Monett schools gear up for extended break

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Educators focus on virtual learning, extended summer school

The Monett school district will launch a number of unprecedented initiatives in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that has closed school at least into April.

During Thursday's meeting of the school board, Superintendent Russ Moreland reported teachers were gearing up to provide education services for the coming months, even if classes do not resume. The immediate priority, he said, was urging students to “get caught up” if they are lagging in any of their instruction up to the point of dismissal for the wellness break that extended the spring break for two weeks.

“If there's a silver lining to this, DESE (the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) has given us alternative instruction for the rest of the year, designed for situations like this,” Moreland said. “Arkansas is already doing this. We were going to need to do this anyway.”

Several years ago, Monett Superintendent Brad Hanson proposed holding virtual school as an alternative to holding classes during extended severe weather. DESE did not approve moving forward with the proposal. Moreland said Assistant Superintendent Mike Evans has met with administrative teams several times to shape a plan putting virtual teaching in place. A number of holes in the approach had been identified and were being addressed, he said.

“We weren't ready to go full-time virtual education,” Moreland said. “We thought we were, but we really aren't.”

Students from middle and high school were being encouraged to come to school to pick up their Chromebooks and other devices that would enable them to do distance learning. Classes for fifth-grade students and up would be available through Google Classroom. Teachers at lower grades were developing activities and teaching plans for students to follow in the coming weeks.

Asked about students having access to online offerings, Moreland said, there's a small number that doesn't have access.

“We have some devices students can check out,” he said. “At Monett Elementary, we have WiFi outside. If students can get it [download the program or activity directions], they can work offline. We've got kids all assigned a device at Elementary. They just don't take them home. It may take a few days to deliver them all.”

The district is absorbing some risk in this move. Moreland noted middle school students had been able to take devices home if parents paid insurance. Now, the emphasis was to get devices into the hands of students regardless of the risk.

Moreland said he made a video to post explaining many of these details. Directions from the state continue to change. At the end of last week, he said, school days lost to the coronavirus would not have to be made up. DESE announced it will cancel all state testing for the year. Since DESE takes the highest scores a district has for three years as its foundation for accreditation, Moreland said Monett would not be hurt by the lack of latest numbers.

“We're focused for the next two weeks on supplemental materials so kids don't go backward,” Moreland said. “Elementary has got resources they can use. A lot of teachers are communicating through an electronic platform. If we're not back April 6, we've got to turn more to electronic teaching. We'll determine who doesn't have internet and prepare a packet for them. Most do.”

He pointed out elementary teachers at the same grade level are working in teams to cover the same ground. At the secondary level, classes were being set up more by subject matter, such as algebra 1. Until teachers return, Moreland admitted some of this could be “hit or miss.” He asked teachers to share resources. Many companies had offered services for free, such as the technology company Zoom. Several tools already in use, such as ST Math and BrainPop, were already familiar and would be used more.

Middle School Principal Jay Apostol said some textbooks were available digitally. For specific lessons, he said teachers could take a photo of a specific page and upload it for students to see. Moreland added there were additional resources for parents online on the district's website, some divided by grade level.

“We will be better because this is forcing us to do it,” Moreland added. “We'll learn more as we go.”

Beyond the immediate instructional strategy, Moreland said educators across the state were also considering what would happen if classes cannot resume in the short term. He reviewed the meal program taking shape, where the district will continue preparing breakfast and lunches, both from the middle school/intermediate school cafeteria and from established bus stops. A strategy was taking shape to deliver meals to rural students as well. Prom for the high school, slated for the third week in April, was looking “more unlikely.”

If classes go beyond the end of school, slated for May 21, Moreland said DESE had waived the mandatory break between the regular school session and summer school. He could see the possibility of back-to-back summer school sessions, and providing food throughout the summer.

As a new initiative, Moreland said the district was developing plans to offer a free daycare service to health care providers, law enforcement and other emergency services personnel. He said Monett Elementary could be used for the service, and paraprofessionals could be employed as staff. He offered no timetable on how soon such a service could begin.

Moreland added maintenance crews may need to begin working on summer projects, since the summer routine may not offer the familiar breaks when crews wax floors and other projects.

“There's nothing normal now,” Moreland said. “Every day is a new set of questions.”

For example, he said, providing instruction for regular students poses its own challenges. Special education students with individual education programs (IEPs) are also supposed to receive scheduled physical and occupational therapy. How that is supposed to happen hasn't been worked out yet.

Moreland praised the support the district has received from the community during the uncertainty. People have called and volunteered to cook. Life360 Community Services has stepped in to provide evening meals for students. Domino's Pizza provided 80 pizzas for last Thursday's lunch for students. According to board member Brian Hunter, Domino's committed to providing 130 pizzas every Thursday to continue the effort.

“We see people come together,” Moreland said.

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