Jenkins High School is enforcing academic rules on its junior varsity football team, however the point is moot for since all practices and games have been canceled due to the COVID-19 rate in the county.
The school will only participate in a junior varsity football season this year, but faculty, staff, and most players and parents are taking academics seriously. At the September meeting of the Jenkins Independent Schools Board of Education, head football coach Jeremy Bell said that while his team did better than expected on the field in their first game, he was forced to cancel a recent game due to academic issues. JV games are played on Mondays.
Superintendent Damien Johnson explained that because of the necessity of virtual classes, students’ grades are checked every Monday to give teachers and staff the opportunity to catch problems as they arise and make an effort to provide assistance to students. Johnson said that the virtual classroom approach has actually increased teachers’ workload, and they enter grades over the weekend, so they can be checked on Monday.
Johnson said if a student is behind in getting an assignment in, they will not be penalized for being late if they go ahead and do the work and turn it in. This applies to athletes as well. But the Monday grade check clashes with game days for junior varsity football, so if a player is failing when his grades are checked on Monday, he will be unable to play in the game that evening. Both Johnson and Bell said it is unavoidable. Johnson told the board that individual and group tutoring sessions are available with teachers, onsite or at school, and they make every effort to see that all students are current with assignments.
Bell said he has already instituted some changes he thinks will be helpful, and that his main focus is in developing the entire student athlete. “A good coach will change games. A great coach will change lives,” Bell said.
Bell said he planned to sit down with his team and discuss academics and the importance of completing their assignments. He said the squad currently has 19 players and all have committed to play next year so they can have a varsity team. Bell completed his statement by saying that he is having the entire football squad come to the school for study halls and transportation will be provided. Johnson said transportation will also be provided for any student coming in for individual or group tutoring.
Johnson said he and Bell are on the “same page” and the entire staff has committed to make a different and better Jenkins School System. He said if a student is struggling, the parent or student should call the school and transportation will be provided for instruction at the school.
“Students have to come first. Although we can’t have all students in the building at one time, we will bring them in individually or in small groups,” said Johnson. “We are not in this for students to fail. We are in this for students to succeed.”
Johnson said he loves sports and has coached throughout his career in education. He played basketball and other sports at Jenkins for the four years he attended, and he has coached basketball and other sports. He has two children in school and both participate in sports. But he said lack of funds for athletic programs are a big problem, and he would be pleased if he had a million dollars for the football team, but he doesn’t.
One woman who said her son plays football said that checking grades on game day (Monday) made it hard for players if a game was canceled. Johnson said that as long as they are on a virtual schedule, grades will continue to be checked on Monday, and assignments will have to be in by Friday, although if they are made up later, students will receive credit for them. He added that there have been other players aside from football who have been ineligible for games.
Athletic Director Ashley Addington said she is working with other staffers to keep student athletes on track, and another parent praised Attendance Secretary Alicia Congleton, who also works with students on online Spanish instruction, for keeping up with students’ participation in academics. Another teacher said she has been calling students if they aren’t in her online class and reminding them to do their work. She said she had been disappointed when one boy, a football player, was still in bed when she called.
“If we get back (to having class) in person, all this goes away,” said Johnson.
One man said his grandson plays football and he keeps track of his grandson’s grades by Campus Parent, a software program that interacts with the software used by the Jenkins system. Johnson said he will have instructions for the parent portal made available to help people get online to check student progress. All of the parents and grandparents the meeting agreed that academics have to come first.
In a related matter, Ashley Addington said she had met with other district athletic directors and they had agreed to push winter sports back a bit, so basketball games will start on November 23. Addington said that some changes have been made as well. There will be no more “jump balls” and contested possessions will be decided by a coin toss. There will not be competitive tryouts for middle school sports and anybody who wants to play will be allowed to participate. However, Addington said the COVID-19 trend in the county is not positive, and under state guidelines, if Letcher County is red on the state map, there will be no more sports events.
Elementary Principal Amanda Anderson reported that longtime elementary teacher Anita Bolt has agreed to come on board as the instructional coach at Burdine Elementary. Bolt will work with teachers across the board, but will spend most of her time with the newer teachers. Bolt is a 1968 graduate of Jenkins High School and spent most of her career teaching elementary school in Jenkins. She has been recognized by educational organizations as an outstanding educator.
Bolt told the board that this will mark her 35th year working at Jenkins, and she will support teachers in instruction and curriculum to help create effective practices and promote student growth. She said that when the schools go back to onsite instruction, she will work mostly with first-year teachers. Bolt said she has developed her instruction program from teacher input from different classrooms and age groups.
The board set the tax rate for Jenkins schools at 85.2 cents per $100 for real and personal property, and 69 cents per $100 for motor vehicles. Both rates are the current tax rate and there was no rate increase. Johnson said the state compensating rate for 2020, which is the amount that will allow the school system to receive the same amount of tax revenue in the coming year as it did in 2019, was set at $1.32.2 cents per $100 for real and personal property. Johnson said the amount was more than the city could possibly bear in the current economic conditions, and that rather than raise taxes, he suggested the tax rate be left where it currently stands.
“We have to cut costs where we can before we can ask the public for money,” said Johnson. He said the system will try to get by on its current income rather than force a 47-cent tax increase on people in hard economic conditions. The board agreed and voted not to increase taxes at all.