SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT) – Jackson County Schools and Scottsboro City Schools held the first annual State of Education meeting in Scottsboro on Wednesday. Local education leaders reflected on the impact of the pandemic and how schools can overcome COVID-related challenges in the classroom.

After months of virtual and hybrid learning, Jackson County and Scottsboro educators are prioritizing in-person instruction moving forward.

“We don’t want to have to provide out-of-school suspensions for students,” said Scottsboro City Schools Superintendent Amy Childress. “We do have that as an option. We have in-school suspension, but we also know that academics must place precedence, and we need strategies to keep kids in the classroom as much as possible.”

Educators said students, especially elementary-age students, are facing social and emotional challenges after spending nearly two years outside the classroom.

“They didn’t know what the opportunity was to even eat in a lunchroom,” said Jackson County Schools Superintendent Jason Davidson. “Some kindergarteners are now third graders, and they didn’t get the regular pathway to develop those social and emotional skills that most of us take for granted.”

Davidson is new to the position of superintendent. He was appointed last month after the death of Superintendent Kevin Dukes.

Though both Childress and Davidson said they anticipate seeing this year’s standardized test scores drop in the wake of the pandemic, their schools have persisted in career and college preparedness. Davidson said he hopes to encourage workforce development in the district’s youngest students.

“Workforce development begins with pre-K,” Davidson said.

He said the district wants to give students options for the future, and for some students, that is not a traditional 4-year college program. instead, Jackson County Schools is creating partnerships with local businesses and the community to provide career and technical skills.

“We have to continue to level our students up,” Davidson said. “We have to give them skills along the way. As early and often as they get something they can show credibility with, then they can do something like a certification that says I’m a certified welder or I’m a certified nurse. They’ll never take that certification away.”

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Davidson said he hopes to host a State of Education meeting in Jackson County each year.