Sumter School District operations staff changes with the unknown of COVID-19


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School- and district-level operations staff have always been critical to a well-run school, but those roles are heightened now in a COVID-19 educational environment.

Samuel Myers, Sumter School District's executive director of operations, spoke Thursday about ongoing preparations for the start of the year at the district's schools, new supplies and a new normal for conducting operations for at least this year and possibly beyond.

Myers leads a 600-plus-member operations staff in the district, which includes custodians (now renamed "building services staff"), food cafeteria workers, bus drivers, maintenance staff and others who play a role in how school will "look different" moving forward, he said.

"All of these segments of operations play a major component in the success of what we are going to do this year," Myers said.

As part of new cleanliness and safety protocols, district schools will feature additional directional signage, face masks and shields, guided entry, floor markers to indicate social distancing, sanitization stations, alcohol wipes and even electric hydrostatic sprayers - a newer, high-demand sanitization product - among other items.

In the new normal, Myers emphasized it's not a complete shift for operational staff. Instead, he describes it "as a more enhanced way of getting things done."

"This has just helped us to sharpen that saw and give us more strength in what we do," he said.

He said it takes a "children-first mentality" to ensure new protocols and operational procedures become habits for staff, and Myers credits Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox for her vision in that area.

Myers said he thinks this all will be a new way of operating, given the continued spread of the coronavirus that seems to have peaked in terms of new cases daily in mid-July but is still at levels of high community spread. Some inconveniences are now present, like face masks, but necessary.

"Even though it's an inconvenience, we understand the need - the real need - to do the things that have now been put in place," Myers said. "And we also understand that we can do all of the cleaning and everything else and things continue to occur, but we are going to be ready each and every day the doors swing open at all of our facilities to ensure our children, teachers and anyone entering those buildings are going to be safe."

COVID-19 has adjusted the way the operations staff maneuvered, but everyone has had to change with the unknown.

"We had to stay the course," Myers said, "and we will continue to do that. All of the things we have done are just to enhance what we had in place all along."