About 80 percent of Richmond County students are now enrolled in the hybrid program, which provides in-person learning for half the student body one week and the other half the next week. And the success seen so far is making RCPS something of a model.

“At the height, there were over 360 students enrolled in the all-digital program but that’s dropped to less than 300 as more students are returning to school,” said RCPS superintendent Dr. Greg Smith.

“We are an anomaly in this part of Virginia,” he explained. This is week 10 of RCPS’ hybrid program, and there are no other schools in this region that has offered K-12 in-person instruction for that amount of time.

“Furthermore, RCPS hasn’t seen any school-related Coronavirus infections,” Smith confirmed. “I need to knock on wood to keep us safe from that… but I must say it’s gone as well as it could have gone at this point.”

Smith credits the school system’s protocols with the success it has seen preventing infection. He notes that the schools have requirements for masking and social distancing from the point of getting on the bus or parent drop-off throughout the day. And that paired with the cooperation of families and students made a significant difference.

He credits thorough planning for the overall success RCPS has seen this year. 

It hasn’t been easy, Smith admits. RCPS essentially had to recreate the entire school experience. Everything is a new experience for the school board, the teachers, the cafeteria, and the transportation workers.

But the school system has worked through the circumstances so well because, the leadership team and the administrative group started meeting weekly at the onset of the pandemic this spring. “We worked diligently all summer long. And we’re still doing the very same thing now,” said Smith.

He said those discussions involve not only focusing on the school system’s problems but also those that RCPS families are facing.

That has helped RCPS overcome challenges other school systems are facing such as poor attendance for digital instruction. Smith said RCPS digital attendance is good and that’s largely because families are following the protocols that they recommended and parents are playing an active role.

RCPS results haven’t gone unnoticed. Other local schools are now trying to ramp up in-person learning, and they’re turning to Richmond County for input and advice. “The calls are coming from personnel ranging from instructional leaders to superintendents, and other school divisions have come to RCPS for visits,” said Smith.

A strong advocate of having students learning in schools, Smith said he hopes the other school systems are successful and will be able to take strategies that RCPS implemented and apply them successfully. 

“I hope that after seeing what we’ve done for nine consecutive weeks it gave them some momentum to do what they’re doing right now,” he said.

Dr. Smith is set to retire on Jan 29, 2021.

Asked whether he has personal concerns or sensed concern within the school board about his departure in the midst of the pandemic, he said no.

“I think the board is pleased with the progress we’ve made. And I think the programs and procedures we put in place are going to transition well over to new leadership,” he said. 

“All the other leadership that’s been involved in the process will remain, so getting a new superintendent doesn’t necessarily mean there will be changes,” he added.