Pine River-Backus' new Superintendent Jonathan Clark came to the board with three scenarios for the upcoming school year, but he was upfront about his and the staff's desire to move forward with scenario 1, which would include all students present in the building for in person teaching.
"We have a goal administratively to have all our kids back participating in all core subjects five days a week," Clark said.
Clark acknowledged that the school's plans are up in the air and at the mercy of Governor Walz and the Department of Education, however, he is hopeful that the district will be able to resume in person instruction, with modifications, in the fall. The district expects to make its own decision during the Aug. 17 regular meeting based on what guidance it receives.
In addition, after questions from board members, Clark said core subjects include: reading, writing, math, science, social studies and history. Some things that aren't considered core, and may be more risk-laden are: music, band, physical education and possibly tech ed classes, though that will depend on sanitizing guidelines from the state.
In addition to the "best case" scenario 1, Clark also presented the board with a hybrid scenario where students K-9 would attend school in the physical classrooms, while students 10-12 would attend actual classes remotely. Unlike distance learning in the spring, these students would have a complete class day divided by class periods just as they would if they were in person.
"We believe that our 10th, 11th, and 12th graders could do their classes by remote learning," Clark said. "Which means they would be at home, logging in and taking the classes. The difference between remote learning and distance learning is that with remote learning they follow their exact schedule as if they were here."
The hybrid plan allows the district to spread out the students who are physically present because having 10-12 grade students attend virtually opens up classrooms that would have been used by 200 students. As a result, the remaining students can more effectively social distance.
The third scenario is the least favorable, all-digital instruction scenario. In this case, teachers would likely also be home and lacking the technology then needed to perform full classes in a digital environment such as suggested in Scenario 2, but Clark believes the district will be able to use what they learned in the spring, combined with planning since the end of the school year to provide a better distance learning model. Among other things, the district plans more personal communications between teachers and students. If scenario 3 becomes a reality, Clark said he will likely ask to amend the calendar in august to allow for more teacher preparation and device distribution.
Clark said the district is still waiting on guidance from the Minnesota High School League on how to proceed with athletics. Some guidance is expected July 27 that will likely affect both athletics and academics.
PR-B has received replies to a survey issued to faculty and staff, and Clark said almost every staff member has committed to return to the school.
In other business, the board:
- Discussed the possibility of eliminating the bus dispatch position and merging it with a bus mechanic position. The district would still dedicate time to answer phone calls from parents in the early mornings and afternoons, but Clark said many of the dispatch duties are no longer needed.
- Accepted resignation of Paula Soderquist, transportation dispatcher.
- Approved hiring Charles Munz as long term substitute high school science teacher.
- Approved hiring Autumn Loge as family needs facilitator.
- Discussed the possibility of making the Dean of Students position a "Teacher on Special Assignment" position in the future. The district is not looking do change the position yet, but they are researching it ahead of the next contract negotiation with the current dean. The new job description would require a teacher licensure, and the person in the position would have shift their focus more toward student support and prevention rather than discipline.
- Discussed possibly making scheduling work sessions once a month with two weeks between sessions and regular board meetings to allow the board to review discussion items, in a public meeting, before taking action on those items at the monthly school board meeting. In addition, the board agreed to begin live streaming work sessions online starting August 11.
- Elected to post an opening for a certified activities director and youth sports coordinator. The district had previously posted the opening as an at-will, non certified position. Board members Katy Botz and Dawn Rubner opposed the motion citing the budget. The previous posting was for a position which would cost $56,000, but with a license, the position would cost an annual $76,900 up to $130,000, though Clark estimated the cost would realistically be between $80,000 to $86,000.
- Learned the new transportation director has updated the district's 13 year old route maps for buses. The project likely will eliminate some pre-existing challenges.