Superintendent Lance Bagstad told the Park Rapids School Board on July 20 that staff leadership has been working on three different plans – in-person, hybrid and distance learning – for the 2020-21 school year.
“We still have no real guidance from the state,” he said, adding that more information about how school will look this fall will become available next week.
Bagstad said the district sent out surveys to parents, teachers and other staff, asking questions about their comfort level and what needs to be done to prepare for the fall. There were 705 parent responses, he said, of whom 67 percent said they felt comfortable sending their students back to in-person learning.
This result mirrored statewide survey results, said Bagstad. “In-person, face-to-face, delivery of instruction interaction is best for students’ learning,” he added.
Of 117 teachers who responded to the survey, about 60 percent said they are comfortable coming back, along with 69 percent of the non-certified staff who responded. Bagstad stressed the importance of providing them with the right training for the situation.
High School Principal Jeff Johnson said his school is preparing for distance learning while hoping to see students in person, by ensuring that all classes have Google Classroom, training teachers to use it, developing curriculum and working toward a 1:1 student to device ratio.
Johnson said his staff is working hard to keep the full class schedule as planned for 2020-21, while looking for ways to allow social distancing as students move between classrooms. Scenarios include providing extra time between periods and having students attend on alternating days.
Middle School Principal Shawn Andress was sad to report that the school did not receive the Comprehensive Literacy State Development grant, after two years of literacy coaching that she said “has yielded high quality literacy instruction in classrooms across Century” and improved student achievement.
She said that even without receiving the grant, the work Century staff has done should continue to challenge them to continue improving instruction.
Andress reported that more than 30 students have applied to participate in Targeted Services instruction during the next three weeks.
“Bottom line, we miss our kids,” said Andress regarding plans to go back to school safely. “We want them back with us. From the very beginning of our response to COVID, we’ve been very proud of our students and how staff has responded.”
She stressed being “flexible and adaptable” as conditions change and planning to move students forward to meet grade-level standards.
Elementary Principal Mike LeMier said he has been talking to K-1 teachers about the benefits and challenges of using Google Classroom, as opposed to other online platforms.
Acknowledging that elementary teachers want to be “everything for everybody,” supporting both students who need interventions and those who are ahead of the curve, LeMier said, “Our plan for hybrid learning really needs to be simple and easy to implement.”
He said he expects elementary teachers to be good at reinforcing safe and hygienic routines and procedures.
Community Education Director Jill Dickinson discussed how the early childhood, after-school and adult enrichment programs are planning for the fall.
Business Manager Kent Fritze reported that the school has been preparing to reopen by ordering large amounts of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, thermometers, face shields and plexiglass sneeze guards. Funding for these purchases is provided by a $421,000 CARES Act grant from the federal government, he said.
Activities Director Jeremy Nordick said the Minnesota State High School League is awaiting word from the Department of Education about when the fall sports season will begin. Possibilities include a full season with travel restrictions, limits on spectators at games and social distancing requirements in locker rooms; half-seasons, varsity only, conference only or practice only; and even flipping fall and spring around.
“It’s a good idea in theory,” he said, “but if they flip-flop it” – so that baseball, softball and golf start in the fall – “and then they cancel it again, that would be two seasons in a row that those spring sports would lose.”
Another possibility, he said, is no athletics at all, or continuing what sports teams have been doing this summer – skills practice and “maybe playing some local teams, with restrictions.”
Facilities Director Alan Vanderstad discussed health-related updates, including air filter replacements and purchasing electrostatic sprayers to disinfect classrooms.
PAWN Special Education Director Eva Pohl said the consortium is still finalizing staffing and service agreements for 2020-21, ordering personal protective equipment and responding to special challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, like how to schedule itinerant staff’s visits to multiple schools.
Transport, food and tech
Transportation Director Cindy Leach reported how she has been planning bus routes for each of the three school reopening plans and seating arrangements with social distancing – limiting a 77-passenger bus to about 40 students.
“Plan A” would require using five spare buses, leaving none for activities, she said. Also, with only three substitute drivers willing to take a route, she will need to hire and train more drivers.
Leach added that without extra buses, each student will need to use their assigned seat. She also suggested such options as extending the area from which students walk to school and having staggered bus routes, with each bus driving two routes.
As for “Plan B,” the hybrid option, Leach said having to pick up half as many students is offset by the need to use buses to drop off food and school work.
Food Service Supervisor J.T. Clark said his program requires social distancing, no longer allows students to self-serve, and recommends serving packaged meals whenever possible.
Under the social distancing requirement, he said, only grades K-3 would eat in the lunchroom and 4-8 would have to dine elsewhere. High school students will spread out along the hallways to eat lunch. Breakfasts will be grab-and-go. There will be no a la carte options.
Clark said he purchased scanners so that students can use ID cards to checkout, rather than punching in a code.
Technology Director Todd Kumpula said the schools put out about 1,000 Chromebooks last year, and 104 at Century and 33 at the high school haven’t been returned. Recovery efforts continue.
Kumpula said Chromebooks ordered in March won’t arrive until late August or early September, and any ordered now won’t arrive until December or January.
Regarding making devices available to students on a 1:1 basis, he said some of the district’s 1,700 devices will have to be moved from Century School to the high school to cover the need.
He also discussed insurance coverage for technology, a delay in implementing the district’s technology plan and options for families without internet access.
In consent items and general business, the school board:
Approved the district’s Long Term Facility Maintenance (LTFM) 10-year plan.
Wrote off $10,647 worth of food service debt.
Approved a lease purchase agreement with Citizens National Bank to finance the purchase of three buses for $284,000.
Hired Leandra Craigmile as an assistant speech coach.
Approved the quarterly student activities transaction report. After expenditures and revenues between April and June, the accounts had an overall balance of $183,518.
Approved the second reading of the “Educational Drivers” drafted by grades 7-12 faculty as part of the school facilities planning process.
Approved first readings of the 2020-21 employee, elementary school, middle school, high school, activities and substitute handbooks, coaches manual and student rights and responsibilities, code of conduct and discipline policy.
The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3 at the Frank White Education Center.