ALBEMARLE — Now in his fourth week as the new superintendent of Stanly County Schools, Dr. Jarrod Dennis has discovered that in the COVID-19 era, uncertainty surrounding school systems is the only thing that’s certain.
His first official day on the job was Nov. 2, coincidentally the same day that the county’s schools returned to a hybrid schedule (face-to-face and remote instruction) after a self-imposed two-week break from in-person activities.
“It’s a unique set of challenges that all superintendents across the state are facing right now,” Dennis told SCJ on Nov. 18. “I know the word gets thrown around a lot, but these are unprecedented times. It’s been a challenging period for anyone starting a new position in education, healthcare or any other facet of society right now.”
Dennis says that the uptick in local COVID-19 cases was the reason why the county health department and school board agreed to have all students stay home during the last few weeks of October.
Because officials determined, using contact tracing, that the spike in cases came from outside the schools instead of within them, Stanly County Schools is currently operating under the same protocol it used prior to the two-week break.
“Since the break has been over, we have had students test positive for COVID-19, and all of that information goes to the health department,” Dennis said. “If they have been exposed, they get tested and have to be quarantined until they’re allowed to come back. We follow all the health department protocol when it comes to a student or staff member being exposed or testing positive.”
Despite the ever-changing health guidelines and the subsequent academic planning involved, Dennis says that he has taken time to appreciate what his new job position means to him. As an Oakboro native, his return to Stanly County has been a homecoming experience that he always imagined coming into fruition “if the opportunity presented itself.”
“It was surreal when I was walking through West Stanly High School the other day, because I haven’t been in there since the ‘90s,” he said. “I’ve hit most of the schools in the county already, and it all just brings back good memories.”
After graduating from West Stanly in 1995, Dennis studied at the University of Lynchburg, North Carolina State University, East Carolina University and Liberty University before getting involved with teaching and school administration. Prior to taking the Stanly County superintendent role, Dennis served as the deputy superintendent of Person County Schools in Roxboro, N.C., a position achieved after 20 years working in the education field.
Right now, the biggest question mark that Dennis and the rest of the county staff are looking at is how to handle the upcoming spring semester once students return from Christmas break. Dennis says his “biggest fear” is only having a short turnaround to be able to implement a plan once restrictions are handed down from state and local levels.
“With the holidays coming up, we’re having conversations about different types of plans. But it’s really going to depend on what happens as to what we’re able to do,” Dennis said. “It’s really just a waiting game right now. We want to have school, but the question is whether we’ll be allowed to have school. I think a lot of it will be predicated on what happens this next month and a half.”