools close unexpectantly, was put to quick use when Pickens County made the decision to close all of their schools on Oct.26 after a jump in positive COVID-19 cases and quarantines.

The new system, not to be confused with the Pickens Virtual Academy where students are enrolled specifically for virtual learning, provides teachers a way to continue teaching their normally face-t0-face classes.

Most of the comments were good and most were satisfied with the system, but all agreed they needed more time to get use to the platform and more training to make learning and teaching more efficient.

“We’ve had to teach ourselves some things,” said Anita Walker. “But our teachers have been wonderful to share what they know.”

While the teachers said they would benefit from more training, some expressed concern over parents. In a survey about teachers’ perception of the program in regards to teaching, their students, and parents, they rated parents as mostly uncomfortable with the system. Rated on a 1-10 scale 48 out of 57 or 84-percent of teachers at Pickens High School, 34 out of 44, or 77-percent of teachers at Pickens Junior High School, 23 out of 31, or 74-percent of the teachers at Jasper Middle School, and  52 out of 82, or 63-percent of the combined elementary school teachers scored their parents at five or less on being comfortable with the program.


For special education, the concern was greater.

All the teachers said they could see an improvement over when they first started using ItsLearning, emails and calls have decreased as students, and parents, became more comfortable.

“We can certainly accommodate that,” Townsend told the staff. “The teachers are the backbone of our system-we don’t want to break their backs.”

COVID-19  outbreak and returning to school

Schools will reopen on Monday barring a significant change, Steve Townsend, superintendent said.

Hill City Elementary was the first to close with four, students and staff, were in isolation and 52 were in quarantine, but the rest of the schools quickly followed as the numbers of those who had symptoms increased.

When schools closed, 584 were in quarantine and 27 in isolation.

Projected numbers, based on latest data, indicate the school district as a whole will have two in isolation and seven in quarantined.

learning platform

Breakdown by school of quarantine and isolation cases related to COVID-19 from Oct. 26 until school resumes on Nov. 9.

Pickens Virtual Academy

The Pickens Virtual Academy, which gives students a chance to do a fully online school, is separate from the online platform that face-to-face  students use during unscheduled breaks, has 906 students enrolled in November. This is down 294 students from the 1,200 students who enrolled in August.

Of those, about one-percent or three students moved to another district, four-percent, or about 12 students switched to homeschooling. The remainder, 279 returned to traditional school.

They expect 450 students to attend the virtual academy when the second semester starts in January. Most of those will be returning students for some will be new.

learning platform

Photo by Susan Kirkland
Principals give updates on distance learning as the system prepares to reopen on Monday.

For those continuing in the virtual academy for the second semester, academy staff plan a more proactive approach.

Kelly Flatt, PVA coordinator, said they are asking families for their opinion and they have created a fake student profile so parents can preview the platform. She said as the semester goes on, they are seeing fewer problems and parents are even assisting other parents via social media.

Misti Moore, the contact for kindergarten through fourth grade, said they have started face-to-face tutoring for grades kindergarten through sixth grade. Although each grade has a day specifically for it, they do not turn away anyone who needs help.

“Some come to not get help, but to just see their teachers and other students,” she said.






Students return to school August 7th : What to expect


Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.

School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session. 

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Rigdon presented the BOE with administration’s plan to reopen schools.

The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.

The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.

“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”


***Important Dates***

Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.

Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.

Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.

Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.


***Online Learning***

For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.

The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.

Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.

There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.

The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.

Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. 

While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.

“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.

Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”

Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.

Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.


***Traditional School***

Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.

Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school. 

Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Parents, Guardians, and Staff completed a survey on key issues. This helped shape the district’s plan to reopen.

Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.

When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.

Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.

The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.

Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.

Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask.  Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.  

FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”


***If Schools Close Again***

Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.


The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.

“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”

Blue Ridge Elementary Students and Teachers are embracing this new online and home learning


Blue Ridge Elementary Students and Teachers are embracing this new world of COVID-19 online and home learning. Our teachers are amazing and have embraced their new tasks with passion, creativity, and love. Our students have shared a wide variety of emotions and feelings with us. Some enjoy being home playing video games and having downtime, but most miss their friends and teachers (and quite possibly the routine!). Google Meets and Zooms bring students and teachers together to provide connection and bring smiles and laughter through what can be a lonely time.  Our paraprofessionals, nutrition staff, and bus drivers are working hard to get meals to students as well as connecting with students through calls and snail-mail.

My favorite teacher (my mom) said, “We can’t change what is happening, but we CAN control how we react. We, teachers, love our kids and each other, we will show that love through this unprecedented time!”  We are proud of the love we see in our BRES Staff!

Annaleigh Cheatham works studiously on her digital learning with her FCSS Chromebook

Izaiah Bradburn works diligently at home

Brody Burnette

Brody Burnette meets online with his fourth grade teachers and class

Back to Top