Schools facing a conundrum about how to move forward

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 3/23/20

KANSAS — COVID-19 and the mandatory school closing was a major topic of conversation at the Wednesday, March 18, board of education meeting for Kansas Community Unit School District …

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Schools facing a conundrum about how to move forward

Posted

KANSAS — COVID-19 and the mandatory school closing was a major topic of conversation at the Wednesday, March 18, board of education meeting for Kansas Community Unit School District #3.

Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered all schools stay closed March 17 to March 30 and Wednesday the Illinois State Board of Education advised administrators to expect the order to extend beyond March 30.

“We don’t have any idea how long this will last,” interim district superintendent John Hasten told board members. “I think the governor will extend it beyond two weeks.”

Hasten said students were given packets of study material before they were sent home Monday, March 16, for the unscheduled two-week break. He explained the material in the packets was designed as review to keep students where they are rather than a way to instruct them with new information.

The superintendent added it is doubtful the school will create new review packets if the closing is continued.

“My fear is this will extend to a point we will have to cancel graduation,” Hasten said. “I don’t see prom happening.”

Board members voiced concerns about assigning grades and credit if the students do not come back to finish the school year.

According to Hasten, the simplest option is to make whatever grades students had on March 16 the semester grade. The school had three full quarters completed and was just briefly into the fourth quarter when the closing was ordered.

Granting course credit, Hasten said, is the board of education’s domain so the district has the authority to grant a full year of credit even though an entire year of work was not completed.

“If we miss eight weeks of school, how are we going to get the kids caught up next year?” asked board member Matt Ehlers.

Hasten said that has already been a discussion with the teachers and all are aware of the special circumstances. The elementary teachers know students advancing to the next grade level will not be coming in as fully prepared as they should be and a longer period of review will be needed to get them back on pace.

“It’s going to be a lot of work in that first quarter to get them caught up,” said Hasten, adding the biggest challenge will be addressing the loss in math carryover.

Even though schools are closed and staff is not required to be in the building, Hasten praised the cooks for coming in daily to pack carry-out sack lunches for students. He said 17 lunches were prepared Tuesday, 30 were scheduled for Thursday and he anticipates the numbers to keep climbing.

“We are glad we are putting food into kids’ hands,” said Hasten. “Some kids might not have eaten if we hadn’t done this.”

He also commended the district’s maintenance staff for taking advantage of the break to thoroughly clean and sanitize the building, just in case school resumes.

Principal Cindy Spencer used part of her report to extend kudos to the Tri-County Girls Basketball team for a third place finish in the state tournament, and she thanked the booster club and private donors for providing money so the girls could buy the expensive state tournament apparel.

Spencer announced the district received a Flossie Stafford grant for special education and the money will be used to purchase two iPads, or similar devices. A $6,931 grant was received from the Edgar County Community Foundation for the purchase of 20 Chromebooks and a cart.

“Now both floors will have a portable Chromebook cart,” said Spencer.

The board awarded a contract to Industrial Services of Mattoon, as the low bidder, to install a new membrane roof on the 1956 addition to the building. The company’s bid of $192,300 was below the architect’s estimate of $200,000.

Hasten said the district received a $50,000 state maintenance grant and the rest of the cost will come from the district’s share of the Edgar County School Facility tax and the district’s health, life safety fund.

In another action, the board approved 2 percent raises for non-certified staff and administrators to stay in line with the 2 percent raise that is part of the teachers’ contract for 2020-2021.

Board members expressed disappointment at the Shiloh Board of Education rejecting a plan to expand the Tri-County coop to include all junior high sports.

“I left the (committee) meeting thinking all of the schools were on board with it,” said Ehlers. “For the first time since the cooperative started, I felt like this was a way to look at how the cooperative should look.”

Kansas did approve accepting Shiloh High School into the co-op for scholastic bowl competition.

Following an executive session the following staff changes were made: non-tenured teachers Beth Gibson, Christy Pinkston, Linsey Shawver and Bridget Walters were rehired for next year; Amanda Gough and Jennifer Staley were re-hired and awarded tenure; Gena Bunch-Epperson and April Noel were re-employed as part-time teachers; Tracy Porter was hired as a full-time teacher; and Skyler Harford was released from her teaching position for next year.