Majority opt for in-person schooling

Students outside Tainter Elementary during summer school.

It’s back to school this week for high school staff and next week for all staff of the Rice Lake Area School District who will attend professional learning sessions.

Typically the staff returns just prior to the start of school, but they asked to return sooner so they could prepare for all the changes the 2020-2021 school year brings.

District administrator Randy Drost told members of the Board of Education at their Aug. 10 virtual meeting that the sessions were moved up at the request of staff members.

“Based on the needs of staff, we have adjusted our traditional start of the school year plan to provide for expanded professional development opportunities,” Drost said. “Regardless of the learning environment, we need to be able to deliver instruction and content to best meet student needs.”

The RLASD is offering both in-person learning and distance learning this coming school year. The district administrator shared enrollment data related to the two options as of Aug. 10.

Of students in Grades 4K-12 who have made a choice, an average of 17% (or 358) are choosing distance learning—ranging from 11.4% (or 21) in Grade 9 to 21.1% (or 32) in Grade 10.

Families of another 117 students have yet to make a choice of learning options.

Of families who have responded, 1,029 students have indicated they will not be using district provided transportation.

Based on that initial data, staffing for the distance learning options have been determined as follows:

• At the elementary level, a current grade level teacher for each grade will become the distance learning teacher. No hiring of additional staff is anticipated.

• At the middle school level, four current teachers will become DL teachers and anticipated is the need to hire one additional teacher.

• At the high school level, the need to hire between one and two additional teachers is anticipated.

The Department of Public Instruction and/or Department of Health Services is expected to release additional guidance soon. This will include Regulatory Flexibility, Decision Framework and Outbreak Guidance as well as an update on athletics.

Drost said if there is a situation  where the entire district needs to move to distance learning for everyone, all students would participate daily. Basic elements will  include:

• Students actively participating in both synchronous and/or flipped instruction on a daily basis;

• Staff members reporting to school each day

• Scheduling of students to come in for individual/small group work with staff members, if permissible.

Summer school update

Summer school director Jennifer Jensen gave an update on how the sessions have been going.

Jensen said in the first session of summer school, 271 students registered for the first week which increased to 287 students for the second week.

However absenteeism was a problem, ranging from a low of 31 students to a high of  80 students on the day that COVID-19 numbers spiked due primarily to the outbreak at Cumberland. She said on the following Monday, the day the statewide mask mandate went into effect, 67 students were absent.

Yet staff commented that students who did attend were excited to be back and seemed unphased by their masks. They said it was a great dry run, and the small classes worked well.

Jensen said masks did not pose a problem at the elementary level, although there were some issues with masks at the middle school.

Jensen estimated that about 40% of students wore masks, although it was not required.

She said busing went well, while a large number of parents provided transportation.

Board actions

Actions by the school board included:

• Accepting employment resignations submitted by Leigh Wiley, Jessica Huehn and Melinda Pedersen, all aides; and Collin Driggs, paraprofessional and JV girls coach for volleyball and basketball,

• Approving employment of Laura Hill and Jill Davis as special education teachers; Waylon Buck, paraprofessional; Kelsey Dutter, for the play advisor position at the Middle School; and Jennifer Burish as receptionist/office assistant at the Administration Office.

• Awarding its Staff Excellence Award to school nurses Trisha Neuser and Tina King. Pupil Services director Sue Strouf said they have both have put in a significant amount of time prior to summer school putting processes, protocols and procedures in place, fielding questions at department meetings and remaining calm, thoughtful and reassuring throughout this pandemic.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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