COVID-19 causes questions for De Pere school board
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Will De Pere High School students graduate on time? Will delays in SAT and ACT testing affect their ability to get into college or tech school, or have an impact on their future careers?
These questions weren’t on the agenda, but they were on the minds of De Pere administrators at the Monday, March 16, meeting of the De Pere school board – and there were no answers.
The national organizations in charge of administering both the ACT and SAT tests announced Monday they would delay both college admissions tests because of concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, De Pere High School prom has been canceled, and with all school events from sports to music to theater off the table, efforts to raise money for the future new Redbirds Stadium have been curtailed.
“Part of our fundraising effort was blown up,” said Superintendent Ben Villarruel.
The district’s two-pronged fundraising strategy – donations and special events – is now minus a prong.
The district hoped to raise $150,000 toward the stadium, which is estimated will cost about $2.9 million.
So far, it’s raised about $60,000, mainly through individual $10,000 pledges.
“We have a number of other asks in the hopper,” Villarruel said.
But so far, no one has offered to purchase naming rights, he said.
With students off school effective March 17 through at least April 6, teachers took the rest of the week to prepare lessons and brush up for any questions on online instruction.
Online classes start Monday, March 23.
The district is providing Chromebooks to students who need computers, and as of March 16, more than 500 families had made requests, said Tracy Schrader, district secretary.
In an update on the COVID-19 situation, Shelly Thomas, director of curriculum, said the district is sensitive to student work factors such as varying connectivity quality, potential technology glitches and the overall different learning environment at home that could make it difficult for students to concentrate on their studies.
“What we don’t want is a teacher sending out activities to do for the sake of doing, but to focus on what we want students to learn,” Thomas said,
She said she’s approaching the unpredictable circumstances and unanswered questions as “an adventure,” and with a growth mindset.
“We want to know from parents, are we assigning too much? Are we overburdening students?” Thomas said.
Online classes won’t be equivalent in length to onsite classes, nor will work or attendance in real time be required.
“They (assignments) are meant to be done whenever,” she said. “If a kid wants to work between 7 and 9 p.m., that’s fine.”
Thomas said guidelines are in place regulating how long a student should be expected to devote to learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said recommendations are 60 to 90 minutes a day for students in grades K-2; 2 hours for grades 3-4; 2 to 2 1/2 hours for grades 5-6; and 3 hours for grades 7-12.
“I don’t want the focus to be ‘What can I have them do online?’ but ‘What do I want them to learn?’” Thomas said. “And to be able to see the evidence that they are learning.”
She advocated teachers appearing in videos and connecting regularly with students, especially so younger students can see a familiar face and get answers to questions during an uncertain time.
Villarruel said the question of whether special ed students might be allowed individual tutoring at school facilities arose, and the answer from DPI was no.
Through at least April 6, no students are allowed in school buildings.
Jerry Nicholson, director of pupil services, said the district is not looking to rewrite the individual education plans of 450 special education students.
“We’re working to ensure students with disabilities have meaningful access to the same online learning opportunities as their regular education peers,” Nicholson said. “To the greatest extent, we will work to provide and continue special education and related services at a level that’s reasonable, given the virtual learning environment and the extent of the coronavirus situation within our community.”
In other board business, the board voted to restart the process of borrowing about $407,000 from the Board of Commissioners of Public Land for the remodeling of Dickinson Elementary School.
The board approved the borrowing last summer, but the draw request had not yet been made.
With interest rates dropping in recent weeks, Dawn Foeller, financial director, said the district could save about $10,500 in interest by starting over and locking in the loan at a lower rate.
The board also approved spending $45,000 on design plans for the Redbirds Stadium with JW Industries.
Finally, it approved the transportation contract with Lamers Bus through 2024.