As the clock in front of the trustees shows, the Feb. 16 meeting lasted until nearly 11:30 – almost six hours.
Heather Dominguez outlined the expected outcomes of the mandated ethnic studies program.
RIM OF THE WORLD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Six-hour meeting addresses attendance, new science standards, ethnic studies, summer school
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
At their Feb. 16 meeting, the trustees of the Rim of the World Unified School District heard reports, presentations and discussions on a number of items concerning finance, student learning and achievement, inclusion, a classification study, ethnic studies, summer school and expanded learning opportunities.
Chief Business Official Jenny Haberlin reported that, while enrollment is “up a bit,” the attendance rate is down slightly. “Our Strive for 95 is down slightly,” she said, adding that there has been a slight uptick in COVID cases. And, although the district offers temporary independent study options to keep up ADA (average daily attendance), “not every student will enter into such a program.
“When COVID is not a reason (for absences), what will we do to address chronic absenteeism?” she asked.
Trustee Bill Mellinger, president of the school board, commented that “we know attendance correlates to how well students do. If you’re not there, you can’t learn.”
Heather Dominguez, the director of educational services, updated the trustees on the adoption of the Next General Science Standards. “It has been a journey,” she said. The elementary-grade teachers have screened materials and identified three possible publishers of materials. The secondary teachers were unable to participate in the screening due to a lack of substitute teachers but will do so later.
When materials are chosen, Dominguez noted, the teachers will need support as these materials will be new. Some, she added, come with the additional materials needed to teach science. Dr. Kimberly Fricker, the superintendent of schools, told the board she had toured the science classrooms and asked the teachers to let them know what materials they may need.
Shannon Hansen, the assistant superintendent of personnel and pupil services, provided the trustees with an introduction to the inclusion model. The state, he said, requires that all districts move 80 percent of all special education students to full inclusion by the 2025-2026 school year.
Referring to his more than 21 years in special education, Hansen said that the stigma of special education needs to be removed. “My first class was in a closet – I felt bad for the kids,” he said. “All children regardless of disability have the right to learn in a general education setting.”
Also included in the state directive is a requirement for a 79-percent graduation rate. “And there is no additional funding to accomplish this,” Trustee Cindy Gardner said. “We have a long way to go on special education graduation rates. It may take personnel, which will mean additional costs.”
The bottom line, Hansen said, is the program “must fit the student’s needs, not where the student fits into the program. The student must be placed in the least restrictive environment.”
In addition, Hansen noted, “we need to make sure the language in the MPH inclusion model meshes with the inclusion model at Rim High. We are also looking at the transition from fifth grade to sixth grade. We have transition meetings planned for the end of the year.”
Hansen also told the trustees they will have to determine how many teacher-aide pairings and. how many teacher-teacher pairings are needed. The co-teach model is the most expensive but may be necessary as only a special education teacher can modify the curriculum. “We will provide the co-teach model if a student needs it,” Dr. Fricker said.
The district plans to conduct a classification study, Hansen said, to ensure employees are in the right classification for the work they are doing on an everyday basis. That they are paid a fair rate of pay that is competitive when compared to similar school districts.
“We want to treat employees fairly. You want to get paid for what you do,” Hansen said.
He said he was not aware of the Rim district having done a similar study in the past. They considered using an outside consultant but plan to do the study in-house. “That is the most fiscally responsible,” Dr. Fricker commented.
Classified employees may choose to opt in or out of the study. “I hope they will participate,” Hansen said.
Dominguez was then back at the microphone, presenting an update on the state-mandated ethnic studies course. She told the trustees she has been attending webinars to get ideas, resources and gather some next steps. Pupils graduating in the 2029-2030 school year will be required to have taken an ethnic studies course.
The six-step plan to offering the course begins with forming a committee that includes community members. That committee will consider course options and eventually implement the curriculum.
The next topic of discussion in the nearly six-hour-long meeting was the summer school plan. Currently the district is looking at offering classes from June 12 to July 12 in person for elementary school students and online, using Odysseyware, for the secondary students. Teachers, Dominguez said, will Zoom in with the students.
“We went through two years of online learning,” said Mellinger, “and saw the problems of not being in person. It’s troubling this is our option. We’re doing the very thing that helps students get behind.”
Dominguez answered that they are finding many schools are using a virtual option for summer learning. Hansen added that “this is the most cost-effective approach, being used by many districts to reach the most students.”
“But is it the more educationally effective?” Mellinger asked.
“Shoring up elementary student knowledge gaps is our priority,” Dr. Fricker said. “I’m not suggesting older students are not important but, the more we shore up with elementary, it will lessen gaps at the secondary level.” She added they tried to design an in-person model for the secondary students but it becomes more complicated because of all the classes they take.
“The distance learning experience was all our students the entire year, then trying to supplement an entire year of knowledge gaps in four weeks. Now we have students who were in class with a teacher for an entire year. We will shore up deficit areas where they have gaps or where they didn’t meet expectations,” Dr. Fricker added.
The final discussion item was a re-evaluation of the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program. Habelin said she had provided a draft to the trustees. “We looked at what other districts have in place,” she said, adding that ELOP is summer, holidays and before and after school programs. A survey was sent out to families, asking what time frame works best for them.
Habelin expects to bring a plan for adoption to the board in March.
Editor’s note: There will be more news from the Feb. 16 school board meeting in the March 9 issue of the newspaper.