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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools students are still learning from home as classes remain virtual. 

Thursday, Superintendent Joris Ray watched some of those virtual classes in session and found that, while most students are set to return to the building eventually, learning from a computer may become a way of life for others.

Ray walked the halls of Brewster Elementary, stopping by classrooms to watch virtual learning in progress. Despite the lack of in person interaction, Ray says students are learning.

“Virtual learning isn’t ideal but it’s not broken,” he said.

It might even help the district in the future.

“The way we are educating student is going to change. Some students are thriving in the virtual environment,” he said.

But the reality for others is the opposite. 

Ray admits there’s a widening learning gap for some students. Reading scores have traditionally been a problem for the district. Now other subjects are also suffering.

“Just looking at preliminary data, it looks like math is where we can definitely improve,” he said. “Our teachers, they’re receiving a tremendous amount of professional development.”

Ray predicts it will take years to recover and about $33 million. He’s asked the county commission for the money.

“This is something that is not a one-year fix,” he said. “This is something that is a three- to five-year plan that’s wrapped around literacy. That’s wrapped around reducing class size.”

Ray scheduled in-person classes to resume for K-5th grade on Feb. 8, with older grades following two weeks later. That’s still the plan, but Ray said that is subject to change.

“We’re going to continue to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all of our children and all of our staff members, so February 8th is our plan. That’s our goal, but if science say something different, we’re going to follow science.”

Ray asked the health department director to prioritize educators and school staff for the COVID vaccine and is currently surveying who wants it. He said it’s not mandated and commends his teachers for a job well done in this pandemic. 

Ray talked about the number of teachers working second jobs to make a living, and said he’s determined to get them a permanent raise.

“That’s the one thing I talked about, is pay for our teachers, and I’m not talking about bonuses, I’m not talking about hazard pay, or I call it hero pay, but our teachers, they deserve more,” he said.