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Simcox contract extended; Administration scrambles to maintain normalcy

By Meg Dickens and Tamas Mondovics

Johnson County Schools are going through an unprecedented time, and officials are trying to adjust. Schools let out in mid-March and will not open again until the 2020-2021 school year. Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox explained some changes caused by these “uncharted waters.”

For starters, in the storm of future uncertainty, social distancing, and the Governor’s executive “stay at home” order, the school board found time and reason to go ahead to extend Simcox’s position as Johnson County Schools Director for another year.With a 2-3 vote, (Gary Matheson and Mike Payne against; Kevin Long, Joanne Reece, and Howard Carlton, to extend) the board is now seeking to move forward,  handl what lies ahead for the remainder of the current season, and deal with the uncertainty of the 2020-2021 school year.

Many voiced their concern about the board’s decision to consider voting on Simcox’s contract, some pleading with the board to postpone the consideration due to the COVID-10 pandemic, which made it difficult for residents to attend the April 9, scheduled meeting.

In a letter to the members of the board, before the meeting, one resident wrote, “This is obviously a time during the Governor’s Executive Order #23. I understand that there are “essential” operations, in which there are guidelines. However, the School Board meeting is to be held as an open public meeting, and right now, we (citizens) are being told to stay home,…I do not think that a School Board meeting should take place which would have important items on the agenda to decide without proper involvement from the public.”

“Our local School Board is going to vote on the Superintendent’s contract, which clearly is an important item. I do not think with the current situation that the School Board should continue with such action until proper notification and representation can take place. To hold the meeting would violate people’s constitutional rights.” 

The rest is history, as the board did not feel the need to postpone its April meeting, including the voting in favor of extending Simcox’s contract.  

Another significant matter had to do with scheduling. Routine school activities were canceled with the possibility of rescheduling, such as spring sports. Simcox was adamant that prom and graduation will be rescheduled, but there is no set date or timeline yet. Officials are waiting on word from President Trump to make their next decision. Simcox hopes to have graduation this summer. If not, officials are brainstorming plan b.

Alternate plans are in progress. Johnson County High School Counselor Priscilla Davis made personalized videos per grade to show students how to register for classes on their Skyward portal. Officials handle lower grade registration. JCHS students can attend a virtual awards program to learn which scholarships they earned.  The Presidential Academic Excellence Award ceremony for sixth-graders and eighth-graders is set for the beginning of the next school year. Because of university scheduling issues, seniors will receive their awards during graduation. 

Teachers are posting work packets as part of the current education program. Those without Internet access can pick up a paper copy. Along with this, teachers ask children to read at least 20 minutes per day. The only catch is that students cannot learn new materials through these packets. There are only reviews included. Although that reduces students’ struggles, it may put them at a disadvantage later.

“We’ll have to see once the school year starts,” said Simcox when asked about the effect on the next school year. “There will have to be remediation. It’s a different start to the school year.”

The main goal is to keep all involved safe and in good spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Simcox and other officials are reaching out in different ways to let students know how much they miss them. Faculty and staff-centric holidays are not going uncelebrated. Now it seems like everything is at a standstill until COVID-19 conditions change.