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North Crawford School District adjusts to challenges
North Crawford

NORTH CRAWFORD - Meeting remotely through a computer conneciton, the North Crawford School Board gathered to discuss the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closure on instruction. The board’s meeting was held on Wednesday, April 22.

North Crawford Superintendent Brandon Munson kicked off the meeting recognizing the work of the staff to pivot to distance learning in the past weeks.

“I want to take the opportunity to shine a light on our staff and the way they’ve stepped up to handle a very challenging situation,” Munson said. “I commend them for their dedication, commitment, flexibility, diligence, and patience.”

Munson reported that as a parent with three children enrolled in the school, he has been very impressed with the schoolwork that the children have done. He said his kids have been challenged and pushed to learn new things.

“And, I need to give a shout out to the foodservice staff as well,” Munson said. “This week they surpassed the milestone of serving 20,000 meals for students.”

Munson commented that “adversity always seems to breed something positive.” He said he can’t commend the North Crawford staff enough for the way they have pulled together in a time of crisis to support the students and families.

Schools remain closed

Munson told the board that with the extension of the ‘Safer at Home’ order through May 26 had also come the order for the schools to remain closed through the end of the year. What this means is that the buildings, grounds, athletic facilities, and even the playground is closed to the public through June 30.

Munson also reported that the WIAA Board of Control had decided that the spring sports season and tournaments would be cancelled. He said the board had left open the possibility that as of July 1, they might allow a 30-day season where the athletes could come together for practices and perhaps some games, as long as the seniors are included.

“It will all depend on where the state is at with allowing gatherings at that point,” Munson said.

The question was raised about whether the district would offer a summer school program this year.

“The staff has discussed whether to hold a virtual summer school session in June, and think it’s not a good idea because students, families and teachers will likely be pretty burnt out after this last semester,” Munson reported. “We are considering holding a session at the end of July or beginning of August.”

There was discussion of what the impacts of not holding the summer session might be the district’s state aid. Munson explained that the impacts would not be felt of lower FTEs (full time equivalents) next year, but further down the road. The formula used to calculate state aid is based on a three-year rolling average. Munson said he had also heard discussion of DPI including a ‘hold harmless’ clause in contracts with the school districts so they would not be penalized for the decisions they were forced to make to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elementary instruction

Elementary Principal Amanda Killeen reported on the different instructional strategies being employed with different groups of elementary students.

“In deciding how we would go forward with instruction during the school shut down, our priorities were maintaining a connection with our students, setting realistic expectations, and using the ‘lens of equity’ to be mindful of the many different situations students experience in a home learning environment.

For Pre-K students, Mrs. Jeardeau and Mrs. Varo send weekly lesson ideas to parents. Examples of lesson ideas include spelling your name using sticks or rocks, counting and comparing the number of buds on two different branches of a tree or bush, and more. The two teachers also offer recorded teacher read-alouds, and hold scheduled Zoom meetings with families.

Students in kindergarten through second grade are using the online platform ‘Seesaw’ for their course work. Students are being asked to work one hour each day. This includes 45 minutes on academic content, and 15 minutes on special activities. Teachers are connecting with students via recorded read alouds, welcome videos, and verbal feedback on their work.

Students in third through fifth grade are using the  ‘Google Classroom’ platform for online learning. Students are being asked to work for two-and-one-half hours each day. This includes 120 minutes on academic content, and 30 minutes on special activities. Teachers are connecting with students through chat features to answer questions, video recorded morning meetings and verbal feedback on their work.

In the third trimester of school, students will be graded as follows:

• Teachers will give formative feedback and re-teaching, and will not give traditional standards-based grades.

• Reports card will note that standards-based grades were not given for the trimester.

• Teachers, the school counselor and the administrator will reach out to families who are not engaging with the online platforms to find solutions and help to support student learning.

• The start of the 2020-2021 school year will focus on solidifying key concepts from the prior year.

“What we’ve experienced is that the teachers have adapted really well to using these online platforms, and are able to effectively collaborate to deliver instruction to our students with special needs,” Killeen observed. “Our special education instructors are able to go in to the system, and modify the regular education lesson plans for their students without the need to create a separate lesson.”

Middle and High School

Middle school and high school students are also using the ‘Google Classroom’ online learning platform. Principal Toby Tripalin said that mobile hotspots, which allow students to connect to the internet even if their family does not have internet access, have been delivered to the majority of families that needed them.

Students are expected to check their Google Classroom and e-mail for instructions for the day, and for the coming week. Students are being asked to spend between three to four-and-one-half hours on school work each day. To connect with students, teachers use Zoom and Google Meet for instruction and/or office hours.

Pass/fail grading

Tripalin told the board that in order to continue to provide education in the middle and high school during the COVID-19 closure, the district had decided to move toward a ;pass/fail model’ for the second semester of 2020.

The board voted unanimously to approve Tripalin’s recommendation. 

 The minimum percentage to pass a class will be 60 percent.  Tripalin said that there may be circumstances that prevent students from achieving the minimum percentage, but they still could pass and we will look at individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

“The focus of our teachers is effort, building relationships, and we will take into consideration individual situations,” Tripalin said. “We will be putting more weight on the work that was done prior to school closures when determining semester grades.”

The Pass/Fail system will not count toward students GPA or class rank, but they will receive credit for all completed classes. Finally, there will be no final exams for the 2019-2020 school year. Additionally, students receiving special education services will have progress in their IEP goals tracked in SEEDS (Special Education Electronic Data) system.

Tripalin went on to explain that classes will look different in the beginning of next school year.  He said that there will have to be considerably more review and refreshers than the school would have in the typical beginning of a class.

Students who fail a class this semester will be considered for a remedial class in the following school year. If minimal or failing work is done in a class, staff and administration will decide whether the student needs to retake the class if it is required for graduation or necessary to move on to the next sequential class.

Failing grades will still impact athletic eligibility in the 2020-2021 school year.  Individual circumstances will be considered for some cases, and final decisions will be made by the principal and athletic director. 

Student graduation requirements will remain at 25 credits, but Tripalin said they are willing to look at individual circumstances and determine alternative requirements if they are deemed them to be credible.  

“Communication between students and teachers will be vital during this time when we are providing virtual education,” Tripalin said. “Students who make no attempt at engaging in the process, returning communication efforts or disregarding any teaching attempts may fall into attendance and failure issues.”

Tripalin said that if students and families are disregarding the district’s attempts at communication, then the issue will be passed on to the truancy officer to follow up.

Special education

North Crawford Director of Special Education Cara Wood informed the board about how her team was continuing to deliver services to special education students, and the services that could not be delivered in a virtual learning setting.

“Case managers are in communication with families and students, adapting communication to their individual needs,” Wood explained. “We try to use the communication tools that work best for families, be it e-mail, teleconferencing, or Zoom for speech therapy. With some of our older students, we have even used texting as a means to make contact with them.”

Wood said that the reality is that almost no student is going to be able to receive the instructional minutes mandated in their IEPs (individualized education plan) under the current virtual learning circumstances. Some services require in-person physical contact. She said she has instructed her staff to keep very careful documentation of instructional minutes and challenges.

“There will be some IEP progress reports and assessments,” Wood said. “And, as of today, we have held 16 IEP meetings virtually and new IEPs are being written.”

Wood explained that her department is collaborating very closely with the DPI around how to be flexible in these times, and what best practices should be.

Financial updates

Superintendent Brandon Munson told the board that, in the area of finances, he had both good and bad news.

For good news, Munson explained that the CARES Act, passed by the federal government, distributes money to each state.  Wisconsin will use its Title I formulary allocations to distribute money to each school district.  

“We have been told to plan on receiving 75-80 percent of our 2019-20 Title I allocation,” Munson said.  “For North Crawford, that would mean an allocation between $100,000-$107,000 that we should receive in additional stimulus money.”

He said that the federal government will also be sending an additional allocation to each governor to use how they wish.  

“We have not been given any indication at this point that Governor Evers will be passing any of that down to school districts,” Munson said.  “I believe he has flexibility to use that money however he wishes.”

Explaining what the bad side of the budget picture would be, Munson said that DPI is warning school districts that they should plan for a very challenging year ahead.  

“The state is projected to lose $2 billion in revenue during this shutdown.  Without revenue, there are no additional dollars to allocate to schools through the aid formula,” Munson said.  “We're being told to budget for a $0 per pupil increase at best, potentially a reduction of $50 per pupil in state aid.  We were originally slated to receive $176/student in additional aid money for next year.”

In addition, Munson explained, the district is anticipating a health insurance increase of five percent for next year, as well as a potential two percent increase to salaries.  With the increase in salary and benefits, coupled with a flat line or potential decrease in per pupil state aid, he explained that the district could be in trouble with the budget next year.

Board member Judy Powell asked if the district would have to return any of the grants it had received.

“Fortunately, with both state and federal grants, schools are being allowed to carry the funding over to the next school year,” Munson replied.

In other business

In other business, the board:

• Accepted the resignation of first grade teacher Becky Molledahl “with regret.” Molledahl spoke during the public input part of the agenda, saying “I want to thank the board for 20 years of love and support. It was a hard decision to make, but I think it is the best one for my family.”

• Hired Andrew Waters as a high school cross categorical special education teacher

• Approved a first grade teacher transfer

• Postponed a decision on the 2020-2021 teaching and service contracts to the May meeting

• Heard that Jill Stefonek had been re-elected to the school board, and that Tanya Forkash and Ed Heisz had also been elected to the board.

• Thanked outgoing board member Wade Dull for his many years of service on the board.

• Approved four Trojan Scholarships of $250 each to be awarded to four deserving senior students

• Postponed a decision about a donation to the Gays Mills Swimming Pool to the May meeting

• Voted to accept a donation to the special education program from the group ‘America’s Farmers Grow Communities.’