At the November 5, 2020, Houston School Board meeting, Superintendent Krin Abraham declared that you just never could use the word always when it comes to this year. After announcing the 27.86 county numbers, Abraham shared that the county would probably be at 52.21 next week. County Nurse Audrey Staggemayer has encouraged all schools to prepare to move to distant learning. Abraham assured the school board that preschool would stay in person always, but changed it to as long as possible, unless the teachers are ill or quarantined. “I’m never going to use the word always this year — it doesn’t work.”
The board meeting was a hybrid one with members Mimi Carlson, Josh Norlien, and Michaeleen Bonner attending via Zoom and Arlin Peterson, Gene Lunda, and Tom Stilin in person. Working through technical difficulties, the board managed to successfully hold their meeting.
Abraham shared that since Gov. Walz’s executive order 20-94 with more guidance for distance learning was issued, the school has been working on distance learning plus. Under this model, the school can designate students to come into the building for classes such as SPED, welding, and some lab classes while the distance learning model is in place. Students will be podded to lower exposures. Board member Josh Norlien reiterated that parents can still choose to keep their kids home if they are nervous about the situation.
The executive order stipulated that 30 minutes a day needed to be carved out for distance learning under the hybrid model. Since it can be all at one time, Wednesday afternoons can be designated for distance learning and the elementary model can be called hybrid.
Order 20-94 also addressed truancy and encouraged schools to make sure students have made every effort to to attend. Attendance was clarified to be logging on; no longer are schools to go by proof of student engagement for attendance purposes. Abraham shared that Walz is not planning on forcing schools to go to distance learning.
The board decided how/when to cancel activities and sports because of COVID. If the school goes to distance learning due to staff shortage and not due to increases in active COVID cases in the school, the school will continue to participate in activities. If the school goes to distance learning due to active COVID cases, all planned activities will be canceled. Students are encouraged to ride with their parents to away events to save on exposure on the buses.
In his elementary principal report, Rick Bartz shared that preschool screening had been completed over several days at school. Students responded positively in the familiar environment and screening will be done that same way next year. Conferences were done via Zoom or over the phone. Bartz felt there was more time to meet with parents and it was more convenient for them as well.
High school principal, Michael Mangan, informed the board that eighth grade had attended Eagle Bluff for team building activities. The tent at the school will be taken down next week for the winter, but the stakes will be left in the ground so it can be put up as soon as possible in the spring. Since gaps in learning from the spring are becoming apparent, the Tuesday and Thursday after school program will resume and continue for the rest of the year. Teachers are volunteering their time to staff it.
MNVA principal Angela Specketer reported that MNVA enrollment is currently at just over 2,800 students. With interim assessments completed, MNVA is in the process of holding Data Meetings intended to implement strategies to support struggling students.
In other business, the board:
•Set a winter policy for school board meetings. If there is inclement weather the night of the regular meeting, the meeting will be held over Zoom; Supt. Abraham would still physically be at the school for the meeting;
•Set the canvass meeting for November 13 at 4 p.m. over Zoom; the date had to be changed because all counties will not have their results available until November 12;
•Hired 10 more teachers for MNVA as well as 10 advisors for clubs and groups; the high school hired dance and assistant dance team coaches and a junior high Knowledge Bowl coach. Senior high Knowledge Bowl may be added later depending on the success of the junior high online platform.
The next regular Houston School Board meeting will be held November 19, 2020 at 6 p.m. The public is welcome to attend or comment online on the school’s webpage.
The epidemiologist had recommended that Houston look at local and community numbers more than countywide numbers when determining which model to use. So far there isn’t an issue staffing the school even though some adults are quarantined.