October 21st School Board Meeting to Discuss Learning Models

On Wednesday October 21st, the ORCSD School Board held a meeting in hopes of finding a learning model for each of the schools approaching the 2nd quarter of the school year. The School Board received over 100 emails and 52 pages of comments from community members voicing their opinions on if students should go back to some form of in person learning. The School Board decided that both Mast Way and Moharimet elementary school students who wanted to switch from the remote model to the hybrid model or vice versa had that option. The decisions for both ORMS and ORHS were postponed until the next meeting which will be held on Wednesday November 4th. This is because the School Board typically doesn’t make decisions the first time they are shown something.

 Prior to the meeting, there was a School Board workshop on October 14th in which the School Board was presented a few models. They had asked for other options and changes to their proposed models, which were then updated and presented during the October 21st school board meeting.

There was a lot of planning and preparation from a variety of people that went into the meeting. This planning started in May and has continued up until now. “The different groups of people who have talked about the models have been a governance committee which has school leadership on it from every school, a school psychologist, teachers guilds, and a health office perspective, and there has been a task force that has teachers from every department, a nurse, counseling, special education, etc.” said ORHS principal Suzanne Filippone. The teacher task forces from each school came up with new and improved models that were presented to the school board. The task forces got a lot of input from the community from the many surveys that were sent out to both students and parents. This gave the school board as much insight as possible to make a decision that would best meet the needs of students. 

The task forces were created last spring to look at how the school could safely bring students back to the building. They were also tasked with developing what the schedules would look like within those models. “The way the task force has been running is we come up with ideas, ideas get presented to the school board, the school board asks us to look at some ideas and maybe not other ideas, and then we come back and either come up with new models or we investigate the models that they were interested in further, ” said Lisa Hallbach, ORHS Math Teacher, and member of the high school task force.

Some models had been presented to the school board, but a few of them were also new. The School Board had seen some of the models in August, and then at the previous workshop on October 14th. With the new models and changes they were presented on the 21st, they could not make a decision. “Normally when the board is presented a new model and new information on something, we would usually wait another meeting so we can process it and so the public can have a chance to take a look at it,” said Thomas Newkirk, Chair of the School Board. This is the main reason that the School Board didn’t end up voting on the middle and high school models.

At the start of the meeting, there was an open comments section in which many parents expressed their desires for students to go back to in person learning. “I’m asking you to do the right thing, for the parents who choose that their children should be in school, we decide. We know what’s best for our kid. Every one of you here are supposed to be working on the children’s behalf, and the parents. So I please implore you to consider that as you are voting today,” said Michelle Dunbar, a parent of 4 children in the district during the open comment section. 

After this section, Mast Way principal Misty Lowe and Moharimet principal David Goldsmith proposed a scenario in which they were hoping to keep the AM/PM hybrid model that is being used now in both Moharimet and Mast Way. However, they wanted to allow students with special needs to come into the elementary schools to receive help on Wednesdays, which is the current remote “work day” for students. For more information on the proposed Mast Way and Moharimet model, click here.

Ultimately this decision got pushed to a later date (November 4th). What the school board did decide on was that families who were in the current remote model now had the choice to transition to the hybrid model, and families in the hybrid model had the option to switch to the remote model if they wanted to.

At the middle school level, ORMS Principal Jay Richard and Vice Principal Bill Sullivan, proposed five different models. Option 1 was the current model, in which only enhanced target learners are in the building, with 4 days of direct student-teacher contact remotely per week. On Wednesdays however, there is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) day which, in the morning 5th and 6th grade targeted learners are invited to come in and work with their team teachers, and in the afternoon 7th and 8th grade targeted learners are invited as well. Each team is allowed to invite up to 20 students in to recieve help, and in order to do this you would have to reach out to Mr. Richard.

Options 2, 3, 4, and 5 were all hybrid models in which select groups of students would come into the building on different days. For more information on the proposed ORMS models, click here.

The school board was unable to decide on these models and chose to further investigate, before making a decision on what model to choose. 

Flippone presented one model for ORHS in which on Monday and Tuesday, remote classes would be 60 min long, instead of being 80 min long. At the end of the day (1:30), there would be 2 hours in which students could be in the building to get academic support from teachers, or participate in clubs. 50% of students would be in the building one day and the other 50% of students would be in the other day, and that would be split alphabetically.  For more information on the proposed ORHS model, click here.

The school board opted to vote on the high school model in their next meeting as they wanted to have more information on what would happen in the 2 hour period at the end of the day by the next meeting. “We are going to be surveying the kids, to get an idea of what the students would like to do with that time, and how you would like to spend it. We would work with the faculty as well, and we will work on all of the protocols,” said Filippone. Along with this. Filippone plans on meeting with the student government again now that those officials have been elected.

One of the challenges for the school board was that we are now coming into the holiday/flu season, which may pose difficulties. “I can’t speak for the other board members, but I think there is a concern that this is a a more heightened risk from the pandemic, with people traveling, and flu season, so I think those would raise questions about whether this is a good time to make a big shift or whether we would be better of making that shift mid year,” said Newkirk. 

It has been very difficult for the school board to decide because there are so many things that they have to consider before making a decision. “It can be difficult because you have competing agendas. People would love for students to be all in, but you can’t be all in and have the 6 foot social distancing, so how do you safely educate students and that is what we need to focus on,” said Hallbach.

One thing that Newkirk would like to see happen is for the board to not only look at new models, but look at how to improve the current model. This would include getting students the help that they need. “I think another question is how can we better serve the students who are not being successful in the current models, and we are coming up to a grading period and it might be a good time to look at the kids who are not getting all of their work done or struggling,” said Newkirk.

Many are eager to see what the School Board decides in their upcoming meeting, but there are many variables that they will need to consider before making that decision. Hallbach said, “it’s part of the problem of living in a pandemic. There are so many moving parts and it’s hard to make those predictions, so the best we can do is come up with models that are fluid and adaptable given the environment that we live in.”