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Open Letter from Superintendent Woods: School buildings are closed, but the hearts of educators remain open

Yesterday, Governor Brian Kemp announced that all K-12 public schools would remain closed for in-person instruction for the rest of this school year. This is a hard reality, and a real loss – for teachers who miss their students, students who miss their teachers, and for our graduating seniors.

It is also the wisest decision, given what we know about COVID-19 and how it is affecting our state. I fully support the Governor's decision. I deeply appreciate his deliberate decision-making during these uncertain times, as well as the partnership he's had with me, the Georgia Department of Education, and superintendents across the state during this unprecedented crisis.

Though schools are closed, the hearts of educators remain open.

In this dark moment, public education is truly shining bright. Millions of meals have been prepared and delivered, millions of lessons have been taught virtually, millions of phone calls, texts, and Facetimes have occurred, millions of extra hours have been put in, and millions of small gestures of dedication, passion, sacrifice, compassion, and love continue to add up to show the best of who we are as Georgians.

Even though the classroom doors are closed, opportunities for school meals, distance learning, and other essential functions will remain open to students across the state for the rest of this school year.

The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that a “hero" goes beyond those we've typically thought of and recognized – those serving in the military, law enforcement, or our first responders. People now understand that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are heroes, too. We truly thank them.

But there are other unsung heroes in our state: the food service and nutrition staff who prepare meals for students, the bus drivers who deliver those meals, the teachers and paraprofessionals who are learning new ways to engage and educate their students, the nurses, counselors, and school psychologists who provide critical supports and therapy for children, the custodians who sanitize and disinfect our buildings, and our school leaders who make high-stakes decisions during events our society never could have fathomed. We owe you our deepest gratitude -- all of you are heroes.

Like all other heroes, you continue to go above and beyond to support students, dealing with intense stress and strain, through long hours – balanced with the demands of your own families and children, and often wearing the new, common uniform of masks and gloves.

More than ever, Georgians are realizing that their public schools are more than a place and teachers do so much more than teach– their value and worth cannot be measured by high-stakes tests, accountability, school grades, academic standards, or traditional teacher and leader evaluation tools; they are critical cornerstones of our society. We, at the Georgia Department of Education, have worked in earnest to remove these barriers so educators can focus on what's truly important.

Together, we will get through the current COVID-19 challenge as we continue to focus on what's important – the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff.

As this school year ends, another year will begin, and we will emerge stronger and more committed than ever to the education of our students.

Stay safe and healthy,

Richard Woods

State School Superintendent​