Howard-Suamico announces first draft of reopening plan
By Lea Kopke
SUAMICO – In the first step toward resuming classes this fall, the initial draft of the Howard-Suamico School District’s reopening plan was released July 7.
Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the plan represents the culmination of a process involving 40 to 50 district thought leaders, several task force meetings and meetings with a coalition of community superintendents, Brown County medical health professionals and business leaders.
“We benefited from drawing on collective wisdom in the process, which we integrated into thinking and planning,” LaCroix said.
The plan consists of three elements:
• Element A, the current plan for K-6 students, is being back in school on a full-time basis.
• Element B, the current plan for 7-12 students, is a hybrid schedule where students will be divided into two groups: one meeting in-person on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Fridays will be set aside for labs, workshops, consultation and club work.
• Element C, an option available for any family who is uncomfortable sending their students to school, is a full-time virtual class schedule.
The plan also includes specifics regarding operations, instructional models and communications.
Tiffany Edlebeck, a kindergarten teacher at Howard Elementary School and member of the Instructional Core Action Team, said her team’s work was guided by feedback from families and staff.
“We’re preparing for every possible scenario so that we’ll be ready for whatever the year looks like,” Edlebeck said. “And the great thing about kids is they’re so positive, they love being at school, and they love learning.”
She said elementary schools especially are having to rethink almost every aspect of the classroom.
“One thing we’re doing is launching a character camp to really teach the routines and rules of the building in the first weeks,” Edlebeck said. “Teaching those over and over again. Washing your hands and lining up while social distanced is not natural for 5-year-olds, they just love to play. But once we’ve really focused on it over and over again I know they’re gonna get it.”
Edlebeck said she feels confident in the district’s decision-making process.
“I think it’s a fantastic first draft,” Edlebeck said. “The thing that we are keeping in mind is that this is a work in progress. It will continue to change as new guidelines come up. What I love about it is that we are putting the health of students and staff first.”
LaCroix said this reopening draft is plan 1.0 and will see changes before the start of the school year.
Upon the release of the draft, the district opened up a Thoughtexchange tool to collect community input.
“We had 87,000 ratings in that process, attributable to 1,949 thoughts from 1,203 participants,” he said. “It allowed the community to pose questions and add additional thoughts, and then rate the feedback of others.”
A staff questionnaire was also sent out to gather staff thoughts on the plan and concerns for the upcoming school year.
LaCroix said this survey will also help the district to gauge the number of staff who may be hesitant about returning.
“If there is anybody with legitimate medical or health conditions we’ll look for ways to be creative and flexible, and accommodate where we can,” LaCroix said. “The expectation though would be that we have most teachers returning.”
LaCroix said it’s also important for students to speak up about their hopes and worries for the school year.
“Student voice matters, it’s important,” LaCroix said. “We’ve had student focus group input up to this point, because it’s important to us. We want to make a plan that reflects students’ needs and desires.”
The Thoughtexchange, partnered with a staff questionnaire and guidance from the county and medical health professionals, will help to create a second draft – version 2.0 – by July 24.
LaCroix said after this a parent focus group will meet on July 28, a final task meeting will be held July 29 and the final plan will be communicated July 31.
Edlebeck said she and other colleagues are excited to welcome back students as they return to schools this fall.
“Digital learning was an adventure,” she said. “The thing i missed most is being with my kids every single day. I’m getting emotional as i say it, and I don’t even know my incoming students yet, but as a teacher I’m so incredibly excited to be back with students to teach them, and to just build our little school family.”