In his second year as Orange County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Cecil Snead is facing the challenge of a lifetime: running a school division shut down for the remainder of the academic year due to the global spread of a deadly virus.
Snead is not alone, of course. He is among administrators around the world tasked with keeping schoolchildren and staff safe while ensuring that students still get an education under extraordinary circumstances.
Is Snead up for the job? It appears so.
In recent sightings, he has not looked exhausted, fearful or even worried. Smiling and poised, he has a sort of glow about him. He looks ready.
When Orange schools closed, Snead had soon after set up a coronavirus page on the division website and begun an informational blog linked to that page. When Gov. Ralph Northam initially closed all K-12 schools for two weeks, Snead shuttered local schools for an additional two weeks. It was a safeguard that gave his staff and local families notice that they needed to plan for a long haul.
“I think he could see the writing on the wall that it was not going to get better in two weeks,” said Orange County School Board Chairwoman Sherrie Page.
As a result, when Northam announced last week that he was closing K-12 schools for the rest of the school year, the OCPS community was not unprepared for that dramatic news.
Snead and his team quickly made sure students dependent on the schools for breakfast and lunch would not go hungry.
With school nutrition supervisor Linda Blair coordinating the effort, OCPS launched a free “grab and go” service at three central locations (Orange County High School, Gordon-Barbour Elementary School and Unionville Elementary School) for all children under age 18.
Principals and other staff members have been handing bagged breakfasts and lunches to families as they drive up in their cars. The program began the first week of the closure.
On his blog, Snead posted that students may pick up seven days’ worth of breakfasts and lunches on Thursday, March 26.
“We want our decisions to support healthy choices, first and foremost. Secondary to that, we are concerned about navigating with thoughtful care through the instruction process that relates to graduation and continuity of instruction for all students,” Snead said.
He added that “food security” for local children is another pressing concern.
Snead said that the Virginia Department of Education has promised to provide guidance for statewide K-12 education matters, including graduation, verified credits, continuity of learning, transitioning students from this disrupted school year to next year, food services and special education.
And then there is the matter of the budget for fiscal year 2021. Before the virus profoundly altered the way everyone does business, the Orange County School Board had approved a $63 million budget, including a request for $25.5 million from the county.
The plan was to present the budget to county supervisors by the end of the month.
Although county offices are shut down and there is no longer any such thing as “business as usual,” Snead is not going to let the budget slide:
“We will continue to move forward as if next year returns to normal,” he said.
While tending to the schools, Snead and his staff members still have been working to help others in the community. Snead credited Assistant Superintendent Bill Berry with facilitating donations of protective masks, gloves and other sanitary items to those who urgently need them, including Dogwood Village and the Orange County Fire and EMS Department.
The supplies come from the OCPS science and nursing programs and the school nurses’ offices. Snead said the schools made the donations in response to word that people on the front line of the pandemic were running short of personal protective gear.
Asked how he is holding up during this calamitous time, Snead replied, “I have a deep faith and truly love humanity. It’s this energy that drives me to be my best for others. My wife, Sherrie, is very supportive of my time commitments. … I’m quite fortunate to have her.”
With news of the pandemic constantly changing, his time commitments have been off the charts.
“Ever since the governor called the schools to close—I don’t know how, and if, the man has slept,” Page said of Snead.
“If there’s a day that goes by that we haven’t chatted at least once, it’s rare. Most days, it’s more than once.
“He makes sure that I’m informed, his board is informed. That’s how he operates,” Page said.
Thoroughly pleased with the work ethic Snead has demonstrated since day one, Page said his recent herculean push “just confirms, when we interviewed him, he was the man for Orange County.”