As a virus sweeps across the nation, the American people have been forced to undergo a radical shift in daily routines. Our lives have been upended and so too has the conduction of critical practices such as work and education.

Many worried over the potential gaps in existing resources vital for continued societal operation, both in terms of physical resources such as masks and intellectual resources such as the effective educational instruction of our state’s children.

Thankfully, private enterprise has stepped up to the plate in a historic way. Businesses are transitioning to fill the existing gaps and provide the supplies and information that the country needs. In Mississippi, we have seen local business leaders bravely take risks in order to fill critical needs. 

A few days ago, I had the chance to talk with leaders of the Bailey Education Group, including founder, Gary Bailey, and Vice President, Pat Ross. The organization is committed to offering high level coaching and instruction to teachers and leaders as they seek to better the education of their students. Today, they have played a leading role in supporting schools as they transition to alternative education initiatives in this unique situation by offering digital coaching resources, online content, and webinars that allow teachers and administrative leaders to discuss existing problems and potential solutions.

Bailey recognized that “education is a vital part of every child’s life.” In so doing, he wanted to develop a company that was committed to helping kids learn more effectively. This passion drove him to found the Bailey Education Group in 2007. Since then, he has brought together a team of effective educational leaders with a great depth of experience to further this mission.

The Bailey Education Group is a results-oriented company, and Bailey even noted to me that their ultimate goal is to work themselves out of a job. Indeed they focus their work on schools that have room for improvement as they attempt to imitate pathways to success that have been found in other districts around the state.

Today, the coronavirus pandemic has necessitated a foundational reevaluation of our societal approach to education as new methods of instruction have been needed amidst mandated social distancing and shelter-in-place orders. 

With about 85 percent of the Bailey Education Group’s work being focused on teacher and school leader instruction and training, they needed to quickly adapt. While this transition was not easy, Ross noted that the organization “knew [they] needed to turn the company into a virtual operation.” They have now transitioned all their coaching sessions to online video calls. This has allowed teachers to both continue their training initiatives while also being provided a digital recording that they can look back on and use as a resource to review and continue seeking improvement moving forward.

The integration of technology into the classroom has become a critical component of many education models. Bailey noted that, “[t]echnology changed education to a great degree, but many school districts have not caught up.” While some schools already readily use digital tools to supplement the students’ education, others have not made these strides yet. This reality has made the current crisis all the more difficult for many previously struggling schools and has highlighted the need for support during this time of transition. 

The Bailey Education Group has created electronic and live content to help schools teach certain subjects when they may be lacking in an area. With the wealth of education experience collected through the Group, this initiative now empowers almost every district across Mississippi to have a student learn algebra or other courses from one of the best teachers in the state.

This model can be used to supplement existing classrooms and also support long-term substitutes in classrooms which lack a highly qualified teacher, due to the critical teacher shortage.

Ross noted how BEG has taken on the responsibility of networking education leaders across the state in order to solve problems together. They are hosting video conference sessions that give teachers and administrative leaders the opportunity to discuss ongoing issues and challenges. Ross offered hope that these sessions could become more regular and even break down into smaller regional groups so that individuals could hold more personal discuss with colleagues facing similar issues in their fields.

Bailey and Ross noted that these sessions have offered a place for school leaders to talk about a variety of ongoing challenges, including the continued provision of food to students, access to technology, and budgeting.

For many students, school is the one place where they are sure to get a reliable meal each day. Every school in the state is working to continue providing this critical resource and this has been one of the widely discussed challenges that the Bailey Education Group’s virtual sessions have brought administrative leaders together to discuss.

Not every kid has a computer, internet service, or cellphone access. Thus, while some schools have students tuning into class digitally, others have no option but to print off workbooks and send them to students. Students then complete the work and send them back in to teachers so they can be reviewed and graded. The coronavirus has put these additional challenges on full display and highlighted the need to facilitate technology access across the state.

As we transition out of this crisis, many facets of society are likely to change, including our approach to education. The Bailey Education Group leaders expressed hope that we can continue to use technology as a positive educational supplement. No matter what new approaches are taken, Bailey noted to me that, “[m]ath is still math and algebra is still algebra, but how one teaches it will change”

When it comes to technology, Ross noted his fundamental optimism that kids are flexible and would readily be able to make further transitions. Having grown up in a digital age, they are in a position where they can quickly adapt to new changes in the classroom. Thankfully the Bailey Education Group is there to ease that transition for teachers and district leaders as well.

Bailey pointed to the critical importance of personal interaction in the teaching process stating that, “human interaction is the best way to learn, be it over computer or face-to-face. This interaction is central to a child’s livelihood and improvement.” By helping to guide a more effective conversion to digital instruction, Bailey’s organization has assisted in the continuing of Mississippi children’s education.

With hope, we will be able to transition out of our current situation sooner rather than later. However, whatever the timeline ends up being, we will never fully return to the world we knew in January. As a state and as a nation, we will be tasked with making fundamental changes to many critical parts of our society, including education.

This situation has hastened the integration of technology and digital learning platforms into the classroom. Students and teachers have been forced to adjust to this, but in so doing have opened up a world of opportunity for future innovative changes to our existing education structures. As we move forward, undoubtedly the leaders who supported our students and teachers in this trying time, such as the Bailey Education Group, will be remembered.

These businesses that are stepping up deserve to be highlighted, and so the Mississippi Center for Public Policy is publishing a series dedicated to doing just that. Over the coming weeks, we aim to continue showcasing the stories of these local businesses, including Blue Delta Jeans in Tupelo, Rich Grain Distilling Company, and now the Bailey Education Group who have willingly given up their normal operating procedures to help people.

If you know of a local Mississippi business that is helping those in need during this critical time, we’d love to highlight the work that they’re doing. Please email Hunter Estes via estes@mspolicy.org to discuss further.