Our View: But amid coronavirus, Donald Trump can stir up fears on mail-in balloting and in-person voting. There’s time to build confidence for Nov. 3. Williamson County leaders approved $296,485 for additional technology coaches and support specialists for online learning in schools. When it comes to remote work it’s essential to establish your working hours. Otherwise it can be all too easy for work to slip into your personal time.
Donald Trump raised the specter recently of a delayed presidential election — citing unfounded claims of mail-in ballot fraud. His tweet sent shivers through Americans who fear he’ll stop at nothing to remain in office.
By all accounts, Trump lacks legal authority to postpone the vote and, in any event, the Constitution says his first term ends Jan. 20. The presidential election has never been delayed in an American history replete with times of war and pestilence.
But where the president succeeded, and can do still more damage, was fomenting confusion and angst ahead of an election already fraught with risks to its integrity.
Millions are frightened even to cast votes at a time when a highly communicable disease is running rampant through too many communities. States are racing to accommodate by expanding mail-in voting, even though many have not done so at this scale.
Fumbling primary efforts in several states led to hours of waiting in line for in-person ballots. While voter enthusiasm is high, new registration is in free fall — particularly among young people and minorities — as coronavirus undermines traditional sign-up efforts.
It’s little wonder that growing numbers of Democrats and Republicans are primed to reject elections results that don’t go their way.
The good news is there’s still time to build confidence in the Nov. 3 vote:
►A fair election during a pandemic costs money. Congress must settle differences on a coronavirus stimulus bill, and that includes coming together on election money for the states. Republicans need to embrace the funding and Democrats need to ease up strings attached to the spending so the two sides can compromise.
States must hire and train younger poll workers — perhaps attracting them with the offer of education credits — since traditional volunteers are predominantly older people understandably averse to working during an outbreak where they are at higher risk of infection. Where early in-person voting is expanded, as it should be, those workers will be needed for longer periods of time.
►Make mail-in voting work. However much Trump and Attorney General William Barr (without evidence) rail against the process, the risks of fraud are almost nonexistent. Thankfully, most states aren’t listening. The result is that more than 80 million voters are being mailed ballots or applications to vote by states, and an additional 96 million will be able to vote by mail if they request it. That’s 77% of the voting population.
It’s another reason federal funding is crucial. States and counties will be investing in additional ballot-counting space, equipment such as high-speed scanners, and specialized envelopes and paper, to facilitate record levels of mailed ballots. And staffing need will grow still further. States should accept mailed ballots postmarked by Election Day, as opposed to those that arrive by Election Day, in anticipation of an overwhelmed Postal Service (run by a Trump supporter who has already slowed down processing). In the alternative, states could provide more drop-off sites for absentee ballots to avoid relying on the mail.
►Voters need to be vigilant and patient. Those who want to mail in their vote should begin to act now to request a ballot and return it as soon as possible to avoid having it rejected for arriving too late. Others can learn whether and where early voting will be conducted in their precinct to avoid long lines.
More than anything, voters need to understand that the winner of the election may not be known at the end of Nov. 3. The odds are strong, particularly given the days it could take to count mailed-in votes, that the result will be tardy. It certainly won’t discredit the results, no matter what Trump might say or do.
This election will test not only the integrity of the electoral process, but also whether, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, governments “deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Trump’s tweets shouldn’t distract from the need to get the vote right.
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More staff needed as Williamson County Schools online demands skyrocket
Participation in the Williamson County Schools online program grew exponentially, almost overnight, when 17% of the population enrolled in the semester-long program instead of returning to in-person school in August.
From just 300 juniors and seniors enrolled last year, the WCS Online Program increased to 6,700 students across grade levels for the fall semester. As the program grew, the need for online teachers and technical support also increased.
The Williamson County Commission Education Committee approved $296,485 on Monday for additional technology coaches and support specialists to meet the demand of online services.
“We are not staffed in any department to do COVID-19 plus our normal work,” WCS Superintendent Golden said to the committee.
Golden said, in jest, at a recent Williamson County Board of Education work session that the district could have 150 more technology workers and still not have enough.
Some parents chose the online program as a safety measure due to COVID-19, while other families were attracted to the stability it offers amid changes between remote and in-person school.
The district was able to staff the online program with approximately 615 teachers, comprised of full-time and part-time positions.
WCS online learning program
- Elementary school teachers: 145 (all full time)
- Middle school teachers: 136 (46 full time)
- High school teachers: 334 (11 full time)
- Total teachers: 615
Regular classroom teachers who teach an online class beyond their normal class load will earn a monetary supplement. According to Golden, teachers participating in the online program either wanted to leave the classroom due to COVID-19 concerns, volunteered or were asked by the district to participate.
“We had more students enroll in the program than teachers who volunteered to do the program,” Golden said.
There are 3,000 teachers employed in Williamson County and 4,500 total employees across the district.
The online program has grown in other districts in Middle Tennessee as well, reaching a participation rate of approximately 40% in Rutherford County Schools and Montgomery County Schools. The state average of families participating in extended online learning is 20%.
Golden expects WCS online program enrollment to decrease in the spring semester and next year as COVID-19 numbers improve.
However, Golden worries more about how a lack of substitutes — not full time district personnel — could affect district operations as the school year progresses.
“We don’t have a teacher shortage for the online program,” Golden said. “We are very low on teachers assistants, and I am very concerned about substitutes.”
Golden said that if a significant number of teachers are absent during the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing could become a critical issue.
During flu season last year, a lack of substitutes to fill in for sick teachers resulted in the district closing for a day, Golden told the education committee.
The district is also short on classified personnel, including a shortage of 60 teacher assistants across the district. There have also been resignations in the after-school care program, Golden said.
There has been an uptick in teacher resignations over the last six weeks, according to WCS Human Resources Director Vickie Hall. The district lost 87 teachers in the last six weeks, compared to 50 this time last year.
However, there has been a relatively low number of teachers who retired at the end of the year, Hall said. In 2018-19, 63 teachers retired, while in 2019-20, 53 teachers retired. This school year, 11 teachers have retired so far.
“We are staffed pretty well,” Hall said about grade-level classrooms, adding that specialty positions like Spanish teachers are difficult to find.
Golden has said previously that the district is hopeful it will spend most of the year in school buildings. Commissioner Matt Williams, 9th District, inquired on Monday about teachers’ overall reaction to online and remote learning.
“Individual teachers feel differently,” Golden said. “Generally speaking, it’s been hard for them to do remote. Every day there’s something going on with the vendor. They are excited about being able to teach in the classroom, but they are nervous about the virus.”
COVID-19 planning has required hours of difficult work from district staff, Golden explained.
“It’s the heaviest lift most of our professionals has ever done,” Golden said.
Kerri Bartlett covers issues affecting children, families, education and government in Williamson County. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-308-8324 or follow @keb1414 on Twitter.
A Guide To Remote Work Success
Even before the current pandemic, more and more businesses were shifting towards a remote work system. Yet since the world was turned upside down, this has gone into overdrive. For many who were fortunate enough to still remain employed, they suddenly found themselves working from home.
At first, this could have been seen as a dream scenario for those who were tired of the daily commute to the office. However, remote work presents its own set of challenges, and it can be difficult for people to adjust to the changes.
If you’re struggling to find the right balance since becoming a remote worker, this guide is here to help. Below are the steps you should take to ensure your performance and morale both remain at a high level.
There are many, many different tools to collaborate online available. Settling on the best collaboration apps for your business is not an easy task, but they all have the overall aim: to make your life easier. As a result, you can’t really go wrong when picking your apps.
Of course, different tools have different functions. In general, you want apps that cover tasks such as the following:
The more apps you have in place that take care of monotonous tasks and streamline your workflow, the more productive you – and your business – will ultimately be.
This step can be tricky, depending on the space you have at home. Ideally, you’ll want a spare room that you can transform into a home office. If this isn’t a viable option, try and find a space within your house that has a minimum amount of distractions. Not only can family members prove to be bothersome while you’re trying to get stuck into your work, but that nearby videogame console can also be alluring…
When setting up your workspace, a comfortable chair is a must. You’re going to be sat on your keister for about eight hours each day, so you want a seat that delivers both comfort and good lumbar support. To complete your makeshift office, you’ll require the likes of a desk, computer, phone, and stationery.
It’s true: in this digital world, you’ll likely have all of the hardware required to start your remote work journey. Nevertheless, a few small – yet significant – upgrades to your hardware can have a significant positive impact on your work experience.
Here are a few aspects you should consider upgrading if needed:
Wi-Fi: A strong Wi-Fi setup is a necessity when it comes to remote work. When you’re collaborating with other workers across the internet, your Wi-Fi has to remain secure and stable. The last thing that you want to do is slow down productivity because your video call keeps going down due to a temperamental connection. Unsure if your Wi-Fi is up for the job? You can use Speed Test to, well, test your internet quality. If it’s below standard, you may have to change provider or purchase a Wi-Fi booster.
Microphone: When setting up for video conferences, you need three main elements: Wi-Fi, a webcam, and a microphone. While it would be nice to have a HD camera, it’s fair to say a high-quality microphone is the more important of the two. You want your employees and clients to be able to clearly hear what you’re saying, and that’s rarely possible with an in-computer microphone. Along the same lines, you should also invest in quality speakers or headphones so you can hear what others are saying.
An additional monitor: An extra monitor for your desktop or laptop can make life a whole lot easier. You can have, for instance, all of your messaging tools on one monitor, while the other one can be dedicated solely to your work files and documents.
You no longer have to drive to the office or get public transport. This is one of the great perks of remote work. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t take this for granted. You might be able to roll out of bed, switch on your laptop, and be ‘at work’ within a couple of minutes. This doesn’t mean you should, however.
It’s recommended to stick with the same morning routine as normal. That means you should wake up at the same time, eat your breakfast, and get dressed.
The latter point is particularly important. Now it’s likely you have seen on social media people wearing professional attire on the upper half of their body – which can be seen during video calls – but have shorts or pajamas on below. While this is a funny visual, try and stick with a full work outfit. This helps from a psychological point of view, as it makes you mentally switch from home life to productive work mode.
Working from home can be a lonely experience. Yet even if you’re not going to be physically in the same room as your workmates, this doesn’t mean you should abandon all communication. Yes, video calling can be a little awkward at first, but it’s worth sticking with it so you can foster relationships with others.
Also, avoid just work-related discussions. Have a chat about the weather, sports, the latest news, etc. – topics you normally talk about when in the workplace. Video calling also helps to maintain face-to-face communication and provide a more personal, engaging experience.
First of all, it’s essential that you firmly establish your working hours. When doing your job from home, it can be all too easy for work to slip into your personal time. If this happens, you’re going to suffer from burnout sooner rather than later.
In addition, always find the time during work hours to take regular breaks. Every hour or so, step up from your desk for five minutes. Go for a walk in the garden or browse through your social media feeds – whatever helps to refresh and reenergize.
Young Upstarts is a business and technology blog that champions new ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. It focuses on highlighting young people and small businesses, celebrating their vision and role in changing the world with their ideas, products and services.