Superintendent teaches Sumter band class in teacher shortage
Like many school systems across the United States, the Sumter School District is stretched thin with the current spike in coronavirus infections, but an “everyone on deck” approach is helping to make staffing shortages more manageable.
Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox said Thursday that district staff cover even absent teachers to maintain teaching consistency. She made the remarks from the music room at Sumter High School, where she had just finished covering the second block wind ensemble class for band manager Troy Cato.
That’s right, even the superintendent fills in when teachers are away these days as the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to break daily case records in South Carolina and across the country.
Martin-Knox spent about 10 years early in his educational career as a classroom music teacher. It’s still a passion for her, she says, and she doesn’t mind helping out.
The district administration was distributing assignments this week for staff away from schools to participate and help with operations, she said.
“And, when the name came across my desk on who was missing, I said, ‘I’ll take that blanket,'” Martin-Knox said. “So, I volunteered to come for two reasons: one, to support the school, and also just to be in front of the kids and interact with the kids.”
A week into January, and school districts across the country sticking to in-person learning are scrambling for substitutes as omicron, now the dominant strain of the virus in South Carolina, puts strained schools that were already struggling with staffing shortages.
When Martin-Knox covered Thursday’s class, it allowed another Sumter High teacher to still have his planning block and not have to replace the group director.
Martin-Knox said it was not the first time she had covered a course and her management philosophy was “everyone on deck”. She also follows the adage that she won’t ask someone to do something she wouldn’t do herself.
“While administrators have other responsibilities, our first responsibility is to keep students safe and make sure they learn,” Martin-Knox said. “So wherever we can step in as leaders, we have to.
“Whether it’s a principal stepping in and teaching a class or a superintendent stepping in and teaching a class, it helps teachers understand that we’re supporting them, and our principals to recognize that everyone is really on board, so what better way to do it myself?”
She described the 90 minutes of standard techniques, warm-ups and sight-reading with the wind ensemble as a “fun workout” that brought back memories.
Afterwards, several students in the class of about 30 musicians said that it was a good experience.
Senior Malaha Williams, who plays clarinet, said Martin-Knox made them feel comfortable from the start and they learned new things.
Junior Sam Hudman, the first chair French horn, said he was a bit nervous at first to see the superintendent, but it was a good experience overall.
“It was really fun,” he said. “We learned a lot and she worked with us on a technique that we had fun learning. We tried a lot of new things today, like warming up. It was nice to meet her.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR MARTIN-KNOX?
In December, Martin-Knox informed the district board that she was not seeking a contract extension for the next school year. She will complete a three-year term as district superintendent in June.
When asked by The Sumter Item this week if she had any plans after the June shoot, Martin-Knox replied that she didn’t at the moment and hadn’t thought that far ahead. .