8/18/2020 11:32:00 AM North Branch set for hybrid learning
Students in North Branch Area District 138 will either be educated starting in September through distance learning K-12 or will attend school in the classroom.
“Return to Learn” models were adopted unanimously by the school board after a special meeting and plan presentation Thursday, August 6. As the new North Branch Superintendent Sara Paul put it, this year will be all about choice and flexibility.
Families are encouraged to decide soon and let the district know ASAP if your child will be going with distance learning.
Parents who want their kids to use bus transportation MUST sign-up, otherwise the schools will assume they have another way to get to and from school. Learners on special education plans, however, will remain scheduled on their bus route unless the district hears otherwise.
The school day will have a later start in an effort to both extend the length of time kids can be dropped off, and to give teachers time to check in early, and review emails and lessons on-line, for students who are at home, before in-school instruction begins.
Pick-up time of no later than 3:15 p.m. is pretty firm, otherwise students up to grade six, must be enrolled in an after-school Youth Connections program.
Dr. Todd Tetzlaff, business services and finance, explained the transportation system is keeping “transfer” services to a minimum to contain spread of virus, so expect limited transfer opportunities.
The vehicles will be cleaned often and operate with opened windows when possible, to maintain fresh air flow. Interestingly, Tetzlaff continued, North Branch just completed a major overhaul of its aging ventilation and building mechanicals as part of the bond issue projects. He noted, “...we are well positioned with new systems, which exceed state standards. Few districts are in the place we are.” Supt. Paul applauded the district’s operations manager Art Tobin, for his expertise in everything from non-toxic cleaning supplies to air handlers and filters. She said he has become the go-to guy for advising other districts.
Hours in the fall will be: High school 9:10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Middle school 9:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. K and Grade 1 9:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
Grades 2-5 Sunrise River Elementary 9:05 to 2:25 p.m.
Tetzlaff mentioned additional health and safety measures include practices like no drinking fountains, and water bottle filling stations plus one-way hallways. Food will be pre-portioned and packaged where feasible. Lunchroom occupancy is reduced and will be seated at distances.
Distance Learning Principal David Treichel said no academic standards have been compromised in either of the educational models, and noted that North Branch has actually offered a distance learning program for 10 years.
North Branch has a program that doesn’t leave a student dealing with feelings of being “in or out” of a class or program. Being enrolled in distance learning and having a relationship with instructors and administration are two in the same, he stated.
Supt. Paul said community surveys over the summer saw over 1,000 families responding. The district heard “overwhelmingly” that students should have an option this fall of being in-school.
The state has defined levels of severity for the covid-19 public school learning models, and North Branch is considered to be at level two of five. (Five being stay at home mode, with no in person instruction allowed.)
Students can switch distance learning to in-class or vice versa at specific times of the year.
School Board Chair Kirby Ekstrom asked how the students’ readiness to return will be assessed. Students haven’t been in front of a teacher since mid-March.
School administrators explained the newly structured “Welcome Back Conferences” are the chance for instructors to gauge where the student is at. The student will get notice of being scheduled for a block of time (especially grades K-3) to meet with an instructor and demonstrate basic academic skills. Families with kids in grades K through 8 will get notices of conference dates of Sept. 8, 9 or 10.
Students in the Life Work Center, Norse Area Learning Center and attending the High School will get personalized return to school information from school officials, by August 17.
There will not be any traditional open houses. Tetzlaff explained there can be 2,000 people in one building at a fall open house and this is not encouraged.
Families will be getting letters and e mails regarding times to enter specific buildings.
Supt. Paul observed how last spring everybody had to respond and offer remote education under a sense of urgency. They had no time to analyze space needs and nurture partnerships with the community. Over the last few months the county and city have gotten involved assisting where they can, and the superintendent thanked North Branch Administrator Renae Fry and county public health staff for pitching in with resources. “I am appreciative of them being open to helping where they can.” City building inspectors have aided in reviewing space at the outlet mall, for example, to become an option for remote Internet access for those who lack virtual learning access.
“The district has taken what was already good and enhanced it,” Paul stated.
North Branch educators were scheduled to see what the school board adopted as final details Friday last week and give feedback to district leaders. It was noted at the special meeting that there have been few “leave” requests submitted by teachers who are not comfortable with returning to class. Paul said the conversation is being kept open and told the school board, “...the teachers love their kids.”