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School district working on reentry strategy

School district working on reentry strategy
By James Grob,

This has been an unusual spring for school districts across the country. Now they have to prepare for the fall.

With the start of the next school year just three months away, the Charles City School District has started to plan for several possibilities.

At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Mike Fisher and Lincoln Elementary Principal Marcia DeVore provided a general overview of how the district is preparing to bring the students back.

“We are searching for how this season of COVID has made us better, and how we are going to grow, change and transform because of that,” said DeVore, who is leading the district’s reentry team for summer and fall. The task force is working in conjunction with state and county public health officials.

The district’s “Return to Learn” plan, which outlines school district reentry strategies, must be turned in to the state by July 1, and must be ready to be implemented in August.

DeVore said the district is preparing for three possible scenarios.

The first is the district will be able to bring every student back on site. The second is that classrooms would stay closed, with 100 percent distance learning. And the third is a hybrid of the two — where some students will be on site and others will be remote.

“A key piece for us to consider is infrastructure,” DeVore said. “We are considering what we need to have in place, from a technology and facilities standpoint, to support any of those three options for continued learning.”

Other considerations include health and safety of students and staff, academic standards, and the social, emotional and behavioral health of students and staff, among others.

“As we work through all of these areas, one of the pieces that we are keeping in focus is equity,” DeVore said. “We need to make sure that what we are putting in for supports works for all students.”

She said the state has provided some guidance.

“A Des Moines public school plan is going to look a lot different than Charles City, and Charles City’s plan is going to look a lot different than a school such as MFL MarMac. The public health situation in each of those communities will determine the readiness of each district in each of those areas,” DeVore said.

“We don’t know what exactly the public health situation will be in August, September and October,” DeVore said. “It could be constantly changing, and we will need to be able to pivot from one plan to the next very quickly.”

Fisher said that there were some cultural issues to be considered as well.

“There are a lot of widely-held, varying opinions right now,” Fisher said. “We can’t get caught up in that. We have to rely on facts, data and the experts as we make decisions.”

DeVore said the state has allowed schools to open up for summer school starting June 1, and that the district is working on that. High School Assistant Principal Larry Wolfe is developing a strategy, and more information will be upcoming.

In other business on Tuesday, Fisher told the board that the district has developed a new early retirement policy that he will propose to the school board in the near future.

He said that every year there is a debate over whether the district should or shouldn’t offer early retirement benefits and incentives.

“That creates anxiety for our employees and for our board,” Fisher said. “It also violates one of our commitments as a school district — no surprises.”

Administration and teachers have met and come up with a new approach, Fisher said.

“I will eventually propose a standing policy, where employees will know, the board will know and it will be a consistent way that we can figure out early retirement,” said Fisher, who added that the policy will be financially sustainable, will not raise taxes and will save the district money.

Also Tuesday, Fisher and April Hanson, director of technology, provided a technology purchase update to the board.

At the meeting May 11, Fisher had said there were questions regarding whether the electrical hookup was included in the bid to build audio visual classrooms in the district. Marco Technologies had acknowledged there was an error, and they were “trying to figure it out.”

“They came back and said it was their fault,” Fisher said. “They will honor the bid and eat that cost. We really appreciate their leadership in doing the right thing.”

In March, the district approved a major technological purchase that included the 5-year lease of 132 audio visual classrooms from Marco Technologies at a monthly cost of $14,720.

Hanson said the technology upgrade was still on schedule to be ready at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

In other business on Tuesday, the board:

— Voted unanimously to extend the food service agreement with Taher Inc. for the 2020-21 school year, and change the meal fee to $3.44, up 10 cents from $3.34, which is a 3.1% increase. The agreement with Taher was approved in 2018 and renewed in 2019, and the district and Taher may extend the agreement each year.
— Officially said goodbye to 2019-20 student board members, Isaiah Tilton (senior) and Cael Ruzicka (junior).
— Approved the resignation of Shari Still, 7-12 German teacher, assistant girls basketball coach and 7th-grade volleyball coach, effective at the end of the school year.
— Approved the resignations of Danielle Rippentrop, head girls basketball coach, effective May 26; and Andrew Christensen, 10th-grade basketball coach, effective at the end of the school year.
— Approved the appointments of Rick Lynch and Alec Elsbernd, summer technology interns, at a wage of $9 per hour, starting June 1; and Cole Reams, 10th-grade baseball coach, at a salary of $3009, effective June 1.