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Virtual learning concerns discussed

Mustang Public Schools’ Board of Education discussed challenges and benefits of virtual learning, as well as social media feedback and funding during Monday’s meeting.
Assistant Super-intendent of Elementary Education Stacy Edwards and Assistant Super-intendent of Secondary Education Ryan McKinney updated the board about what is working for MPS and what has not.
The two said the district has faced a number of challenges, including technology issues, such as browsers not being compatible with the software; frustrations with “learning as you go;” lack of training time and teachers using the online system for the first time.
Other issues include some language barriers, especially with parents who are trying to be hands-on with their children, but English is not their native language.
Officials said the recommended browser is Chrome, while Firefox and Safari will work. Edge is not recommended.
There is support available for families, such as platform tutorials for parents, one-on-one meetings with teachers or administrators, and a tiered communication system.
Within the tiered system, teachers are the first person to reach out to when issues arise, Edwards said.
An administrative member is the next person on the level, followed by someone who has expert advice on the platforms.
If confusion remains, Edwards said to go to the specific school’s principal to see who the best person is to speak to.
Kindergarten- through sixth-grade virtual families can also go in-person to the Educational Resource Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday to receive technological help from experts.
Appointments aren’t necessary during those times. However, if a parent needs an evening time, Edwards said that can be arranged by calling their child’s school.
The middle schools and high schools are having meetings at their sites.
Middle school parents can make an appointment by calling their child’s school through the end of this week.
If there is continued feedback about parents needing more help with the platforms, Edwards said they will continue having the in-person meetings.

The balance of schoolwork is still being adjusted, as well McKinney said.
Lengthening of time limits on quizzes, tests and assignments is being looked at, he said.
Attendance is counted on Monday and Tuesday for the previous week and the weekend is for work completion, Edwards said.
Differences of grades is also fluctuating on Edgenuity, board member Jeff Landrith said.
McKinney said this is the equivalent of teachers placing zeroes in the gradebook until a student’s work is turned in.

Some successes the assistant superintendents said were the platforms have been helpful for some teachers, students and staff who are quarantined and can continue to work, as well as the A-B schedule minimizing the number of quarantined staff and students.
“This has created an urgency for us to make some changes to things for all of education,” said McKinney. “Options that we’re able to present to kids, and moving forward, utilizing more technology in the classroom.”
Social distancing is almost impossible at Mustang High School, he said.
“There’s no indicators that suggest (quarantines and close contacts) are going down,” said Superintendent Charles Bradley. “One week, it’s starting to look good, next week it creeps up — there’s no consistency.”
Bradley said he realizes parents are frustrated; however, bringing back students fully would increase quarantines.
“Five days a week is the preferred method, and we’re trying to get there safely,” Bradley said.
MHS Principal Kathy Knowles said there are five lunches with the A-B schedule, where students have assigned seating by use of their student ID barcodes.
There are about 14 students per classroom.
If a positive case is confirmed, desks are spread further apart to help with social distancing.
Depending on how big each class is, four to 10 students may be removed to allow for more social distancing, Knowles said.
“I can’t imagine what we’d be going through right now if we were not on an A-B schedule,” said Knowles.
Todd Lovelace, board vice president, who was initially wary of the schedule, said A-B is working.
The board sent out a release Sept. 10 stating the district will continue the A-B schedule until at least fall break, which begins Oct. 14.

According to MPS COVID-19 response team’s third week data, there were six more positive COVID-19 cases as of Friday.
Known close contacts and those who are symptomatic rose 65 percent from last week’s data.
Quarantines also increased by 66 percent.
Ninety-three people are currently quarantining.
Twenty-eight people have recovered from the virus.
There has been an increase in athletic virus-related incidents, Bradley said.
Board President Chad Schroeder asked for grace toward teachers, parents and students throughout the pandemic.
Landrith mentioned social media concerns.
Amidst positive feedback are negative comments naming teachers, he said.
Landrith said the social media groups should be a topic on a future board agenda.
“You’re heard and we do pay attention, but personally, there’s no (board) decisions made based on those comments,” said Schroeder.

Chief Financial Officer Nancy McKay said the pandemic will slow fund recovery.
MPS did receive $910,000 from the CARES Act to go toward purchasing software, Chromebooks for staff and students, personal protective equipment and district salaries.
The state Legislature is predicting another round of budget cuts in January, McKay said.
She expects MPS will collect about $49 million this year in state funds. Last year, the school received $53 million.
The school’s budget is $89 million, McKay said.

Current enrollment numbers:
• There are 4,016 elementary students enrolled in traditional learning and 826 elementary students enrolled in virtual learning.
• There are 1,407 intermediate students enrolled in traditional learning and 354 intermediate students enrolled in virtual learning.
• There are 1,367 middle schoolers enrolled in traditional learning and 344 are enrolled in virtual.
• High schoolers who are enrolled in the A-B schedule total about 1,242. However, that number fluctuates throughout the hours in each school day.
• There are 511 high schoolers in virtual and about 300 enrolled in blended learning, (this number also rises or lowers depending on the school hours).
Board member Stacy Oldham and board clerk Dedra Stafford did not attend the meeting.

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