Return to Learn update dominates Shen school board meeting

The Shenandoah School Board heard an update on the district’s return to learn plan during its special meeting, Tuesday, May 26.

Shenandoah superintendent Dr. Kerri Nelson said every district in the state must have a continuing education plan prepared and sent in to the Iowa Department of Education by July 1. That learning plan must include procedures to take place during the 2020/2021 school year if schools are closed to in-person learning, if schools are completely open and a hybrid plan consisting of some in-person and online learning.

Nelson said meetings continue with the district’s leadership team and focus groups are also scheduled to discuss the matter and come up plans for each tier for the district.

The board also heard about summer opportunities for the district. In-person summer learning can begin June 1 across the state. Shenandoah Director of Early Childhood and Extended Learning Tiffany Spiegel said the recent nature of that announcement makes June 1 too quick a turn around, but she updated the board on a plan to open the district’s buildings June 15 for in-person summer learning.

Spiegel said the safety of staff and families continues to be the number one priority as they try to answer questions on which students they should recommend to come in during the summer. Centers for Disease Control guidelines force the district to be selective and they are still trying to figure out how that selection process should work. Current ideas are for high school students who need to earn credits to ensure they graduate on time and interventions for middle school and elementary students who haven’t done a lot of the voluntary work the last several weeks, or need in-person interaction to learn certain concepts.

Transportation, food and hygiene are huge concerns also being addressed in order to make summer learning possible.

The board also heard from Activities Director Aaron Burdorf on high school softball and baseball resuming play.

Teams across the state can begin practice Monday, June 1 and can play games two weeks later. Burdorf said the activities directors in the Hawkeye 10 Conference, which Shenandoah is part of, have created a conference schedule and are in the process of creating a conference-wide set of guidelines and rules for spectators attending contests across the conference.

Burdorf said they continue to wait on transportation guidance from a state organization to safely and efficiently transport the athletes and coaches to away games.

Spiegel and Burdorf both said they have received conflicting guidance in multiple areas making it difficult to put concrete plans in place.

The board was given the opportunity to ask questions of Spiegel, Burdorf and Nelson. A couple highlights were what about home-school numbers and if they may go up because of the current situation and what happens in regards to paying staff if in-person learning isn’t allowed in August in time for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

The board also heard an update on the proposed mascot sculpture to be set up by the middle school building’s activities entrance on the northwest side of the building.

A picture of the sculpture model was shared with the board members. The sculpture’s current design places it about eight feet tall, five feet wide and three feet deep.

The middle school student council collected more than $1,800 in donations for the sculpture from students and staff in the PK-8 building before in-person schooling ended for the year. Those funds will cover labor costs. Grant proposals are currently being worked on to cover materials costs. Shenandoah PK-8 principal Monte Munsinger said if lighting or a concrete base is desired for the sculpture, additional funds would have to be raised.

Middle school language arts teacher Carleen Perry is one of the designers of the sculpture and shared with the board how proud she was of the students working on this project for raising funds and incorporating all grade levels of the middle school and elementary. She said this project shows a sense of pride the middle school student council has in their school and this sculpture should give the community a sense of pride in the school as well.

The board must approve the sculpture’s final design and where exactly it should be placed before construction and installation may begin.

The board approved a lengthy consent agenda that included eight new contracts, three modified contracts and three resignations. Before the approval, board member Jeff Hiser voiced concerns about the district hiring a coach before a teacher for certain positions and letting staff members leave after they furthered their education. No names were mentioned, but a lengthy discussion ensued, mainly between Hiser and board member Kathy Langley. Nelson proposed the board and members of the school’s administration meet in the near-future in a work session setting to discuss the district’s hiring protocol and if any changes should be made. That was agreed to by all parties, and the consent agenda was approved four to one with Hiser casting the dissenting vote.

The board approved a budget amendment for the fiscal year 2020 budget after a public hearing, which had no comments. An e-rate funding proposal was also approved, which funds technology upgrades. Base wage increases for various positions were also approved.

The next scheduled meeting for the Shenandoah school board is Monday, June 8.

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