August 12, 2020 10:20:24 AM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
With less than two weeks until school starts back for students in Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District, questions about virtual versus in-person learning dominated discussion at Tuesday evening's board of trustees meeting.
Roughly 1,724 students are currently signed up for virtual-only classes, according to numbers SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant provided the board. Another 2,647 will attend school in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 298 students have opted for a hybrid learning environment, a mixture of online and in-person classes available only to students in grades eight or higher.
Peasant said as of Friday, there were still about 1,000 students whose parents or guardians had not chosen between traditional and virtual learning. Though principals are in the process of reaching out to those parents, he said, those students will automatically be marked down for traditional learning if they don't reach them. Parents initially had until July 23 to notify the district of their decision.
Peasant also said he is continuing to work with community partners such as local churches to set up internet access for families who want their children to attend school virtually but who don't have internet at home. District administrators are also equipping buses with Wi-Fi access with plans to send those buses to places in the community where families need internet to attend school.
"With these options, we're expecting at this point for people to have a place to go and access to do school," he said.
In answer to a question from board president Debra Prince, Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christy Maulding said teachers will use a variety of ways to confirm attendance from those students, including their completion of course packets and time spent talking one on one with teachers, either online or by phone.
Maulding said the paper packets would be the "best way" to ensure students' attendance and participation, according to guidelines Mississippi Department of Education provided the district.
"They're going to have to turn in those packets on a weekly basis, and the completion of those assignments will demonstrate attendance because they're completing that work that's been assigned," she said.
Maulding said in the elementary schools, teachers have office hours where students can speak one on one with them at least once per day.
"The older we get for those schedules, it may be that there's a couple of times a week that they check in with those teachers because they're doing independent work," she said.
Teachers start back on Monday, and Peasant said they will spend the week going through more training for virtual learning.
"We feel like it's very important for everyone, whatever their schedule right now ... that all of them have some training," Peasant said. "... We could all end up going virtual or distance learning."
For most teachers, especially those in the elementary schools, they will be either teaching online only or in-person only, Peasant and Maulding said. The middle and high school levels are more "blended," Maulding said, with some elective teachers doing both virtual and traditional and other teachers handling both hybrid and online classes.
"It's just such a different dynamic over there," Maulding said. "It's a little bit of everything at the high school."
Maulding said school principals were in charge of determining which teachers would handle traditional classes versus which would handle online classes. Back in July, she said, she instructed principals first to reach out to teachers with underlying health issues or family members with underlying health issues as the first priorities for online teaching. Once those teachers were in place, Maulding said, she told principals to choose which teachers they thought would be best suited to teaching online.
The board also unanimously approved the district's budget with several other financial items at the beginning of the meeting.
At last month's meeting, Chief Financial Officer Tammie McGarr presented a budget with $64,435,688 million in expenditures and $61,972,004 in revenues. She told The Dispatch at the time that the district had a little over $12 million in reserve funds over several accounts last year and that the $2.5 million difference would come from those reserves. The budget will not necessitate a tax increase, she and Peasant said.
The district is set to receive $22,879,257 in MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program) funds from the state Legislature, about a 2 percent decrease from last year when the district received more than $23 million, according to documents McGarr provided the board last month. Legislators said earlier this year that because of costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, districts may have to supplement state funds with reserves.