- Fred Spriggs

“Unprecedented” is an overused word.

It ranks right up there with “phenomenal,” “literally” and trendy words like “awesome” or “hashtag.”

However, during the 2019-20 school year for the Seymour R-II School District, the word “unprecedented” is perhaps the only word that describes the last quarter of school not only in Seymour, but also in schools across the country and around the world.

For Seymour R-II Superintendent Steve Richards, his inaugural year in the district’s top job has presented challenges unlike any other in recent memory due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did local educators continue to provide Seymour students quality education while the buses didn’t run and the classrooms remained empty?

Steve told me that one word best describes how it was done.

Teamwork.

He explained that the success of the program, named “Care To Learn,” was an effort to educate students during a time when there was an almost total lock down of society under way.

Steve told me that the program couldn’t have been successful without everyone working together — the Seymour R-II Board of Education, Seymour Emergency Management Director Bob Crump, school administrators, teachers, the food-service staff and maintenance crews.

When classrooms fell empty on March 18, Steve explained that innovative techniques, such as using Google Classroom for virtual classrooms, was used to distribute assignments and grade coursework, organize assignments, provide two-way communication between students and teachers and simplify workflow by allowing teachers to do what they do best — teach.

Google Classroom allows teachers and students to sign in from any computer or mobile device to access class assignments, course materials and receive feedback from teachers.

In addition to using the Internet, local educators completed a massive project to put together about 600 old-fashioned paper packets of coursework each week that was distributed to students who didn’t use the virtual venue to continue their studies.

Steve explained his highest priority during the COVID-19 lockdown was to continue to provide quality education to students while keeping everyone safe.

Seymour’s school system also implemented an innovative program to ensure students had plenty to eat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the direction of Marsha Kastning and her food-service staff, the district provided about 3,600 meals to students in grades K-12, starting in early April and continuing until May 19. This program gave students two days’ worth of meals in food packets provided to all families with school-age children, even including infants who weren’t in school yet.

I’m not aware of any other school district that provided this vital service — and personally I’m extremely proud of my alma mater’s efforts that didn’t cost parents a single dime for the nutritious meals.

When local voters this past November approved the levy increase to hike their personal-property and real-estate tax dollars to pay for 1/5th of the total bill for educating Seymour’s school children, much needed money will soon begin flowing into the school district’s coffers.

Steve explained this money will enable several much-needed improvements to the 54-year-old high school. As a member of the graduating class of 1970, ours was the first class to spend all four of our high-school years in a “new” school building and gymnasium.

Needless to say, even though efforts have been made to update the facility over the years, there is little doubt the building is showing that it’s now a little “long in the tooth.”

Not only are plans being made to make repairs to the high school, the money will be used to improve technology and take care of the workers who are dedicated to make the local school district the best it can possibly be.

I’ve known Steve Richards for more than 20 years — first meeting him just a couple of years after he started his educational career in Seymour in 1995 as a coach and a teacher, with his girls’ basketball program winning conference and district championships and even reaching the state Class 2 “Final Four” for the fi rst time in school history. During his final two years as a coach and teacher, he also served as the school’s athletic director.

Since then, Steve worked his way through the ranks, serving as high-school principal at Mountain View-Birch Tree Liberty for seven years, high-school principal at Sparta for one year and as the superintendent at Dora for six years.

But now, Steve has finally “come home.”

Even though he wasn’t born in Seymour, he’s about as “local” as anyone who was born here can be.

He’s quickly shown that he’s prepared to meet any challenges thrown in his path, and for that, parents here should be thankful he’s a good steward of their money, truly loves Seymour and will work night and day to ensure their kids get the best possible education possible.

Fred Spriggs is the former news editor of the Webster County Citizen, a position he held for nearly 15 years. He now lives in rural Stone County in retirement with his wife, Julie, who also is a native of Seymour. He can be reached via e-mail at spriggsfred@yahoo.com.

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