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A review of the district’s COVID mitigation efforts was a main topic of discussion at the Monday, September 14 meeting of the Mount Ayr Community Schools board of directors.
Elementary principal Chris Elwood reported procedures are running according to plan as outlined in the district’s Return to Learn guidelines.
He commended his staff and especially bus drivers who are following mitigation plans for social distancing, masks, and disinfection efforts.
To implement social distancing during meals, Elwood said breakfasts are being served to K-3 students in the lunchroom and to 4-6 students at tables in the gym.
On a rotating weekly basis, some students eat in the lunch room while others carry their lunches back to their classrooms.
Masks continue to be required in hallways and other areas where social distancing is not practical.
“It’s gone as well as could be expected,” Elwood said. “I feel like the things that we put in place for Return to Learn are working.”
He added, however, that he knew it was just a matter of time before an elementary student or staff member tested positive for COVID.
“If that happens,” he said, “we’ll have to quarantine that classroom and more likely shut that classroom down and do remote learning.”
Secondary principal Bill Huntington was asked to clarify how students on quarantine at home are counted in the daily attendance.
Huntington said since the students are not present in the building, the state instructed the school to report those students as on “extended absence.”
He added those students have the opportunity to keep up with their classwork online.
“We’ve told staff to be incredibly flexible in regards to getting the work back,” he said. “We want to work with people, not punish them.”
In light of two positive cases of COVID in his building, Huntington thought the efforts at contact tracing were effective and handled efficiently.
“The mitigation, as far as I’m concerned, is really working,” he said, and he commended staff and students for adhering to guidelines for masks and social distancing. He credited those efforts for reducing the exposure to other students from the two positive cases.
All students previously on quarantine were expected to return to class this week.
Both Elwood and Huntington stated results from assessments of student performance revealed in most cases a significant decline due to students not having been in school since mid-March.
Elwood said only 50 percent of students in grades 2-6 met the expected benchmarks for student proficiency this fall as compared to 63 percent last fall.
He reminded the board that the FAST assessments are given in the fall, winter, and spring, thus giving staff time to help students catch up.
In reporting eighth grade performance results, Huntington said only 2 percent of students fell into the “high risk” category, down from 7 percent among last year’s seventh grade.
Those at “some risk,” however, jumped from 24 percent last year to 44 percent this year. “Low risk” numbers increased slightly from 33 percent in 2019 to 36 percent this year.
Those reaching the “college path” benchmark dropped from 33 percent last year to only 18 percent this year.
“Our really risk kids actually moved up – it’s was our kids on the upper end kind of slid down a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully, as we get back in the groove of having more school than we’ve had since March, that’ll turn around.”
At Monday’s meeting the board approved the following personnel actions:
• added 20 additional days to the contract of technology director Mark Edwards to reflect increased duties related to preparations for potential online learning.
• hired Darla Sobotka as half-time Title I teacher.
• hired Kinda Larsen as the district’s part-time home school coordinator.
• renewed the contract with Jodie Geist as the district’s grant writer.
• approved a lane change on the salary schedule for Kristin Graham, who moved from the BA+15 lane to the masters degree lane.
In other business the board:
• added two additional early dismissals to the school calendar. Early dismissals on September 30 and October 14 will be devoted to staff preparations in the event the district must resort to full-time online instruction.
• received a letter from the Iowa High School Athletic Association recognizing that Mount Ayr had zero ejections of players or coaches during the 2019-2020 school year.
• approved the Employee Handbook, board policies, board goals, and application for allowable growth and supplemental aid for negative special education balance.