The Mustang Public Schools’ Board of Education unanimously approved sending high schoolers back to the classroom fulltime, four days a week March 29.
Wednesdays will remain distance learning days.
Returning to in-person fulltime was decided by the members in large part, due to a social and emotional survey taken by some high schoolers.
The survey indicated many Mustang High School students were struggling with their mental health.
MHS made the survey voluntary to all ninth through 12th grade students Feb. 1-5. Of the about 3,000 students, 1,689 completed the survey.
The survey was created after a teacher informed one of the assistant superintendents about a student who informed them they were not in a healthy head space.
“We have to react to that trauma as a trauma,” said Principal Kathy Knowles.
About half of the students who participated in the survey indicated they did not feel mentally healthy. In the future, Knowles said more students would take the survey if it was anonymous.
Regarding a question about choosing a category that best fits how they currently feel, about 29% said they felt like “meh,” 15% said they were struggling and 4% said they were in a dark place. About 89% of students indicated they were also not seeing a counselor outside of class. Of the concerns students said they would discuss with a counselor, 32%, which was the highest percentage, indicated they would speak about their stress and anxiety.
About 20% would talk about their academic issues, 12% would speak about depression, about 10% would discuss family issues and about 8% would say they have lost hope. From the survey’s data, the high school developed a tiered plan to address the concerns.
Tier one would begin with guided discussions regarding mental health with English Language Arts teachers and counselors. The second tier would be support groups that would be on Wednesday and Friday evenings for six to eight weeks beginning after spring break.
Tier three would be individualized counseling referrals.
Board member Stacy Oldham inquired about learning format data in correlation to mental health. Knowles said she believes virtual learning would have the most negative impact on mental health, as they’re not receiving face-to-face connections. However, she said there are still some students who excel in the virtual format.
From now on, the high school will also meet with families to determine which learning option is the best for their students. The district will also create a survey for middle schoolers.
Safety in mind for move back to classrooms fulltime
Superintendent Charles Bradley initially recommended moving the students back April 5 to account for any post spring break spikes in COVID-19 cases. However, Board President Chad Schroeder and Vice President Todd Lovelace stated they wanted to move students back as quickly as possible given the emotional well-being of students.
Bradley said March 29 could work, although he anticipated contact tracing would be significant.
Board clerk Dedra Stafford and member Jeff Landrith backed Bradley’s April 5 recommendation. For Oldham, making the move April 5 was like waiting for the possibility of more quarantines, whereas it was not concrete data, making his vote for March 29.
A vote for April 5 did not pass. If there are major spikes within the district after students return fulltime, the board will address the best decision from their own data, Bradley said.
Students would still be required to wear masks. Those who wish to remain in virtual learning will still have that option, as well.
State of the high school highlights need for LPC
The needs the high school has is 1-1 technology; ninth grade assessment data; a fulltime licensed professional counselor for mental health support; an alternative school for students who have been suspended for drug use; bus transportation for career tech students, who don’t drive; and built-in time for tutoring, Knowles said.
When COVID-19 hit, the district shutdown in the second semester of 2019-2020, leaving 254 students who failed one or more courses. In the first semester of 2020-2021, 924 students failed classes.
To address this, the high school opened up a building to allow students to come in-person on Wednesdays to receive additional instruction time. The workdays began in October 2020 and have increased in students each month after, as they became a requirement for students who needed the extra help.
While Knowles noted there were many challenges the high school faced, there were some opportunities that surfaced.
“Before, our students had to fit into our box — this is the box of education, this is what you do — but now we’ve changed those boxes,” Knowles said. “Now, we try to fit the student, rather than the student trying to fit us.”
In more positive news, the high school created a Cultural Diversity committee, which is comprised of about 30 students. The group, which focuses on cultural inclusiveness, began in the fall semester, and there are two adult sponsors.
More space needed at alternative education centers
Knowles said there are not enough seats at alternative education facilities for students who choose a different path. Currently, there are 58 students at the Mustang Education Center; six at the Canadian County Educational Center; nine at the Canadian Valley Technology Center; and 45 at Credit Recovery, which is night school.
She said she would like those numbers to double.
The high school works to offer discounted Credit Recovery prices for students who are on free or reduced meals. Knowles said students should see counselors for this option.
Bradley said there is less space as the district’s population continues to grow. Another facility may be on the books soon, he said.
Students who dropped out from the district in the 2018-2019 school year increased from 2017-2018. There was a 45% increase of students who dropped out, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Ryan McKinney, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said dropouts are difficult to track at the state level. Of the 31 students who dropped out in 2018-2019, 13 were dropouts who received their GEDs, while two enrolled in another district and three returned to MPS, he said.
“… A kid could be enrolled in another district and the state still shows they’re a dropout,” said McKinney. “That’s something we work with them. There’s a way we can appeal that, but it’s not always a real fast process.”
Schroeder shared concerns about the system not being effective.
2020 graduates score high on CRB, ACT
MPS 2020 graduates’ College Readiness Benchmarks exceeded the state’s scores in each subject.
They also scored higher on their ACTs compared to the state.
Pre-enrollment this year is all online through PowerSchool. The waiting list varies, Stacy Edwards, assistant superintendent of elementary education said.
There are usually 20-40 students on the list, she said. While there will be other windows open for enrollment, Edwards said it’s important for parents to enroll as quickly as possible.
There will also still be a blended option next year.
Virtual enrollment increased by 17% for the spring semester, which was surprising, McKinney said.
Public participation concerns voiced
In the first public comment, mother Wendy Ekberg, who has a 6, 5 and 4-year-old discussed the hardship of moving students to distance learning for about a week during February’s historic winter storms. She said it was difficult on parents having to teach their children.
The district made the move to remote learning to prevent students from standing outside in subzero temperatures.
MPS teacher Mark Webb also spoke to the board about reconsidering the return to in-person learning fulltime for the safety of teachers. He said he was upset because he thinks the board is not thinking about teachers.
In technology news, the board approved reselling 790 outdated desktops for $58,200.
Mindset Matters presentation
In student recognition news, the assistant superintendents presented more students across the district’s sites, who have maintained a positive attitude:
• Makenna Dunagan at Centennial Elementary;
• Damian Bakerland at Mustang Creek Elementary;
• Noah Perkins at Mustang Elementary;
• Jack Radar at Lakehoma Elementary;
• Charlotte Withrow at Mustang Trails Elementary;
• Boston Hixon at Mustang Valley Elementary;
• Emmy Hudson at Prairie View Elementary;
• Zeka Watson at Riverwood Elementary;
• Gineva Ridgebear at the Mustang Education Center;
• Kylee Warren at Canyon Ridge Intermediate;
• Jenni Hall at Meadow Brook Intermediate;
• Daniel Burney at Mustang Horizon Intermediate;
• Liam Bell at Mustang Central Middle School;
• Adrian Deleon at Mustang North Middle School;
• Braden McNeil at Mustang South Middle School;
• Hyrum Lawson at Mustang High School.