By Wanda Hanson
COVID-19 took the spotlight at the Houston School Board meeting June 19 as the members of the board used technology to meet virtually. Using Zoom and YouTube applications, the board heard updates about the progression of plans for next school year. Since Governor Walz had had a recent news conference, Superintendent Abraham was able to give more details on next year’s plans. Since buses are to be at half capacity, she foresaw no issues with most bus routes.
Abraham noted that an intern at the district has been calculating the capacity of the elementary classrooms to maximize the space. Current requirements are 50% of capacity or six-foot distance between students. She was confident that the school would be able to do a kind of blend with everyone back at school and a hybrid model. Abraham noted that parents would be able to screen their own students for high temperatures and the elementary and high school also have thermal scanners available. Board members questioned if the school would be supplying thermometers to the families; Abraham was uncertain about that, responding that “there are a lot of needs that won’t all fit in the budget.”
Schools will not be told by the state until August 1 which scenario they need to plan on — at school, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two. The Department of Education has already suggested to parents that if they are not comfortable sending their students back to school, they should look at on line possibilities. Abraham commented that enrollment at MNVA could increase as a result. She went on to say that K-8 will not be able to move to a supplemental model at mid-year as high school can due to the curriculum.
COVID-19 funding sources were discussed; EESER Funds — both formula funds and grant funds are expected to total $128,000 and can be spent district wide. Current state requirements are that each adult should have cloth masks and maybe the high schoolers will need them to wear in passing times when six foot distancing is not possible. The district will need a COVID-19 communications person — this is not to be the district nurse).
School lunches will be changing as well; there will be no self-serve by the students. Students in the lunch line will need to observe the standard six-foot distancing requirement.
Parents have already been surveyed regarding distance learning. The majority of respondents felt distance learning was not a sound learning experience. Parents in general do not feel confident in teaching; they felt, as one parent replied, “Students need to be back in school.” Once a decision has been made on which scenario will be used to begin the year, parents will again be surveyed regarding what additional training or help parents need to help their children to be successful in whatever delivery method is needed. The Planning Committee for back to school has been meeting to look at funding and the existing distance learning plan. There are representatives on the committee from each department of the district.
Technology goals stating that by the fall of 2020 the district would improve technology for digital learning were discussed. Board member Mimi Carlson asked for a rewording of the goal to encompass the entire year in order to be a strategic goal. Schoology as a learning management system will be examined and discussed by the technology committee if possible. The elementary emails didn’t work with Schoology during distance learning in the spring. Board member Michaeleen Bonner felt this would be an appropriate thing to include in the strategic technology goal.
Abraham reported to the board that she had gone over the city lease agreement with an attorney. Currently the city is only using outdoor facilities; the attorney agreed that the lease agreement was acceptable. Port-a-potties are not rented or maintained by the school and will have signage on that stating that.
The basketball court surfacing will proceed now with backboard replacement waiting until social distancing requirements allow for more than one person at a hoop. Summer rec will be using the tennis courts with two students and one coach on the court.
The Facility Committee for long-term maintenance reported that the plumbing budgeted for 2020-2021 actually came in under budget. Both boys’ and girls’ bathrooms will be taken care of with no large projects coming up for the long term facility. Superintendent Abraham stated that $6 million in improvements to the buildings has been done from the 2015-2016 school year until 2019 without raising taxes.
Q Comp will be carrying over the stipends for MCAs to next year, increasing the stipend to $1,000 from the usual $500 for one year only (since no MCAs were taken this year.) Teachers were all at or above proficiency and earned their goal, except one or two. The comment was made that Q Comp may need an overhaul with more of a growth mindset. The question asked was, “How are 100% of the teachers meeting their goal?”
The retirement of special education teacher Suzanne Parker was part of new business for the evening. Superintendent Abraham declared, “She has been an absolute joy!”
As COVID-19 restrictions are loosening, the board decided to plan on an in-person meeting for the upcoming July 16 meeting, noting that they could still have the Zoom option available for anyone who felt ill or was uncomfortable with meeting in person. Social distancing will still be done, but the board felt it would be easier to meet in person.