ALAH School District makes it through 19 days (and counting) of in-person learning during COVID Pandemic

District is now officially a one-one device learning district

By ARIANA R. CHERRY
Staff Writer

At the opening of the most recent ALAH School Board meeting, a great number of new teachers were introduced.

Some were brand new to the teaching field whereas others had previous experience.

At least half of the public “audience” for last Wednesday night’s meeting was made up of the district’s new teaching staff.

Teachers were from Lovington Grade School, Atwood-Hammond and Arthur Grade School. They all introduced themselves and their positions with the district.

Excited to be a part of a wonderful district, they were eager for their introductions and a few stayed behind for the remainder of the meeting.

After the warm welcome to the new teaching staff, a budget hearing for FY21 was in session. Shannon Cheek explained that nothing much had changed since last month’s meeting and that the budget had been available for viewing for the appropriate time. Afterward, the hearing was closed, and the board would go on to vote for the budget later in the meeting, which was approved.

During the treasurer’s report, Shannon noted that the district had received money for transportation and special education. A regular payment of $85,446.71 was received from transportation and a payment of $51,431.18 from Special Ed. He also informed the board that the district had received some tax payments: Champaign county, the district received $2,307.98, from Douglas county: $2,039,967.80 and from Moultrie county: $164,174.43.

Both Mark Smith and Amanda Romine presented a technology report, announcing that the ALAH School District was now officially a one-to-one device learning with all of its students. Thanks to the Cares Grant, the district was able to buy many devices so that all students would have access to them for homework, in school use and remote learning. Unless they were remote learning students, K-6 students all left their devices at school for use. Junior High and High School were able to take their devices home. Chromebooks are given to freshmen for use in high school and then they are turned in once they graduate. During the summer, devices are left at school, for use at the next school year. Those devices that are turned in from seniors often go to junior high or elementary as long as they are still in good shape. Along with Chromebooks and tablets, the district was able to purchase many hot-spots for those who needed access to the internet at home. The hot-spots are set up with special protection that allows them to only be connected to certain devices. Social media networks and other possible problematic sites have been blocked from school-owned devices. Parents of students with devices were asked to fill out a contract, stating that while devices are known to have normal wear and tear after use, etc., that should a device be broken from an accident, that they would be responsible to pay for its replacement. Without the additional money from the Cares Grant and both Mark Smith and Amanda Romine being on top of keeping up with the district’s devices and making orders early on in the year, it wouldn’t have been possible for the district to obtain this goal.

After board members’ questions and sharing their gratitude with both Smith and Romine, Shannon then began his Superintendent’s report. He was happy to report that the district had made it through 19 days of in-person learning so far. He also noted, that without the help of the amazing administrative staff, teachers and everyone involved, that it wouldn’t be possible. Everyone was working harder and yet more creatively to make it work. He was also impressed with how even the students who were remote, were involved with their classmates and teachers. While everyone has been hard at work, he did note that with the impending cold and flu season, it could present challenges.

Cheek then presented that out of a total of 1,086 students in the district, 904 of them were participating in in-person learning while 182 were full-time remote. With those numbers in mind, he also brought attention to the number of students and staff that were either in quarantine or had tested positive for COVID.

He noted that 80 students and 5 staff in the district were in quarantine, but also suggested that it wasn’t necessary to be alarmed. Anyone in the district who showed at least one symptom of COVID was asked to quarantine. This is being done to keep everyone involved protected.

Cheek also noted that often, they were ahead of the Public Health Department. Sometimes, they would get a fax from the department reporting on individuals, only to find out, those reported on were already in quarantine. The district has been staying ahead in the game, which has made them successful with everyone working together. As of Wednesday, September 16, the district has had six students and two staff members who had tested positive for COVID.

What has made this process especially time-consuming and difficult was contact tracing. Shannon explained that he had a few administrative staff members who literally reviewed hours of video, watching for anyone who possibly could have been close to someone who was asked to quarantine or had tested positive. While sometimes, contract tracing took priority over other activities, it was very important to do, and it was one of the important tasks, that was keeping everyone in school learning. He noted that moving forward, “We will need to continue to monitor the situation carefully- including collaborating with the health department. As it stands currently, the recommendation is to stay with the current schedule through the first semester. Keep in mind, this can and may change at any given time, especially as we move into the cold and flu season.”

After speaking on the district’s progress on dealing with the present pandemic, the board discussed and voted on a service for “Collaborating and Communication for Growth, A Cycle with Purpose and Persistence.”

The service (from Leading Simply) is a year-long process that includes the following steps: 1. Information Gathering – thought exchanging activities where stakeholders will be able to begin dialogue and exchanging of ideas related to many facets of the district including but not limited to facilities, curriculum, etc…….

2. Engagement Activities – Small and larger group engagement sessions to begin to empower the stakeholders in the decision-making process – virtual and in-person sessions when deemed allowable and safe

3. Identifying Contradictions – Strategically identifying and dealing with the roadblocks and obstacles for the purpose of overcoming them to build upon that strategic vision and planning.

4. Strategic Thinking and Planning – Designed to build some consensus around strategic direction to move beyond the barriers and obstacles identified in order to adopt an action plan.

5. Action Planning – Tactically design and calendar actions that must be taken to successfully implement the identified strategies.

6. Circle back through the information gathering process if necessary.

After some brief discussion, the board voted to move forward with the participation.

Before closing out the public portion of the meeting, Shannon wanted to recognize all of those who had been vital in helping with everything so far this year. Those he recognized included custodial and maintenance staff, teachers and teachers’ aides, cooks and kitchen workers, building secretaries, administration and the community and parents. Without the help and support from all of these vital groups and individuals, the district wouldn’t be able to continue the wonderful work that they do. He also congratulated both Monica Green and Beth Wiley for obtaining Level II status as board members.

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