Saturday, March 28, 2020

SASD COVID-19 update on district operations and financial planning

During her opening comments at Tuesday night’s online meeting, while giving the Sparta School Board a COVID-19 update, Dr. Amy Van Deuren simply stated, “The key to our actions overall is that we want to move quickly and be responsive, but we want to move together and having laid the foundation that will get us to the other side of this thing for however long it lasts.” 

Up until April 6, the job of teachers and principals is to connect with families and each other through the platform Modern Teacher, which is tailored to both digital and blended learning. 

“I’m already in the platform conversing with teachers and there are a lot of really great ideas as teachers are figuring out how this can work and how they can make their online and remote learning opportunities robust,” Van Deuren said. 

Students have full menus of enrichment activities and the staff is talking to each other and working out the kinks. There are currently three learning management systems in the district, which is the platform for digital learning, including SeeSaw, Schoology and Google Classroom. 

As the district moves to a full remote learning platform, teachers will be expected to create differentiated learning plans based on essential standards and skills through choice boards, play based learning, online learning centers, NewsELA and small group planning for students of all ages. 

“We’ve already got teachers figuring out how to make videos that students can watch, we have staff reading books and putting that out to students and we have students keeping learning logs,” Van Deuren explained. “There’s just a lot of really good practices moving forward that we have staff getting students use to using right now.” 

The health and well-being of students during this time is extremely important to the district. Mental health professionals, counselors and district nurses continue to work hard to connect families to resources to remove any barriers to learning, especially for those enrolled in special ed programs.

Nutrition Services staff has been working overtime, delivering meals to students at four different pickup locations as well as nine different neighborhood bus stops. As of the board meeting Tuesday night, staff had distributed over 5,000 meals district wide.

“What’s becoming apparent is at the bus stops, people have been gathering in groups and so in the interest of  minimizing the amount of physical contact and keeping all of us well for as long as possible, we will no longer be doing the bus stops,” Van Deuren said, adding that starting this week, nutrition services will only be distributing meals at the pick-up locations of Meadowview Middle School, Sparta High School, Southside Elementary School and Cataract Elementary School.

Starting Monday, March 30, staff will be handing out two days’ worth of food at Meadowview and Cataract so families will only have to come three days each week.

Another major component district staff must consider during this pandemic is managing district resources wisely, trying to watch unnecessary spending and being mindful that the district may need some resources. Purchases of resources right now are those needed to facilitate remote and online learning. 

“Please know that we’re not buying stuff just to get through this next month or two. The last thing we want to do is have a room full of coronavirus remote learning stuff that sits in a closet somewhere,” Van Deuren said. “Whatever we’re buying now needs to be part of our future learning plan.”

Funds for this school year have already been allocated by the state and levied for; the budget will not change based on the current pandemic and any unspent money won’t carryover; however, the use of this budget will affect next year’s funding. 

“If we don’t spend our allocation, we don’t get state aided on the funds for 2020-2021, which has tax implications. There is no advantage to not spending our allocated funds, but that being said, we need to be mindful that we have enough funding for the right resources in the right places moving forward,” Van Deuren said. “That includes people and things. We know there’s some shifting and we’re trying to figure out exactly how that looks.”

The 2020-2021 budget is part of the current biennial budget and is still subject to change with any new legislation, therefore, Director of Business Services Leah Hauser is uncertain of what the impacts may be at this time. 

Administration is also assessing in what areas more help is needed. Right now, there are a lot of hourly staff positions within the district who are out of work. 

“As we move forward, we’re certainly starting to identify where some need may be,” Van Deuren added. “We may end up creating some different kind of positions.”

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