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COMMENTARY: Cultivating gratitude
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COMMENTARY: Cultivating gratitude

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As we near Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a moment to share my gratitude to all who call Orangeburg County home for the welcome that I and my family have felt over the last several months. Despite social distancing and mask mandates, we have felt the warmth of your sincere optimism for our community’s public schools and are certainly grateful for your trust in me to lead our school district through consolidation, as we work together to become a school district of choice for this region.

Although the 2020-21 school year has been unusual, there is much for which I am thankful.

I am thankful to our parents, grandparents and guardians for the patience and grace that they have shown to me, our leadership, schools, and teachers. You have allowed us time to prepare, gain feedback and develop procedures and protocols to help protect the health and safety of students, staff and your families. You have been understanding when we overcame hurdles associated with new virtual platforms and connectivity. And, most importantly, you have joined with us in a commitment to continue educating our community’s children amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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For the dedicated employees of Orangeburg County School District, we are certainly blessed. From our custodial service workers, who are meticulously disinfecting our schools and offices, to our teachers who are managing classrooms of students attending school in-person and at-home, school food service employees who have been feeding our community’s children throughout this pandemic, and every school and district support staff member, all are incredibly dedicated to the noble mission of our organization and are committed to their service, despite the potential risk of exposure which could impact their health. I am thankful OCSD employees have been willing to accept the challenges before us and have done so with an open mind and a willing heart.

I am grateful for the support we’ve received from our business community. Health care providers have joined us in partnership to put telehealth in the hands of our students and families through the S.M.A.R.T. Virtual Health Collaborative. Doing so has allowed for countless virtual medical visits and has decreased potential exposures of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Prisma Health, through the encouragement of our board member the Rev. Brown, donated thermostat thermometers to every school, 5,000 cloth face masks and 1,500 face shields for students. Google is powering up at least 10 of our school buses to ensure that students with long commutes to and from school have access to their work, and that communities in need will have wireless internet through two of our buses that will serve as Rolling Hotspots.

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The millions in aide to protect our students, staff and workers with Personal Protective Equipment, face shields, masks and plexiglass, made possible from our legislature and state superintendent, does not go unnoticed. We are very appreciative of the leadership Superintendent Spearman has shown throughout this pandemic, and for her unwavering support of South Carolina’s public schools.

A good friend and mentor of mine often says, “Never waste a good crisis.” Having been through a number of crises with him, I do have to admit that I’ve experienced documented truth to his words. While the crisis itself, by nature, is never good, the byproducts of a crisis, if embraced, can result in growth, collaboration and solutions that may not have been possible otherwise.

I hope that at your Thanksgiving table you will not only share what you are thankful for, but also consider some positive byproducts of the coronavirus crisis. By no means do I intend to under-acknowledge the gravity of the coronavirus crisis within our community or nation. As I write this, 236,042 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. Families within our school district have been impacted by this, I know, and I pray for each of you each night, along with those who are sick and still fighting this novel infectious disease.

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As a community, we’ve come together in support of public education and our community’s children throughout the coronavirus crisis. We’ve grown more selfless and giving, worked together more collaboratively, and created solutions to issues that impacted schools, schoolchildren and beyond. When coronavirus concerns are largely over, and I hope and pray that time is soon, will you join me in embracing the good that this crisis has created in each of us as individuals and as a community?

Dr. Shawn Foster is superintendent of the Orangeburg County School District.

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