After a spring of cancelled schedules, redesign of learning modes, and general uncertainty, USD 456 is pleased to pass along an outline plan for the 2020-2021 school year to our students and parents. As it currently stands, students and parents can expect a general "back-to-normal" setup when the school year begins in August. However, as mentioned below, schooling during a pandemic will have the potential to be a little different than before. Therefore, the district has created a generalized vision of how it will conduct its' operations as we come back to school.
During the course of this spring, administrators, certified staff, and classified staff have had numerous formal and informal discussions about how to plan for next school year. Consistently, the feedback has been to provide our students with as much normalcy as possible, care for the health of our children as much as possible, and develop back-up plans in case we experience another change during the course of the school year.
While these are the best-laid plans as the district can foresee them as it stands right now, it is strongly advised that these plans are just that: plans. We promise to keep you continually informed, and to take appropriate steps when hurdles come our way - as hurdles will almost surely will. As always, your feedback is encouraged and your collaboration with the school district during these uncertain times makes our organization stronger.
As it stands right now, here is the outline plan for the 2020-2021 school year:
- Student Health: USD 456 will continue to stay in close contact with the Osage County Health Department, the Kansas Department and Health and Environment, and the Centers for Disease Control. These agencies will provide the guidance that will keep our students safe and will service as the resource on how to manage healthy operations within our school buildings. However, as has been experienced during this situation, recommendations, suggestions, and guidance can vary between each agency, but the collaboration between officials at the local level will serve as the final guidance that will be implemented within the district. Steps will be taken to clean and sanitize surfaces within the buildings, encourage students to demonstrate healthy personal hygiene, and implement assorted sickness prevention methods. At this time, it is not being advised by health officials that schools implement social distancing or require usage of masks upon the start of the school year. However, families need to be prepared to face the reality of conducting schooling in the midst of a pandemic. To be transparent, messaging is still unclear from health officials on how to directly handle single student/teacher cases of COVID-19, multiple student/teacher cases of COVID-19, or demonstrated community spread of COVID-19 within school buildings, but collaboration and action with health officials has and will continue to occur. As has been demonstrated thus far, health officials are conducting contact tracing upon notification of verified cases of COVID-19 and communicating to potentially exposed individuals where applicable. Upon verification of any case of COVID-19, directly exposed students, teachers, or staff will receive notification of their potential exposure. From there, the county or state health agency will provide guidance to the individual on the next steps needed to address the exposure. It is safe to assume that while individual cases will be handled directly with the individuals affected, if demonstrated community spread within the school building is determined, significant steps such as school closure may occur. If a school closure is required, the decision will be made in collaboration with county and state health officials. To summarize, it is certain that conducting in-person school operations during a pandemic will present an array of issues to address, but the district will do everything it can to ensure the safety of its students, parents, and staff.
- Student Learning: As experienced this spring, learning will be different during a pandemic. While the district's efforts during "Continuous Learning" was an inspired leap into a shift in mindset, it certainly was not perfect. As stated by numerous education officials during the course of this change in learning - nothing can fully replace the education of an attentive, caring, and knowledgeable in-person teacher. However, our reality is that it is entirely possible we experience another period of remote learning during the 2020-2021 school year. To combat this reality, the district will be taking two steps next year: "Blended Learning" and "School Redesign." First, blended learning is the education mindset that student learning can be a version of in-person activity and technology driven processes. Typically, the mindset shift involves the classroom teacher to utilize the resources and learning ability of implementing technology into their classroom activities. However, given that teachers have generally made that shift during the course of this pandemic, the mindset shift now is on how to effectively manage new learning whether in-person or remotely. This will require teachers to gear their lesson planning towards utilizing technology driven curriculum and resources that will be applicable while in the classroom or while at home. To meet this shift, certified staff have reviewed and will implement the usage of a full array of online resources to be used within the classroom and during times of remote learning. This can look differently at each level, but generally the elementary building will be using a suite of online resources from accomplished learning companies that can serve as both an in-class aid and a lead learning tool while students are at home. For the secondary building, teachers will be using an online curriculum and classroom program that will allow for teachers to conduct, at minimum, online assignments, projects, quizzes, and tests. If needed, teachers can also use the program to provide direct instruction and reinforcement learning activities. While traversing down this "blended learning" path, the district will also be utilizing the assistance of the Kansas Department of Education's "School Redesign" team. At May's board of education meeting, it was approved to submit an application, supported by certified staff and administrators, to be part of KSDE's Apollo II School Redesign Program. This program will be implemented by certified staff, as guided by KSDE and Greenbush Education Service Center, utilizing processes that will allow the district to focus on the needs facing the district and how to "think outside the box" on addressing those issues. Being that the pandemic has presented a wide variety of issues to address and the district would already be conducting sweeping changes to address those issues, it was deemed more than necessary to elect to become a participant in the Apollo II school redesign program and benefit from the collaboration with local area and state-level education officials, while implementing a teacher-led change process within each building. In short, KSDE's school redesign program will serve as the guidance process to produce agreed upon change during an uncertain time. We are excited to be a part of this initiative and view it to be a positive addition for the coming school year. Therefore, with the implementation of blended learning and school redesign, we feel confident that we can put our students back on the right track while also maintaining the ability to effectively address difficult change during uncertain times.
- Student Resources: To aid our students and families during this time of change, the district has specifically chosen to identify and address any areas that may prove to be of issue in making this transition to our new normal. First, the district wanted to remove the financial strain experienced by families purchasing school supplies to start the new school year, thus all students will receive all school required supplies for their classroom upon the first day of school. While students will be encouraged to still utilize their own personal backpack, the school will be sure to fill it with district purchased supplies. Additionally, upon arrival to their classroom to start the year, all students will have a personally assigned, up-to-date, technology device that will be used both while in class and when at home. If we are expecting our students to experience a beneficial blended learning environment, then they will need to have the most recent technology at their fingertips whether they learning in-person or remotely. As mentioned previously, the necessary online curriculum and resources will be ready and waiting on their devices right from the beginning of the year. To bridge this gap in new learning styles, students will need to be using this technology consistently while in the classroom so that they are preparing for any periods of remote learning during the course of the school year. Lastly, during times of remote learning, if families experience hardships in providing necessary connectivity, the district is preparing plans to assist families. This could occur in a number of ways ranging from usable community wifi connections to connecting families to inexpensive internet access options. Either way, we want to ensure that we are assisting our students and families in every way possible to make this transition as easy as possible.
As stated before, while these are the best-laid plans of right now, it by no means is a final plan or a plan that encompasses all that we will experience as a district. There are still many items to determine and questions to answer as the 2020-2021 school year gets closer and even once it begins. However, we are committed to keep you continually informed and engage with you as issues arise. We will be sure to keep working together with you and keep our Trojan Family strong!