By Jordan Gerard
Editor, The Caledonia Argus
With the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caledonia School Board weighed implementing a hiring freeze at its regular meeting on Aug. 17.
However, the board has three key paraprofessional positions and one facilities director position to fill.
Previously in the meeting, the board voted to accept the resignation/retirements of MS/HS media paraprofessional Jeanne Gade, special education paraprofessional Paulette Nord, special educational paraprofessional Carl Fruechte and facilities director Lee Morem.
In discussing Morem’s replacement, board chair Kelley McGraw said this was “the smoothest our facilities department has ever operated.” He added Morem was able to work with a talented team and saved the district “thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Pointing out that position as a critical one, McGraw made the motion to advertise for a replacement, which was approved. The board hopes to find someone comparable to Morem, and they were happy with how the program was working and the low turnover rate in the past three years.
As for filling other open positions from recent retirements or resignations, Superintendent Craig Ihrke said he didn’t want to hire someone and then have to lay them off, due to the uncertainty of COVID.
“We don’t know what’s around the next bend,” he said. “We want to do what’s fiscally responsible, but also meet the needs of our students.”
Ihrke added the district should try to fill those open positions with their own people, such as substitutes, and then potentially hire. The school might be able to offer substitutes teachers’ pay and guarantee spots even if the district moved to distance learning, but no formal motion was made on that front.
Middle school/high school principal Nathan Boler said he had to get creative in meeting the needs of students while he was down three people. That may include expanding paraprofessionals’ hours spent at school. The district would have to meet the needs by law.
The board did not take any action on the matter, except to table the discussion until the September meeting.
Elementary Principal Susan Link said teachers will focus on relationship building with students, how to use technology like Schoology and making reading and math a priority in the first days and weeks of school. This will help guide students and teachers through the year if the district switches models.
Directions for parents to login to Schoology have been posted on the school’s website. The elementary school is also working on getting tables for lunch and learning spaces outside. Those tables will be used in the future as well. Travis Fishel of Prairie Ridge Taxidermy also offered the covered space on his building for the school to use for outdoor lunch.
Students will use different doors to enter and exit the building, depending on their grade level. Five students are using the online, off-site option through Edgenuity.
Link wrote in her report teachers and staff are looking forward to seeing the students again, and “we must do everything that we can to keep our community, students and staff healthy.”
Boler reported he finished the outline for the school year and continues to work on details. Students moved to a block schedule to reduce contact between each other and staff. A typical seven-period day will be split into two days, but students will attend the class period for twice as long. Board member Wendy Woyczik mentioned she liked how the schedule was set up.
Other efforts in the school building include floor stickers for social distancing, barriers for office staff, lock boxes for drop-off items, drinking fountains turned off and rooms being cleared of non-essential items to create additional space.
Boler reported the district has 35 new enrollments, including students from St. John’s and St. Mary’s.
Community education coordinator Gretchen Linzmeier said they were still waiting for more guidance on childcare. No ECFE classes nor in-person community ed will be held this fall.
She reported 43 students were enrolled for Hand in Hand Preschool. Surround Care had nine students signed up.
The board approved a memorandum of understanding with coaches and co-curricular advisors for the 2020-21 school year that in the event of a cancellation of a sports season or activity season related to COVID, coaches, assistant coaches and advisors would still get paid 10% of their salary, or according to what percentage of the season that does occur. The memorandum also includes the junior high level, but does not include past practice beyond the season.
Finally, the board approved a new policy to reflect the requirements of the 2020-21 Planning Guide for Schools and Emergency Executive Order 20-81 and 82 from the governor’s office.
The policy defines face coverings, exceptions to wearing masks and temporary removal of a face mask, and enforcement of the policy. Students are offered distance learning in place of not wearing a mask. The full policy can be found on the district’s website.
The next meeting of the Caledonia School Board will be Sept. 21, at 6 p.m. in the MS/HS auditorium with social distancing.