Rugby Schools launch new home instruction plans
Rugby schools launched new distance education plans this week to deliver lessons to students completing the last two months of their 2019-2020 school year from their homes.
Rugby Public Schools Superintendent Michael McNeff introduced an educational plan for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 at a special school board meeting last Thursday.
The alternative instruction plan was developed to comply with edicts issued by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction in response to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the state. School districts were given a March 30 deadline to submit alternative educational plans to cover the period during which they are closed.
“I’m pretty proud of the work of our teachers,” McNeff told the board.
McNeff described how public school staff faced challenges posed by Gov. Doug Burgum’s March 15 executive order to close schools in the state for one week at first, then extend the closures indefinitely.
“We were basically given a week to redesign education. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve gotten through some of these barriers, day by day,” McNeff told the board. “Like, who needs (internet) access? How are we going to do that? How are we going to do all these different things?”
“We’ve changed a system that has been largely untouched in 150 years in a week, because we had to,” he added.
McNeff outlined the 25-page plan for the board, then later in the evening for parents and community members in a livestreamed presentation on social media.
The plan began with calls to homes assessing students’ needs for meals and internet access, McNeff told the board.
“People need to have devices,” McNeff said. “They need to have Wi-Fi.”
McNeff credited District Assistant Peggy Harmel with coordinating meal delivery and pick up service at the school and assisting families to access the technology necessary to receive instruction.
“We’ve been working with NDTC and Midco, and they’re providing free internet to people right now,” McNeff told the group.
McNeff described how lessons would be delivered to students.
“We’re providing synchronous and asynchronous learning,” McNeff said.
“Synchronous means it’s happening now, and asynchronous means it’s happening offline or through Google Classroom or something like that. We’re combining those two areas in our plan. We’re going to be using (software platform) Zoom very heavily for videoconferencing. We’re going to require teachers to at a minimum reach out with a Zoom meeting or phone call (to students’ homes) once a week.”
“Some teachers are having 30 minutes here with one small group and (another block of time with other groups),” he explained. That’s how we’re collecting data on attendance.”
Attendance data will also be collected from records documenting logins and website visits by students’ computers.
McNeff added, “The other piece of it is what we’ve designed is not designed for a kid to sit in front of a computer for six hours straight. We’ve set up what we believe is age appropriate (lessons).”
McNeff listed guidelines for online instruction time. “For example, kindergartener should not be getting any more than 30 minutes a day from a school,” McNeff indicated. “A first- and second grader should not be getting anything longer than 45 minutes a day. A high school kid, or grades 6 through 12 should not be getting anything more than three hours from all their teachers combined a day.”
“We cannot expect a kid to sit in front of a device for six hours straight. That’s not what we’re designing,” McNeff said. “We’re designing these need-to-know things that a kid must be able to do for next fall.”
McNeff also outlined grading criteria in the plan. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade would receive pass/fail grades, while high school students would receive traditional A-F grades.
McNeff said the plan allowed for special ed students to receive services according to their individual education plans, or IEPs. Modifications such as home visits and delivering various therapies in time blocks could be added to address unique situations, he added.
“English learners, the same thing, we need to provide the same services. Same with Title 1,” McNeff added.
McNeff said that teachers and ancillary school staff would receive their regular pay for the remainder of the school year. Staff could also be asked to perform duties outside of their regular scope, he noted.
“The governor today talked about essential childcare and keeping our healthcare employees working,” McNeff noted. “He has an executive order that I think will extend to schools as the epidemic spreads. They’ve put some pretty big stipulations on childcare now. We want to keep those essential workers working.”
“K-12 ancillary staff may be required to provide daycare for those essential workers to keep operating,” McNeff added.
“What I’ve told my staff was, ‘Fair doesn’t always mean equal. I may not need you today, but your job may not always be a custodian. You may be delivering food. You may need to provide daycare.’ Who knows where that’s going to go? You’ve got to keep things up and running.”
The plan also allows for spring sports coaching staff to be paid according to their contracts. McNeff said coaches would reach out to student athletes for “mental health check ins” and give the students workout plans. Coaches would also take a National Federation of State High School course online.
McNeff said band and music instructors would work in similar ways with their students.
The board voted unanimously to approve the educational plan.
The board also approved a North Dakota School Boards Association resolution granting emergency powers to McNeff.
The resolution would allow the superintendent to make executive decisions and act without board approval.
Board member Dustin Hager clarified the measure. “So, it’s really granting you authority while the governor’s executive orders are in place. At some place, those executive orders would cease and this would sunset with that automatically,” Hager said.
“Yes,” McNeff said.
A link to the approved Rugby Public School District learning plan appears on the Rugby Public Schools website at www.rugby.k12.nd.us/domain/2128. Another link is available on Rugby Public Schools’ Facebook page.
Little Flower Elementary School Principal Kim Anderson told the Tribune the Catholic school’s distance learning plan is “similar to RPS.”
“Teachers initially created packets and materials that students may need for extended long-term distance learning that parents picked up,” Anderson said in a written message.
“Teachers are using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, You Tube videos, etc.,” Anderson wrote.
“Teachers have set up daily times to instruct students and times to be available for questions,” she added. “Videos are also posted to teachers’ pages or emailed directly to families. Coursework along with daily prayers began last week.”
Anderson said staff meetings continue as usual with allowances for social distancing and online contact.
“Our entire school continues to hold our weekly assembly to celebrate successes, pray together, say the pledge and mainly just connect together as a group,” Anderson wrote.
“Our students all have access to the needed technologies,” Anderson added. “We made contact with our families immediately to determine needs for technology and the lunch program. Our goal is to keep their education moving forward and keep their spirits high during this challenging time. Our teachers are working very hard at delivering a quality education for our students.”
Anderson said Little Flower Elementary was working together with Rugby Public Schools to meet the needs of students with IEPs.
“The public and private school have a very good relationship and both put the needs of our students and community first,” Anderson said.
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