PAOLA — Paola USD 368 educators know this will be a school year filled with uncertainty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but school administrators have been working hard to map out a plan that answers as many questions as possible.
Paola school board members got to review that plan during their monthly meeting Monday, Aug. 10, during which principals from each school talked about policy changes for the school year.
Superintendent Matt Meek already discussed districtwide procedures during a special meeting in July, including the fact that all students and staff will be required to wear masks, thermal cameras will monitor the temperatures of everyone entering school buildings, and parents were given the choice of enrolling students in onsite or remote learning.
He also announced at that meeting that the start of the school year was being delayed one week until Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Here is a breakdown of the report from each school during the Aug. 10 meeting.
PAOLA HIGH SCHOOL
Principal Jeff Hines said the doors at Paola High School used to open before 7 a.m., and students would congregate in the commons area or classrooms. Those are the types of situations the district is trying to avoid due to virus concerns, so Hines said the doors will now be locked until 7:30 a.m. Staff’s schedule will be 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Arriving students will either eat breakfast or go directly to their first-hour class.
Students will be social distanced at lunch time, and Hines said there may be assigned seating to assist with contact tracing in the event it is needed.
“It’s going to look and feel different,” Hines said.
The nurse’s office has been relocated to an area beside a quarantine room, and students will no longer travel to advisory, which Hines said could create some issues if a student needs extra help or needs to make up a test.
In preparation for teaching classes to both in-person and at-home students, Hine said PHS staff members set up practice lessons and taught them virtually, with other teachers watching as if they were students at home. They then provided feedback.
During passing periods at the end of each block, Hines said all tables will be sprayed down and cleaned.
PAOLA MIDDLE SCHOOL
Principal Mark Bloustine said Paola Middle School has also adopted the 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule. Arriving students used to go to the gym, but Bloustine said they will now go directly to their classroom after eating breakfast.
Students will be socially distanced and split up at lunch, as Bloustine said he can get about 55 students in the commons area and about 80 in the four-plex area.
The plan, he said, is to only allow one grade level at a time in the hall during passing periods, and students will need to carry their supplies because they will not be assigned lockers.
“They would be gathering places,” Bloustine said.
Some teachers will be working with students remotely, as Bloustine said 14 sixth-graders are signed up for remote learning, along with nine seventh-graders and nine eighth-graders.
Students also will no longer be allowed to stay for an extended time after school and gather in the commons area, Bloustine said.
SUNFLOWER ELEMENTARY (3-5)
Principal Staci Wokutch said Sunflower Elementary will also be implementing the 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule.
Instead of students traveling to special classes, those teachers will now travel to the different classrooms, Wokutch said.
She also said two teachers have been tasked as remote-learning teachers, and they will team teach lessons.
Unlike teachers in middle and high school, who could be teaching a lesson to students both in-person and online at the same time, elementary remote-learners will be taught by an instructor and moderator because of their younger age, Wokutch said.
There currently are five third-graders, 11 fourth-graders and 13 fifth-graders signed up for remote learning, Wokutch said.
Students will be socially distanced at lunch, with some being placed in the multipurpose room, and others going to the art and science rooms that will no longer be needed for special class teachers who are traveling to classrooms, Wokutch said.
Dismissal may be assisted by an app called iDismiss that will use a numbering system to help reduce the amount of exposure among students, Wokutch said.
COTTONWOOD ELEMENTARY (K-2)
New Cottonwood Principal Corey Troast said Cottonwood’s doors usually open at 7:35 a.m., but that will change to 7:40 a.m. There usually are 100 to 125 students who eat breakfast, but Troast said they can only keep 50 to 60 socially distanced at a time, so breakfast is being split into two shifts. One group will eat between 7:40 and 7:50 a.m., and then there will be a break for cleaning before the second shift starts for students who arrive after 8:10 a.m.
Recesses will be split between the playground and the nearby baseball field, and equipment will be provided at both locations, Troast said.
Because Cottonwood has more tables than desks, protective sneeze guards have been installed to help keep the younger students safe, Troast said.
There are seven kindergartners signed up for remote learning, along with 13 first-graders and 12 second-graders.
Troast said that, like Sunflower, they will be grouped together and taught by two co-teachers.
Parents will not be allowed in the building, which Troast said he realizes is a concern for the younger students, especially on their first day. Name tags that designate specific classrooms will be given to students to help make sure they get where they need to be, and lanyards are being given to students to help them keep track of their masks.
Some teachers will also be wearing masks with clear windows so students can see their lips when they are trying to learn to read.
PAOLA ADULT EDUCATION CENTER
Director Karen Ulanski said there are usually only three to six kids who sign up for virtual learning, which is an entirely online curriculum for students in grades 6-12, but this year there are 63 students enrolled. That’s in addition to the 22 students who are enrolled in the alternative program during which students attend classes at the center.
Ulanski said the largest number of students enrolled in virtual learning are high school seniors.
Paola High School Athletic Director Darin Gagnebin talked about some of the planned procedures to keep students safe while participating in sports and other activities.
Gagnebin said audience members will be limited at sporting events, with each participant being given four tickets to give to family members and friends. That number may also be reduced, he said.
Band members and cheerleaders will also be given four tickets to games, but they won’t travel to away games, he said.
During football games and practice, Gagnebin said students will have their helmets on and masks off while playing, and helmets off and masks on while on the sidelines.
He said students have already handled the change well, and he talked about students who have been conditioning and working out while wearing masks.
“The kids get it,” Gagnebin said. “If you want a season, this is the only way it’s going to happen.”
Scheduling could become an issue because Gagnebin said there are schools from other counties in their league, and some may have stricter regulations or decide not to play. He added that senior nights have been moved to the first home games to try and make sure they occur.
As for a student cheering section, Gagnebin said space will be limited, so there likely will be a drawing system used to select 20 to 30 students who can attend.
“It really stinks that we have to do that,” he said.
Also during the meeting, school board members approved the district’s 2020-21 budget, which includes a one-mill decrease from the 2019-20 mill levy of 52.944 to 51.944. The mill levy is the rate in which the school district collects property taxes.
Local taxpayers could still see their tax bill increase, though, due to the fact that assessed valuation of the district increased by about 5.46 percent.
Jimmy Hay, the district’s director of finance, told the board members during his budget presentation that district leaders couldn’t increase the mill levy even if they wanted to because USD 368 is at the maximum taxing rate for operating funds (33 percent for the local option budget and 8 mills for capital outlay).
Hay also talked about the unique situation Paola USD 368, and other school districts across the state, are in due to the need to purchase extra supplies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kansas Association of School Boards estimates that school districts may spend an additional $490 per student in order to cover costs associated with safely re-opening schools. For Paola, that would equate to about $980,000 in expense.
District officials have said they hope to regain much of that expense through CARES Act funding and Miami County SPARK funds.
New School Board Member
At the end of the school board meeting, the board members interviewed two candidates who applied to fill the vacancy left by former District 6 board member Greg Cole, who recently moved to Hong Kong. The District 6 territory covers the Paola city limits.
Carla Blackmore and Michelle Latto both answered questions, and the board eventually voted 4-2 to select Latto to fill the vacancy.
Board member Cathy Macfarlane thanked both for applying and said it was nice to have two qualified applicants to choose from. She said she particularly liked Latto’s education background.