In the midst of a pandemic, after two school years disrupted by labor actions, with hundreds fewer students enrolled than just three years ago, you’d think it would be difficult to expand services and meet the ever growing list of needs kids bring with them to school.
But last week, Roane County brought on board a full-time licensed therapist to complement an already stacked office with two school psychologists, a social worker, and a nurse and a counselor in every school — all this to serve just under 2,000 students in five schools in a county that hasn’t passed an excess operating levy for schools since the late 1940s and missed out on the oil and gas boom by a few hundred miles.
If you’re willing to go “all in” and hold nothing back, though, it’s amazing what the community will do to meet the challenge. Voters in Roane approved a school bond levy in 2018 focused solely on health and safety with no promise of new schools or athletic facilities – usual anchors of a bond issue.
And it truly does take everyone going “all in.” When the pandemic closed schools statewide in March, thousands of kids lost access to free breakfast, lunch, and, in some schools, supper. Without a way to get to schools, many went without as some transitioned to “drive-thru” service at school campuses. But in Roane, bus operators stepped up and ensured that students continued to receive free meals without interruption and without having to go far from home, delivering weekly to 25 sites throughout the county. They even continued this service into the summer, feeding just under 1200 kids per week when under “normal” circumstances less than 100 were fed each day in the traditional summer feeding program.
So while every community is different, and every set of solutions will and maybe should look differently, if one can do it, all can do it. We just need everyone to be willing to go “all in” for kids.
Dr. Richard Duncan is Superintendent of Roane County Schools.