Bolivar R-1 superintendent Tony Berry has lost his marbles.
That’s what he told attendees at Southwest Baptist University’s fall semester President’s Breakfast on Friday, Sept. 11 — before passing out a handful of marbles from his pocket to each table.
The joke went over well, despite the serious nature of the matter Berry came to discuss — R-1 and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Folks, we’ve got giants all over the place,” he said. “COVID has come and been a giant for us. I’m losing my marbles right now.”
To explain, Berry broke out an acronym for M-A-R-B-L-E, comparing the district’s COVID-19 battle with David’s Biblical battle against the giant Goliath.
“What’s ‘M?’” he said. “Move away from the critics. Guess what? There are people on Facebook that are going to say bad things about us. I quit looking at it. If I keep looking at it, it’s going to take me away from my main goal. I’m too focused on Bolivar R-1 Schools.”
“A,” Berry said, stood for “achieve at a high level.” When 13% of R-1’s 2,600 students opted to do their education online, the district had to rethink its technology delivery, he said.
As of Friday morning, about 170 students were precautionarily quarantined due to potential exposure, and another 250 from the high school had opted for alternative instruction, Berry said.
“We’re going to get out in front of this, and we’re going to provide a Bolivar-based education to those students online,” he said.
To do that, Berry said the district provided a device and mobile hotspot router to students who needed it and expanded wifi connections to school parking lots so students can log on to complete their work.
“We’re doing everything we can to achieve at a high level,” he said.
For “R,” Berry said the district has “run to the battle,” by emphasizing in-person education five days per week, especially at the elementary level.
“As you are learning to read, that’s a pivotal time,” he said. “As you’re reading to learn, there are times you can be away from the classroom. But if you're learning to read, we need you there.”
“B” stands for “be brave,” Berry said.
As of last week, five staff members and 15 students had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We had to make decisions to put people in harm's way,” he said. “We have to make a decision. ‘Does the risk outweigh the reward?’ That reward is to learn. That is a reward we need to have.”
“L” is for “lift the head” or “look the problem in the eye,” Berry said.
The district looked at its growing count of positive cases at the high school and temporarily moved instruction online, he said.
And to “eradicate” the problem, for step “E,” Berry said the district took those steps, and safety precautions, to do its best to stop the problem.
“It doesn't matter where you stand,” he said. “I have people I love dearly saying this issue is fake. And I have other people in my ear saying it is the hardest thing we’ve ever faced. It doesn’t matter. I have to deal with it. You have to deal with it. Our promise is that we’re going to educate these kids.”