Steamboat administrators identify early challenges at start of 2020-21 school year
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The initial feedback about the first week of school has been overwhelmingly positive, Steamboat Springs School District principals told the Board of Education at its meeting Monday.
The months of planning paid off, they reported, and the students are doing a great job adhering to new protocols dictated by COVID-19 public health directives.
At the Aug. 17 board meeting, a number of teachers — primarily from the high school — strongly expressed concerns about reopening, but the tone at the most recent school board meeting was much different.
On Monday, only one teacher spoke.
Steamboat Springs High School teacher Dani Booth expressed only gratitude for the additional time put in by board members and administrators after the issues were brought forth, saying the teachers felt heard and valued. Booth also thanked Superintendent Brad Meeks for writing a letter to the editor supporting the teachers for voicing concerns about the challenges they face.
But administrators also pointed to areas they see will require more attention and modification.
One challenge across all grade levels, they said, is the time now required by teachers to plan five days of in-person learning as well as for the time students are at home.
Students are divided into two cohorts, attending in-person classes two days a week and alternating on Fridays. On the other days, teachers are responsible for at-home learning.
Soda Creek Elementary Principal Amy Bohmer said it is especially challenging for teachers of the younger grades to plan the at-home component, as they are harder to engage, and it is more difficult to find age-appropriate work.
Preparing for both, said Director of Teaching and Learning Jay Hamric, is a big ask of teachers.
Hamric also presented a document with guidelines on blended learning expectations. He emphasized the at-home component needs to be engaging and rigorous with a system of monitoring and accountability. If kids are not engaged, Hamric said the district will reach out to those families and work on a solution. There also will be a system to mark kids absent during the at-home days if they are not doing the work, he said.
“We are not going to have it figured out in one week,” Hamric said. He added that professional development for teachers will be ongoing.
There was a glitch with the 100% remote learning option, especially for elementary and high school students, Hamric said. The Edgenuity program was overwhelmed by the numbers, and students weren’t able to enroll in the core classes on Monday as planned.
“I can’t say it hasn’t been without hiccups and challenges,” he said, adding some parents were frustrated.
But Hamric said the Edgenuity staff has been responsive and extended the 10-day trial period for parents to change their minds.
Initially, there were 316 students signed up for the district-offered online option, Hamric said. That went down to 281, with most of those deciding to return to the blended learning option.
While the schools have determined P.E. classes can be held outside with socially distancing and no masks, the district is still trying to determine whether it can allow masks to be taken off during recess, which is less structured.
Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dennis Alt said a big focus right now is figuring out ways to support the social component of high school, given many activities won’t be happening this year. He said he is engaging student leadership teams to be proactive about coming up with creative ways to address those social emotional needs.
Alt said another challenge he faces is that two cohorts are full without much flexibility for students to move around between the cohorts if schedule changes are needed.
A concern Director of Finance Mark Rydberg brought forth during Monday night’s school board meeting was the district’s drop in enrollment, especially in the elementary grades. The high school and North Routt Community Charter School saw a slight increase in enrollment, and the middle school stayed the same. However, those numbers are preliminary with the official count coming Oct. 1.
Each student in Colorado is tied to $7,996 in state and federal funding. For districts with declining enrollment, numbers will be averaged over five years.
So despite a drop of 59 fewer students across the district as of Aug. 28 compared to Oct. 1, 2019, Rydberg said that does not translate into an instant loss of nearly $475,000.
He did express concern at the number of students who have decided to homeschool. Board members discussed surveying why families made that decision and whether they were planning to return. Rydberg emphasized the importance of making sure parents know their option to enroll in the district but elect the remote learning option.
Homeschool students are required to report to the local public school as part of the state’s accountability system to ensure the child is getting an education.
In terms of projections, Rydberg said the biggest shift in enrollment was in the kindergarten class, which came in, as of Aug. 28, at about 40 students fewer than what was projected. Those estimates are primarily based on birth rates.
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