Board Meeting in Review – December 14, 2020

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The regular meeting was held electronically starting at 6:30 p.m.

Mr. Childs read the thank you notes from the HHEA and individual staff members that were received in appreciation of the $500 bonus given by the board in recognition of the staff’s extra efforts and hard work this school year due to Covid.

The meeting agenda, November minutes, and treasurer’s report were approved.  An addendum was added to the agenda under Board Business item 6, Middle School Science Curriculum.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, an elementary teacher shared that we have a fifth grade student who is entered in a national poetry contest.  The MS/HS music director shared that the beginning band students participated virtually in an hour-long workshop with music educators from all around Michigan.  The students enjoyed the workshop and he received numerous comments on how hard the students were working and how well they sounded.

The board approved the first reading of NEOLA Special Update MIOSHA Emergency Rule – November 2020; the second reading of NEOLA Special Update EDGAR Revisions – October 2020; and the second reading of NEOLA Special Release Regarding Open Meetings Act – October 2020.

Superintendent Denney presented an update to the Board Goals and they were approved.   Actions taken under Board Goal #1A are:  Continually adjusting intervention programs and the purchase of new curriculum.  Actions taken under Board Goal #1B are staff monitoring the impacts that the last nine months have had on student achievement and discussions to plan for remediation.  Goal #1C actions taken are new curriculum purchases, purchase of new devices, and early discussions to investigate ways to help struggling students.  Goal #1D actions taken are positive interactions between the board and bargaining groups, a recent bonus to all employees, and sharing positive messages.  Goal #1E actions include continued meal programs, potential meal service over the upcoming Christmas break, coordinating with the Jackson County Health Dept., and looking forward to opening doors to parent volunteers when it is safe.  Actions taken for Goal #1F are working on Whole Chile initiatives, and a team working on tracking the mental well-being of students.

Goal #2A actions taken are the continuation of the bond project, LED lighting conversion, and adding stronger wireless access points to both district campuses.  Goal #2B actions taken are the purchase of several devices to meet the needs of students/staff, and working to continue switch, fiber, and access point updating.  Actions taken for Goal #2C are Zoom expenses being covered by the Technology Consortium and partnering with JCISD for business services and payroll.

The board reapproved the district’s COVID-19 Learning Plan, which is required monthly.  Supt. Denney shared the following two-way interaction rates for October:

Week 1 – 92.74%

Week 2 – 76.98%

Week 3 – 79.89%

Week 4 – 78.94%

Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan Public Comment:

A seventh grade parent shared with the board that, with 24 years’ experience as an educator, she understands well the challenges that the board has faced this school year.  As a parent, she would have appreciated having the choice for in-person or online learning during the most recent shutdown.  She shared that her daughter’s online learning platform has not been very robust, and it needs to be; one zoom meeting per week is unacceptable.  She is not seeing direct instruction across the board when the district is going all online when not required by the MDHHS to do so.  She would be willing to talk with the board or administration or serve on a committee in the future to share her views.

An elementary teacher asked if the board had considered going back to school for half days on January 4th.  Teaching online as well as in person is twice the work, but could we be creative to find a happy medium?

Another elementary teacher stated that it was very tough to keep students and staff 6’ apart, much less farther apart, and she doesn’t want that to be the reason why colleagues and students get sick from being together.

Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan Comments by the Board:

  • The board is working to address shortfalls of the learning plan.  Please trust them to make decisions as a board and administration.
  • The decision to go all online (K-12) was very tough.  The board and administration looked at the rising numbers of new Covid cases in the county and township, and those statistics warranted going virtual according to the learning plan in place.
  • Is there anything we can to do to minimize closing of school?  As a general rule, Covid is not being spread through student-to-student or student-to-teacher contact.  Can staff and students wear N-95 masks and stay spread out enough to eliminate contact within 6’ for 15 minutes?  We need to take a look at ways to keep K-8 open as much as possible.  Because of precautions taken as a society, flu-like illnesses are down.  We have to try to balance safety vs. education.  We may not be doing everything we can to educate children.
  • Our safety plan was working, and we need to get back to teaching kids in person.
  • Our job is to educate kids, but also to keep kids and employees safe.  We had to do some quarantining in our buildings before Thanksgiving break, and cases were spiking at that time.  We need to be leaders in keeping kids safe.
  • Board members will be working with administration to improve our learning plan.  Everything we’ve done can always be improved.  Discussions will be taking place over Christmas break.

The board approved the purchase of middle school science curriculum, not to exceed $34,000, with a six year agreement.  Mrs. Herwat has been researching middle school science curriculum for the past couple years.  The curriculum from the Savvas Learning Group will meet our middle school’s needs, as it can be customized to fit our curriculum.  One of the strengths of the curriculum is that it is an intuitive program that will feed into our high school program, allowing consistency in grades 6-12; it will cover science requirements prior to juniors taking the SAT.  Mrs. Herwat is still working with the company’s rep to bring down the cost, but with approval of the purchase, we can get the material and get started with it in January.

The Michigan Municipal Qualifying Statement was approved by the board.  This document must be approved annually and submitted to the state; it gives the district “qualified status” for the upcoming year to issue most types of municipal obligations (bonds, state aid notes, and tax notes) more swiftly and reduces filing fees.

The board passed a resolution to use County National Bank to conduct the majority of our banking for several funds.  After comparing services and fees with those of Comerica Bank, County National Bank was found to offer more flexibility and services.

The Personnel Committee met and recommended that non-union (administrative) employees be given a 2% raise to align with the 2% raise for 2021 that teachers received in contract negotiations.  The board approved this pay increase to be effective January 1, 2021.

Superintendent Denney reported to the board members on the following:

  • Thank you to the board for approving the pay raise, as well as the employee bonus already received. The president of the support staff union reached out to him to let the board know how much everyone appreciated the bonus.
  • Most employees will receive a Covid stipend from the state in February.
  • The decision to close the district to in-person learning last month was very difficult. Hopefully we will be able to keep our doors open in January.
  • Looking forward to see what 2021 will bring.
  • Merry Christmas to everyone!

The board members commented on the following:

  • Thank you to Mrs. Herwat for all the research she did on the middle school science curriculum.  The board recognizes that she went out of her way on her own time to find the best options for our district.
  • Board members respect the decision made to close K-8 to in-person learning.  Many families were quarantined before the closing, and Covid cases were probably higher than we knew.  Hopefully we will be back on January 4th vs. January 11th.
  • Thank you to the elementary teacher for making the board aware of the student who is in the national poetry contest, and thank you to the music director for being creative with the beginning band program.
  • Thank you to teachers and staff for all their hard work.  The board would like to get as many students back to in-person learning as possible, and will try to find a balance to keep students and staff safe.
  • We have amazing an administration, support staff, and teachers.  We have one of the strongest boards in the county.  Our board members don’t hide things from the public, but rather have conversations in front of the public.  It is difficult being a board member at this time, and difficult holding meetings via Zoom, but we have to do what we have to do.
  • Have a great holiday and stay safe!

The meeting was adjourned at 8:32 p.m.

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