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Supt. outlines plans for school in fall

 

July 15, 2020



One thing is clear following Monday night’s School Board meeting: School this fall is not going to look like anything students, parents and teachers have experienced in the past, at least not before the COVID shutdown last spring.

Supt. Tom Yahraes outlined where the district is headed in a report to board members at their monthly meeting July 13.

“We want all students back in our buildings,” he said. “However, health and safety guidelines set by the Oregon Department of Education and Linn County health authorities set strict requirements and guidelines for social distancing in learning spaces and buses, and how we enter and exit buildings and rooms, and require strict cleaning protocols.”

Consequently, Yahraes said, it is “unlikely” that all Sweet Home K-12 students will be served “normally, face-to-face, in buildings, every day, five days a week.”

Still, he said, he has an “audacious goal” to address “our biggest learning issues” and have district staff work this summer and through the fall to develop a year of content for every grade level, using a combination of in-class and distance learning, “creating a teaching and learning system that can endure and adapt to the needs of our community.”

In the fall, Yahraes said, students will be assigned to cohorts and will stay with their cohorts throughout the day. Teachers will rotate to cohorts, rather than students going to teachers.

Among the re-opening requirements established by the ODE for the COVID-19 pandemic are:

- Maintaining learning spaces with 35 square feet per person, including both students and staff.

- Staggered arrival and departure times for students to reduce interactions across groups.

- Volunteers and non-essential guests will be barred from school buildings during the school day. Essential visitors will be screened prior to entry and must wear face coverings.

- Students will be kept in stable cohorts as much as possible.

- Students will be assigned restrooms with specified entry and exit doors to limit crossover.

- Buildings will be cleaned multiple times per day and sanitized daily.

Yahraes noted that Lebanon has decided it will return K-1 students only for half days, and grades 2 through 12 will return every other day on a modified schedule.

Albany, he said, is attempting to have K-2 students back four days a week, and the rest on a modified A/B schedule, with Wednesdays reserved for “attending to distance learning and at-risk students” and prepping for both learning formats.

They aren’t alone, he said.

“Depending on resources and capacity, across the nation and state districts are looking at a typical range of having 25 percent to 75 percent of students back in class every day – and schedules like Lebanon and Albany’s.”

Yahraes outlined a plan that includes “hybrid on-site schedules” to maximize resources to meet students’ and their families’ needs.

On-Site Hybrid Option

Under the On-Site Hybrid option, students in grades K-6 will be assigned a teacher and will remain with that teacher and particular group of students all day.

Each classroom will provide one-to-one devices and may include partially streamed activities each day using a new Canvas Learning Management system, purchased by the district, so students at home may participate online with peers.

Students in grades 7-12 will be assigned to a cohort. They will remain with those same students, rotating various content teachers, staying in the same classroom during the school day.\

Students will receive core and elective content instruction. As with the elementary students, they will have access to one-to-one devices and the day may include partially streamed activities each day using Canvas so students at home may participate online with peers.

Depending on resources and capacity at each school, this option anticipates that 25 to 75 percent of students K-12 will be on-site in class every day. Variables such as classroom square footage, number of buses, length of routes, and number of total employees are some of the factors in calculating the district’s capacity.

“Obviously, I would like 100 percent,” Yahraes said.

Distance-Only Option

Yahraes emphasized that online school will not be the same as it was during Spring 2020.

“It will be more rigorous, and include systematic units with engaging, interactive content,” he said. “It will be scheduled to meet new daily attendance requirements, and it will be graded.”

Under this option, online students in grades K-6 will participate in a virtual classroom with an on-site teacher and classroom cohort during the school day utilizing Canvas.

Students in grades 7-12 will have a set schedule and will participate in an online classroom with their teachers, facilitated by Canvas.

Secondary teachers may have online students as well as on-site students. Online students will receive daily contact from their teacher(s) and regular outreach from the school community. They may participate in athletics and activities, they may attend school functions and be recognized for awards, etc.

On-Site Hybrid students may attend online school for part of their school year. If quarantine is necessary or other situations make on-site school unavailable for a period of time, students will be able to maintain their studies online.

Plan in Place

Yahraes laid out a schedule for planning during the summer.

He said the first step will be to do a follow-up poll of parents through July 24, following one done at the end of the school year, to determine what the needs are.

“We want good data regarding learning preferences,” he said, noting that the COVID situation is rapidly changing, as are health guidelines, “which affect things like transportation and how the disease affects kids, and the spread of the illness.

District officials will submit their plans in early August to the county and state health authorities, after which parents will be asked to indicate whether they prefer the hybrid or distance-only options.

Students will get schedules in late August, and school will start the second week of September, following Labor Day.

New Technology

Yahraes said the district has ordered 300 Chromebooks and will provide one, or a tablet, to every student who needs one.

Board member Jim Gourley noted that Chromebooks “don’t have a lot of capacity” and wondered if the district could improve its internet capabilities, or maybe “put their work on sticks” to transfer information to students and vice versa.

Yahraes said all those ideas are on the table and the district is working on developing options for funding and other resources. He said the IT Department has considered asking local businesses to partner in providing internet access.

Yahraes said that the district has purchased the “modern and innovative” Canvas Learning Management System, which allows teachers to provide instructional support, class calendars, assignments, and resources for students in a safe, online environment. Canvas can integrate blended classroom instruction styles with distance learning, though teachers will be free to continue to use other resources they are comfortable with, he said.

According to a report Yahraes provided the board, the Canvas system will provide “a consistent framework for online learning” with safe, single sign-ons for parents, teachers and students, and a web-based platform that can be used on a variety of devices and integration with district SIS and gradebooks. It provides 24/7 teacher support and the district will have 20 site licenses for webinar and Canvas Studio features.

Canvas allows plug-n-play sharing with Youtube, G Suite, MyMath, Journeys, StemScopes and other applications used by teachers.

Yahraes said it will reduce the need for paper handling with integrated assessment, grading, and feedback features.

All K-12 students, teachers, and administrators, as well as parents, will have free access.

Administrators and teachers will be trained before school starts, according to the district’s plans, and a Back to School Bootcamp in September will provide training for students.

Parental training by district library and media staff will take place later in September and October. Additional training for teachers will continue through the school year.

Health Checks and Policies

For students and student athletes, the district plans to follow Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority guidelines. Yahraes said that is a “developing story” and there will be refinements during the next month.

Staff working within 6 feet of students will be required to wear face coverings. Students and staff will be required to wash or sanitize hands upon entry and exiting the building, and at numerous times during the school day.

Students will be visually screened upon entry; those exhibiting symptoms will be isolated and sent home as soon as possible.

Students and staff exhibiting symptoms will be required to go home and stay there. Students at home will be able to participate in the online option.

Transportation

Yahraes said some of the biggest challenges in dealing with COVID-19 will be transportation and food services.

He emphazied that the district will continue to provide meals for students, but they probably will be within a cohort, in a classroom or cafeteria, which will be cleaned after each cohort leaves.

Requirements for school buses include:

- Visual screening for symptoms as students enter the bus each day.

- Mandatory face masks or face shields worn by drivers.

- Keeping passengers at least 3 feet apart as much as possible.

Yahraes said there are developing strategies out there with health officials on how to get kids on the bus.

“If you’re looking at a bus that carries 72 and you can only get 12 or 15 on the bus, that drastically reduces our ability to transport kids,” he said.

The district is seeking bus drivers, he said, noting that it currently has 14 bus drivers and 30 buses. Plus, he said, the new protocols require an extra person on each bus as a monitor.

In other action Monday, the board:

Voted unanimously to re-elect Jason Redick as board chair, Mike Reynolds as vice chair, and Debra Brown as secretary;

- Accepted the resignation of board member Angela Clegg, who held the Crawfordsville seat, effective immediately. In a letter to the board, Clegg said her “other commitments have become too great to be able to fulfill the requirements of my position on the board, and I feel it is best for me to make room for someone with the time and energy to devote to the position.”

Yahraes encouraged board members to recruit people who might be interested in serving in that position.

- Approved the hiring of Samantha Russo, intermediate teacher at Hawthorne Elementary, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Amber Rosa, primary teacher at Hawthorne Elementary, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Colleen Unger, intermediate teacher at Hawthorne Elementary, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Austin Hill, intermediate teacher at Foster Elementary, effective Aug. 31; ;

- Approved the hiring of Tenille Sayer, intermediate teacher at Foster Elementary, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Brittany Kauffman, primary teacher at Foster Elementary, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Elizabeth Monroe, second-grade teacher at Foster Elementary, effective June 30, 2020;

- Approved the hiring of Cy Maughmer, language arts teacher at the high school, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of James Williams, special education teacher at Foster Elementary, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Sherry Barker, nurse for the district, effective Aug. 31;

- Approved the hiring of Lisa Collins, summer school elementary special education teacher, effetive Aug, 3, contingent on student participation;

- Accepted the retirement of Carla Alexander, fourth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary, effective June 30, 2020;

- Accepted the resignation of Elizabeth Wilks, language arts teacher at the high school, effective June 30, 2020; and

- Accepted the resignation of L. Michelle Moreland, Title 1 teacher at Foster Elementary, effective immediately.

 
 

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