Wahkiakum schools struggle for supplies for opening
August 20, 2020
The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors met on Tuesday night as the district continued preparations for the coming school year, which begins on September 2.
Principals have been working with staff, Superintendent Brent Freeman said, and the district is making a lot of facility changes to increase safety for students and staff during the pandemic. They are still working on getting supplies and equipment, and because of high demand, it’s been a struggle to get minor items like spray bottles, or more important tools for the classroom.
Wahkiakum had ordered Owls for remote learning. They are 360 degree conference cameras that will be used in the classroom, and due to high demand, the distributor said it would now be October before they show up.
"That is an unfortunate setback,” Freeman said.
The district will move forward anyway.
“Will all members of one family be part of the same schedule to accommodate for transportation and more?” Director Paula Culbertson wondered.
That is one matter that staff members are considering as they try to define cohorts. Meanwhile, there is much uncertainty around the number of students who will be returning to the classroom.
Freeman expects enrollment will be down, but hopes that the parents who are on the fence will gain confidence in the school’s ability to operate during the pandemic, and begin to send their kids back to campus.
“It’s important for us to get off to a good start,” he said.
“Planning for the reopening has been taking place all summer,” Principal Nikki Reese said. “[Principal] Stephanie [Leitz] and I feel really strongly about giving our staffs big shout outs and kudos, in terms of professional development.”
Reese said that teachers were learning how to implement virtual learning, picking up tools to be more successful using that model, and learning how to approach teaching with a different mindset.
"I’m not going to lie, the reality of pulling this off is very challenging, what we are asking our teachers to do is really challenging,” she said.
Leitz echoed Reese’s sentiment, and added that they were thinking about how to keep students safe, meet the needs of the kids, and wondering how to address connectivity issues.
Reese noted, that much like Culbertson, parents had a lot of questions about cohorts.
“It’s really exciting to be bringing our kids back, but it’s also a hardship for families in many ways to be looking at just two days a week,” Reese said. “It’s not just finding child care but it’s also managing their learning, and making sure they are engaged. I do believe we can pull this off, but it’s a tremendous amount of work.”
“Students want things to be really predictable,” Leitz added. “They went to know when assignments are coming, when they are going to be due, how they turn them in, and that we use the same platform so they can help siblings. Those are the kind of things we are taking into consideration.”
“We are asking teachers to do two jobs,” Freeman said. “The remote learning and the hybrid in class. It’s a tremendous amount of work. I think a lot of districts recognize how hard this is and it’s not an option for them.”
And yet, he added, “I haven’t heard a single person yet say I can’t or I won’t.”
Communication is really important right now, and Reese said that parent conferences were being scheduled for the first two days of school to address concerns about returning to school or to talk to parents who have decided to continue with the remote option. It will also be a good opportunity for them to talk about expectations for students.
The hope, though, is that students will return to the classroom.
“We can come up with a lot of options and resources, but we cannot build an internet network for the county,” Freeman said. “I think that’s one of the reasons it’s important for kids to be back. The best place for our students is back on campus.”
As for meals, they can only give free meals to students who qualify for free and reduced during the school year. For everyone else, meal prices will stay the same as last year, Freeman noted.
“We are neither funded nor obligated to provide food over the weekend,” Freeman said, “but we will continue to work with food banks and the Gap Bag program to provide that food over the weekend.”
Like everything else, they continue to work through the details.
The board approved Courtney Helm’s resignation, and the hire of Patty Calvert as a new custodian. They also approved a resolution that transferred $32,856.26 from the Capital Project Fund to the General Fund.
The board approved the 20-21 school handbooks, the 20-21 minimum basic education requirements for compliance, a traffic safety class fee of $425 for 20-21. The daily substitute teacher’s pay rate was set to $150, and a list of support staff members for 20-21 was approved.