School Board Reviews Fall Planning

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Cameron Bren

MIDDLETON–The Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District Board of Education reviewed the latest developments in the district’s planning for students returning to school in the fall. The board chose to have all grade levels begin school virtually, but will revisit the decision at its Sept. 28 meeting based on new data and experiences of schools that are offering in-person instruction.

Superintendent Dana Monogue said a shift to in-person instruction will be guided by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Public Health of Madison and  Dane County. She noted no guidance had yet been given from either agency specific to schools but is expected imminently. 

“Because there is no state level plan, or specific state level or county guidance yet, every district in the state and in our county is making their own decisions about how to approach the upcoming school year,” Monogue said. “Most have decided to begin virtually while a small number have decided to start the school year in a hybrid model at the elementary level.”

Districts starting the year with hybrid models include Waunakee K-4, Verona K-2, Oregon K-5, Cambridge K-5. No districts in the area are offering in-person instruction for middle or high school students.

Monogue said the Department of Health Services is rating counties based on their rate, trajectory and activity level of COVID-19 cases. Only six counties are rated medium while the rest are rated high, including Dane County.

Monogue said the district can move to an in-person model when the county is given a medium rating by the Department of Health Services and Dane County when specific guidance is given by those agencies. 

If and when an in-person hybrid model is possible the district will need two weeks to arrange transportation and set up learning spaces to adhere to social distancing, Monogue said. The hybrid model would likely launch first for elementary students and then for middle and high school students. 

Director of Elementary Education Rainey Briggs shared the virtual learning daily schedule for teachers and students. Certain hours sync up students and teachers for things like morning meetings, conferences with small groups and individual students while other hours serve as pre-recorded lessons and independent work time.

“I give a lot of kudos to the teams that came together to create and develop what we deemed as powerful for instruction and change what was not right in some people’s eyes from the spring,” Briggs said. “We are in a place where we had ample amount of time to bring focus to what it is that we want to see students know and be able to do while also thinking about how this supports families and parents, as they may or not be there with them.”

Director of Secondary Education Laura Love shared sample schedules for middle and high school students.

For middle school there is an A and B day schedule which alternates between core subjects and specials which will be live virtual instruction from at 9:10 a.m.-1 p.m. On A day, mornings start with 30 minutes of advisory time. The last 45 minutes of the day is flexible time for teachers to check in with small groups via zoom. 

High school students will have seven block periods split into A and B days from 9:10 a.m.-1:50 p.m. Advisory time each day will be from 11-11:30 a.m. and flexible time for the last 50 minutes of each B day.

School lunches will be available daily for students which will be delivered by bus.

Special education staff will provide in-person instruction for a small number of students. Students with IEPs are being assigned case workers who will be reaching out to students and families.

Deputy Superintendent Sheri Cyra said the district is offering a fully virtual option for the entire year. In a survey sent out in July about 17 percent of families would opt for that option, Cyra said. The district needs to identify who those students are and what grade levels they are in. MCPASD teachers that are available will teach those students otherwise they will be taught by a Wisconsin eSchool Network teacher, Cyra said.

Board member Todd Smith asked how the advisory time is used. Love said it is primarily to provide guidance to students with virtual learning. Smith said he wants to make sure all staff have the training and technical understanding to be able to know how to help.

Board member Katy Morgan asked about students having adequate Internet access. Technology director James Blodgett said the district still has WiFi hotspots available but currently not in service. He said the DPI (Department of Public Instruction) is working with Charter Spectrum to establish broadband Internet which will be much faster and more reliable. 

Blodgett said the program is taking longer than expected to get up and running but he is reasonably confident it will be ready by the start of the school year. The service will be free for families who already qualify for free or reduced lunch, while free or discounted service will be available to families unable to pay the full cost of service.  

Board member Minza Karim asked what students should do if they are having connection issues. Blodgett said they should call the district help desk to troubleshoot.

Board member Anne Bauer asked if students will be able to go back to live instruction if they happen to miss it. Love said they will be able to. 

Morgan asked if daily attendance will be taken. Cyra said they are waiting for DPI guidance but would like to be less restrictive. She added teachers will be monitoring who is participating and who needs more engagement. 

Board president Annette Ashley asked if office hours will be available for students seeking extra help. Love said in the spring office hours weren’t being used so instead that is built into schedule with advisory and flexible time.  

Director of Student Services Barb Buffington said her team has worked to identify students with low engagement in the spring and looking into alternatives to supplemental resources such as delivering books and materials to their homes or meeting in-person in community centers.

Assistant Director of Student Services Cindy Malcheski said she is creating a system for families to request assistance for social and emotional well-being. Programming for the first few weeks will focus on building community, positive relationships and how to be a virtual learner. She is also collaborating with community organizations to provide mental health basic needs and mental health resources.

Director of Business Services Lori Ames said she sent out emails and letters to staff about the upcoming school year and the leave options they have if they become sick. She also communicated the board’s decision to open the retirement window for two weeks. So far one staff member has elected to use.

Ames said she is working on employment opportunities for support staff, but said there won’t be enough work to fill all positions. She is also working on having a substitute pool ready for when in-person instruction begins. 

Ames said she is keeping track of costs and savings. There have been savings in staffing and operation costs but revenue decreases in facility rentals, interest income and fees.

Ames said they are currently planning out distancing floor markings, placement of plexiglass, isolation rooms for someone showing symptoms before they can be sent home, signage and sanitization stations. They are also working on obtaining PPE for staff including face shields from UW Makerspace that have cloth covering around the bottom.

Ames expects many parents will drop their kids off when the district returns to in-person instruction. She said a survey will be sent to parents asking if they plan to use transportation which will determine bus routes.

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