“To return everything to full speed on September 8, 2020, seems stressful,” Deer River Schools Superintendent Jeff Pesta stated at the Monday, August 10, 2020 regular school board meeting. “It’s highly likely we will be able to do a hybrid.”
The State, Pesta said, is requiring the District to give everyone a week’s notice. Most current changes would be posted on the District’s website or Facebook page, with current plans for families choosing in-person learning or Warrior online.
“Trying to keep the integrity of the school calendar,” he explained, adding they could easily transition to a different model at key points in the year. “There are multiple breaks throughout the school year where we could transition.”
COVID-19 rates were also mentioned, and Pesta stated that two weeks after school starts, the District can look at rates, and see whether schools are or not adding to the rates going up.
“We know our staff is staying healthy,” Pesta said. “Itasca County is currently trending down, and Cass is trending up. We are looking at ways of sharing online teachers, but being careful with sharing in-person subs.”
He also explained that if the District was entirely in-person, the paraprofessionals can do their current work, but if there is a hybrid model, and a teacher is quarantined, a paraprofessional can go into the classroom and supervise the class at 50 percent, while the teacher may be out on a quarantine.
Pesta asked for the board’s approval on the hybrid model to start school which was approved and stated “I appreciate that, and by no means does this end the conversation in any way.”
School closing procedures and virtual meetings were discussed.
“This is a draft, and not final,” Pesta said. “We want the whole community to know, update your contacts, if we are working through this plan, and keeping the integrity of the calendar,” he said. “Even if the State tells us we have to close for a period of time, they [students] would automatically flip over to Warrior Online.”
“We want to have a system that works for everything,” Pesta added.
In other business:
• Approved the minutes from July 13, 2020.
• Approved the July 2020 accounts payable/payroll/transfers.
• Approved the consent agenda as read with James Novak approved for the HVAC/Maintenance position.
• The board approved the student transportation contract and garage lease. The agreement requires NorTran to provide transportation to open enrolled students living outside of the district boundaries. Previously, the South Lake and Bena routes were provided for an extra charge. In the new agreement, the cost for those routes is capped at the basic open enrollment transportation rate.
Only the Northern route would continue to have an extra charge. The regular route cost would be reduced from 4.85 percent of the basic state aid formula per student to 4.66 percent. The fuel escalator clause has been removed, thus decreasing the variable costs possible due to changes in diesel fuel costs.
• Approved the resolution declaring notice of election and designating local election officials. Tiffany Johnson is the election official.
• School board approved the revised Indian policies and procedures.
• Board approved the title five requirements.
Discussion with how quickly the Spring sports season ended was had, and Pesta talked about the memorandum of understanding that the District would define the length of the season.
“If the season goes the full length, they [coaches] get their whole pay. If it goes 30 percent, they get 30 percent of their pay,” Pesta said. “We are thinking ahead.”
The board talked about how they wanted to continue meetings whether in person or go virtually, and stated they can always call an emergency meeting before school starts. Some board members were fine with people coming to the meeting, as long as they follow the same guidelines (masking and social distancing) as the members do. How the information would be distributed to the public was discussed, and whether the meetings would be posted online or people could request to join via WebEx.
“I think we need to talk about it at every single meeting,” Pesta said, with no motion at the meeting, and everything stays as is for now.
Motion was made to approve the transportation contract, which school board chairman Travis Antilla stated, “Last time we tabled this one.”
Jen Stefan, King Elementary Principal, talked about the 2020-2021 King Student Handbook (second reading) and the 2020-2021 King Staff Handbook (second reading).
Stefan discussed the development of new schedules for the hybrid model and Warrior online, along with staff professional development on digital platforms and tools and curriculum and instruction planning for the Back to School Plan. Stefan touched on back to school open house changes and class lists and school supplies.
“With that is curriculum and instruction and changes we need to make there,” Stefan said, adding normally she would be sharing plans for open houses making times special for kids. “We haven’t quite figured out if we are going to do a virtual open house. We will still make those things very special.”
“One of our biggest concerns is that we support families,” Stefan said.
Joe Akre, High School Principal said, “A lot of planning, and a lot of meetings. Within the last week, week-and-a-half, I have met with each department, and each has a foundation. That’s been time consuming, but very rewarding.”
Within the high school schedule, the classes will be 25-minute periods.
“We have to ensure we have a place for every kid, every hour of the day,” Akre mentioned.
“Right now, we are getting our students their schedules, we are hoping, with a great deal of hope, the 24th of August, we can have that done,” Akre said. “I know families are wondering, blue or gold, or how we are doing it. We are trying to be proficient and meet the needs of all the students.”
“We’ve set the expectations for our teachers, and we need to make sure our teachers have the tools to meet those expectations,” Akre said. “Really focusing on that training, and making sure the teachers are comfortable in whatever environment they are asked to teach in.”
Activities Director, Brent Schimek, stated the Minnesota State High School League has moved Football and Volleyball seasons to early March through early May, and Spring sports will be early May through early July. Cross Country will run this fall with modifications to the schedule and the way events are run.
“I don’t have exact dates for Spring,” Schimek said. “Cross Country will begin the same.”
Schimek provided an update to the board with buildings and grounds and explained they continue working with Siemens to install and implement Desigo HVAC control software and that they are waiting for a decision on how to proceed with purchase of rooftop fall prevention fencing and warning lines.
In addition, they continue summer work projects with cleaning, painting and preventative maintenance. They completed building sprinkler inspections and kitchen hood cleanings for both schools, added wood chips to playgrounds at King, completed recoating of all three gyms and repaired roof leaks at both schools (Nelson Roofing).
“We’ve been having meetings every week,” Schimek said. “The buildings are right on schedule and should be ready to go.”
Stefan spoke for Full-Service Community Schools Coordinator, Deanna Hron. Stefan updated the board that census workers are coming to food distribution sites, Deer River Healthcare Foundation is looking for ways to support schools when school starts, Second Harvest Food Bank is planning another Pop-Up Pantry at King School on August 12.
Hron has been working with families to get registered for fall. The district finished summer school on August 6 and partnered with Nortran and North Homes. Continuing King Pantry drop off to families without transportation. Stefan and Hron continue to work with NEA on a Full-Service Community School cohort, they are providing support, networking and professional development.
“There’s a back to school drive going on at King,” Stefan said. “It’s always nice to support our families.”
Pesta referenced redoing the website, but right now is just not the time. Pesta also said good communication between the districts is key.
“We don’t want people moving around every time based on the public health data,” Pesta said. “Two weeks ago, I was feeling like, how are we going to get this done. And now, I feel like we will have the best plan, with what options we were given. This is the Deer River brand of education, and we want to be very positive about it. If you have questions, come to me. We need to be that board member, ambassador. Try to stay positive.”