Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School officials met Monday evening, observing recommended social distances in the high school auditorium. Although all board members and Superintendent Nels Onstad were physically present, other school administrators joined via video conference.
Despite a few technical glitches, Onstad provided the board with several pieces of hopeful information amid the dynamic changes that took place across the state and nation this past two weeks.
The first silver lining in the storm clouds of the COVID-19 outbreak and emergency measures was that the absence of students and most staff from the ACGC buildings has allowed construction on the infrastructure renovations to proceed more rapidly. Onstad noted that not only has the high school/middle school siding removal and replacement commenced with the recent warm spring weather, but work on heating and cooling ductwork has begun. Work has also progressed faster at the elementary school in Atwater.
A second silver lining was that chaos in national financial markets had an unexpectedly positive effect on sales of the districts’ facilities maintenance and tax abatement bonds, which were sold to finance a portion of the 2020 construction work. Matthew Hammer, municipal advisor at the Ehlers financial consulting firm, said that preliminary estimates had called for the bonds to be issued at a 3.1 percent interest rate. Instead, five bids were received with the low bidder, Piper Sandler & Co. of Minneapolis, awarded the bonds at a 2.93 interest rate. Hammer said that would save the district $170,000 in interest over the life of the bonds compared to the preliminary estimate.
Distance Learning Plan
Because of the need to have a long construction season for its 2020 renovations, the board had planned for school to start early last fall and close early for summer vacation, putting ACGC students a couple of weeks ahead of their peers in neighboring schools on the academic front. Even so, with six weeks remaining of the school year, the district had to plan for students to potentially finish out their academic year via distance learning. It took principals and staff a week or so to organize a plan, Onstad said, but it is ready to be implemented within a few days.
On Thursday, March 26, parents will be given a specified time to pick up their children’s personal belongings from the school.
The Distance Learning Plan calls for students to have daily videotaped lessons from their classroom teachers. A list of families who do not have home Internet access has been compiled, and teachers will arrange alternative lesson plans for them, including phone calls and mail. (Board Vice Chair Megan Morrison noted that Meeker Cooperative has offered three months of free Internet access through Vibrant for educational purposes, for families currently lacking access.)
Depending on the students’ age and the type of curriculum, teachers will direct students on how to submit assignments for grading. Classes will have private Facebook pages set up for communications. Attendance will be taken, based upon a mandatory requirement for students to interact with each of their teachers at least twice a week.
Weekly activity maps will be communicated to each elementary student’s family by 10 a.m. on the first school day of each week. Details about how the process will work for students with special education needs are still being finalized, Onstad noted.
Teachers are expected to continue to work approximately eight hours each day. This includes one-to-three hours per day of videotaped instruction (depending on the student’s grade level), and available contact “office hours” of 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m., during which teachers will plan their lessons and contact students via phone and electronic devices.
Child care is provided for the young children of health care and emergency workers, as required by the governor's emergency orders. The numbers range from three to twelve children daily, Onstad noted.
Onstad said that plans for conducting Distance Learning are dynamic and hard to monitor, since rules related to the emergency change almost daily. Details of the Distance Learning Plan are being posted on ACGC’s website: http://www.acgc.k12.mn.us/
Among other business:
- In personnel matters, the board accepted the retirements of fifth grade teacher Elizabeth Wheeler and head cook Lorna Thorp. Several summer custodial staff assignments were made.
- The district’s Achievement and Integration Plan was adopted. This plan is designed to close the gap between all students and specific categories of students such as those with disabilities and English as a second language needs.
- The school calendar for 2020-2021 was adopted. It calls for school to open to students on Sept. 8 and close May 28. As has been the case for a number of years, students will attend school Tuesdays through most Fridays, with most Mondays set aside for teacher in-service and make-up snow days. Winter vacation is slated for Dec. 24 through Jan. 4, and there will be only a “long weekend” spring break, April 2-5.
- Teachers will report for duty on Sept. 1 and their last day is June 1.