Superintendent Dana Monogue, Deputy Superintendent Sherri Cyra, and Assistant Superintendent for Operations Lori Ames provided an update on the District's efforts related to the COVID-19 situation at the Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, March 30.
Board president Bob Green presided over the meeting at the District Services Center, while other Board members participated remotely. Virtual meetings will continue going forward until the Safer-at-Home order issued by Governor Evers last week is lifted.
Monogue recognized the hundreds of staff who worked last week to get Chromebooks to students and families and prepare for online instruction, which begins on April 1.
"What we have accomplished in a short amount of time is incredible,'' she said.
Monogue noted President Trump extended the social distancing deadline to at least April 30 and said area superintendents are preparing for schools to remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
She noted social workers and student and family engagement specialists staff continue to do more outreach to families. Monogue reminded the Board that another Chromebook distribution session was held for 5 hours at MHS on Monday. The District is aware of about 40 students who still don't have a device for instruction and the technology department and social workers will work to get each of them one.
She thanked Health Services coordinator Danielle Krbecek and the custodial staff for collecting more than 12,000 items, which were donated to the Middleton and Madison police departments and UW Health.
Monogue emphasized the District's focus needs to be on caring for one another, remaining positive and staying calm as staff, students and families to online instruction. She also said MCPASD will need to provide additional mental health supports going forward.
Finally, Monogue also said Dane County superintendents plan to make a collective decision by May 1 about graduation ceremonies.
Cyra provided an update on the plan to launch online instruction for 4K through 12th grade starting Wednesday, while Lori Ames provided an update for the departments she oversees.
Cyra acknowledged the challenge of developing online instruction for 7,500 students and so many grade levels in a relatively short time, while also not having students or staff together for training. She thanked staff for their flexibility and patience and also thanked the technology department for their efforts.
Cyra noted many teams are providing support for the instructional plan and meeting regularly. She said the bilingual, student and family engagement specialists, and social workers have been meeting daily to determine supports for students, while the special education team also meets regularly. She noted online instruction will pose challenges for families with multiple children, along with staff members who are trying to teach while watching their children at home.
"We acknowledge this can't replace the school day,'' Cyra said. "Our message to staff is we are in this together. In an ideal world we would have known this was coming and supported students and staff before schools closed. But we didn't know this was coming.''
Cyra said the District is offering online training for staff in every platform multiple times before and during this week and will add more as needed. Training is also available for students and families.
Homeroom teachers will work with students in 4K through fourth grade. Students in 4K through second grade will use Seesaw, while students in grades 3-4 will use Google Classroom. The 4K platform is on play-based and focuses on early literacy, she said. The focus for elementary students is on reading, writing and math with some encore classes worked in. Another focus is on building relationships with the classroom community.
The District decided to use BUZZ for middle and high school students because it is a much more robust platform that means more challenges, she said. BUZZ can provide more support and help staff monitor students, including allowing support staff to see student progress across every class. The District felt that was very important when students have multiple teachers.
Cyra said the online instructional team has been encouraging staff to work together and pare down curriculum. She noted other districts that have already implemented virtual learning have suggested simplifying and cutting screen time by as much as 75 percent compare to classroom time. Superintendent Dana Monogue noted the transition for MCPASD has been smoother because staff have had more time to prepare.
Cyra said the District plans to request waivers from the state for Educator Effectiveness, instructional minutes, and state assessments. She also noted the School Board will to weigh in on service learning requirements for graduation if changes need to be made.
"I think there are some who feel this is a seamless transition because they have already been doing blended learning,'' Cyra noted of educators. "I think there are others who don't feel ready yet. ... Our message is we have your back and we will support you.''
Ames thanked the nutrition services, transportation, custodial and facilities staffs for their work the past few weeks with schools closed. She also has been "amazed" by the technology department. She shared that her department is working remotely, including payroll. She continues to hold virtual meetings for staffing and budget projections for the 2020-21 school year. She noted employees are very appreciative that they are getting paid and asking what they can do to help students.
School construction was considered essential in Governor Evers' Safer-at-Home order so J.H. Findorff & Son is still working although their employees continue to practice social distancing and other measures. Projects will continue as planned and may get ahead of schedule with no students and staff around at MHS, Ames said.
Ames noted the transportation office staff is working on planning and bus routing for 2020-21. The Nutrition Services Department is serving about 450 meals a day and the program they are using is similar to the Summer Food Program. Ames said the majority of children on free or reduced lunch currently aren't accessing meals, but she thinks more children will participate as schools remain closed and if more families are laid off from work. She also noted the Weekend Food Program will likely continue through the rest of the school year.
"We're being very compassionate, very caring and telling everyone it is going to be OK,'' Ames said.