Joe Ruskey of Dependable Solutions appeared before the board at the regular Houston School Board meeting May 20, 2021, to update them on the district’s technology. Ruskey told the board that they were trying to set a four- to five- year rotation for Chromebooks with about $33,000 spent this year and $48,000 to $50,000 in the following years. In addition, $5,000 will be spent on school desktops so they can last a few more years. An additional $15,000 will go to purchase Smartboards for art, music, and preschool; other classrooms got Smartboards last year.
Ruskey gave a total technology expense of $382,000 for the coming year with future yearly costs estimated at $423,000. COVID funding had covered some of the costs for the past year.
“Smartboards are embraced!” declared Ruskey as he shared that the staff was truly utilizing the new technology this year. All levels of the onsite school are using the management system Schoology; teachers are using Kami to instantly assess work digitally. He went on, “Teachers are collaborating more than ever before!”
Superintendent Krin Abraham thanked Dependable Solutions, “They have done a lot of the heavy lifting during the pandemic.” She noted that the staff felt they were part of the Houston Schools team.
The federal government has come out with ECF (Emergency Connectivity Funding); Abraham suggested that the proposed Chromebook $33,000 purchase should qualify for the funding.
Mimi Carlson asked for a meeting of the technology committee in August so the new superintendent could be included. Chair Tom Stilin suggested that the budget could be approved and then modifications could be made at that time if needed.
Abraham reported that the upcoming Houston County COVID numbers are projected to drop since no school zip codes have more than five new cases for the last week. Houston has no students in quarantine.
There will be additional funding grants for mental health and summer programming from the federal government which can be used beyond this summer. In addition school-linked mental health grants and learning acceleration and college-readiness programs will be available from the Department of Human Services. These grants could be used to cover the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health contract this year.
GEER II/ESSER II funding will be allocated for summer school after the fact based on the number of actual students who attend. ESSER III funds can be spent until September 30, 2023.
Face coverings will still be worn through June 4; graduation will have no social distancing requirements, but all attendees are asked to wear a mask.
The board decided to have the last Wednesday of the school year be a full, onsite day for all students in order for finals to be administered and all devices to be collected. This is a change from the normal COVID schedule for the year. Thursday will be a half day as scheduled.
Next year plans
Todd Lundberg, high school math teacher will be retiring January 3, 2022. The board decided to go with a suggestion that he be a math integrationist for the first semester working with small groups of students to close their math gaps. His salary will be paid with ESSER funds; this will allow the hiring of a replacement math instructor at the beginning of the year and provide essential help for students.
Addition of a half-time position of onsite instructional coach was discussed. Abraham reasoned that, with the spectrum of abilities having gotten “pretty wide” during the pandemic, it would be advisable to hire an instructional coach trained in differentiation to work with the teachers to best serve the students. Mimi Carlson opined that the teachers were “rock stars who didn’t need to be told how to differentiate.”
Since next year’s ninth grade class is large, an additional section will need to be added. The instructional coach position could be bundled with this needed teaching position or perhaps with Q-comp mentor. The school currently has no curriculum director. High school Principal Mangan said an instructional coach could help in the alignment and differentiation of the new science standards. Stilin suggested they “let it ride” until the next meeting. Arlin Peterson urged that it definitely be decided at the next meeting.
Abraham revisited the request for early outs on Wednesdays next year, suggesting a 2 p.m. dismissal. Teachers would then be able to work with small groups of struggling students to catch them up. Hurricane watch would be open and elementary students could be dropped at their daycare. High school students not in the targeted service sessions could use the time for School to Work or community service.
Mimi Carlson commented, “I just want to go back to the way it was — same time everyday!”
Tom Stilin said the purpose of this would be to help kids get back on track. “We need to do everything possible to help all kids succeed.” The board chose to table the discussion until July when Mary Morem is on board.
The next HoustonSchool Board meeting will be June 3, at 6 p.m. in the high school media center.