While many districts are looking at the three different plans as an emergency response to COVID-19, the Little Falls School District has chosen to use it as a stepping stone into where they want the school to be at educationally-wise in the years to come, COVID or no COVID. The approach has allowed teachers to be even more creative and to expand their knowledge, as well.

    The Little Falls School District released its 2020-21 school year plan, July 15 — in part as the district awaits for detailed guidelines to be announced from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

    The plan takes all three education models of in-person, hybrid and distance learning into mind, as districts were directed by the MDE to do a few weeks ago. However, it was something the Little Falls School District was well underway in its planning of since April.

    “This was truly a team effort when we put this together. Our team has been fantastic in getting to this point,” Supt. Stephen Jones said at Monday’s Board meeting.

    While many districts are looking at the three different plans as an emergency response to COVID-19, the Little Falls School District has chosen to use it as a stepping stone into where they want the school to be at educationally-wise in the years to come, COVID or no COVID. The approach has allowed teachers to be even more creative and to expand their knowledge, as well.

    “Don’t give me a plan for Sept. 8 (when school starts). Give me a plan for three years down the road in terms of personalized learning. If this is where you want your school to be three years down the road in terms of personalized learning, let’s use this as an opportunity to set the bar of where we’re going to go and map our course there. What you see here is the road map for us to become fully implemented in personalized learning,” Jones said.

    One thing teachers noticed during distance learning was that the students who usually didn’t do very well in a classroom setting, thrived during distance learning. On the other side, students who under normal circumstances did great in the classroom, suddenly found themselves struggling during distance learning.

    Jones said by targeting a student’s specific learning style and what motivates them, the district can help them be the best they can. As a result, the district has decided to essentially give families the option to decide what’s best for the student whether it’s in-person, hybrid or distance learning, even after COVID-19 guidelines and regulations.

    “Parents will be able to decide what is the best way. It gives the students a voice moving forward of what is best, not what’s easiest or most convenient, but what is best for that child and that may change over time,” he said.

    In early June, the district sent out its first survey to the parents, asking for their input as they were moving forward in planning for the different scenarios. Feedback the district received from students, staff and parents from their experience during distance learning from March to May was the need for a single and consistent student-learning platform.

    “Another big shift is utilizing Google classrooms throughout the district. It will be a common learning platform for early childhood throughout 12th grade,” said Asst. Supt. Aaron Sinclair.

    The in-person learning plan would allow students to be in school every school day. While the district would be able to take safe and healthy measures related to COVID-19, the district would be unable to keep social distancing at 6 feet between the students throughout the buildings at all times due to limited space.

    Instruction would be delivered face-to-face five days a week. According to the release plan, if the district is able to offer in-person learning, all of the school sites, such as Early Childhood, Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Lindbergh Elementary, Little Falls Community Middle School, the Little Falls Community High School and the Continuing Education Center. According to the plan, distance as well as hybrid learning would be available as options for K-12 students even if in-person learning is in place.

    Although the MDE’S guidelines for a hybrid plan may change with the anticipated July 27 update, the district developed its hybrid learning plan with the latest guidance and mandates districts had been given.

    Under the hybrid learning plan, the MDE directed districts to limit the number of people in each defined space to 50% of maximum capacity. Looking to the majority of classroom sizes in the Little Falls School District, that would mean only about 12-14 students per classroom.

    “A hybrid model by its very nature is driven by flexibility. Should COVID-19 infection rates change either negatively or positively, the district is well-poised in a hybrid learning model to enact necessary changes based on current conditions,” says the plan.

    Since the classrooms at the Early Childhood Center are generally larger than other classrooms in the district, the reduction to 50% capacity will not affect student enrollments.

    However, student drop-off and pick-up times will be adjusted to decrease congestion in the entrance areas of the building.

    Since it is impossible for the district to implement a hybrid model at 50% capacity at Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary in Randall and Lincoln Elementary and Lindbergh Elementary because of lack of classroom space and enough staff since more spaces require more staff, the district would divide the in school learning days.

    However, recognizing the importance of consistency for kindergarten students, the school plans to provide in-school kindergarten five days a week. The focus will also be on small class sizes and personalization in learning.

    Students in grades 1-5 will be able to attend school on an A/B alternate day schedule. Any family units in K-12 will also be in the same alternate day, which includes students who have one or more households. It’s the same for students who attends the middle school or the high school.

    “The intent of the district is to help families by having all of their children in school on the same days, with the possible exception of flexible Fridays at the middle school and high school,” the plan says.

    The students will also have access to virtual support with school staff on the days they are home.

    The goal with the hybrid learning plan at the Little Falls Community Middle School is to personalize the learning more and to balance it more with a flexibility and structure for the students. While the students will have two days a week of face-to-face learning and two days a week of virtual learning, the fifth day of the week will be used as a flexible Friday on some weeks. This allows students to schedule face-to-face in-school time to complete work or schedule appointments with teachers to work on key concepts, the plan says.

    The hybrid plan for the high school will be carried out similarly to the middle school. On Flexible Fridays, high school students will also be able to receive extra help in learning assignments, make up or retake tests and quizzes as well as have access to the shops and other learning labs.

    In the event, that the MDE decides only distance learning can be implemented this fall, the district is uncertain if it would be able to provide any education for students at the Early Childhood Center.

    “Teaching 3- to 5-year-olds in a fully virtual environment presents some very unique challenges,” the plan says.

    For elementary, middle and high school students, the teachers will focus on creating virtual classroom opportunities if distance learning becomes the only viable option for the 2020-21 school year. The teachers and school support personnel will also connect frequently with the students through their iPad, email or phone.

    Both the middle school and high school students will provided a Google classroom in which each classroom teacher will prepare four to five virtual lessons per week, the teachers using electronic formats, such as Zoom and/or Google Hangout for live lessons and more.

    Parents of students who for sure know that they will choose distance learning as the preferred method of learning, even if the MDE allows for in-person and hybrid learning to take place, are asked to contact the school the student will attend.

    Jones said there are 11 items the preliminary plans did not cover, including personal protective equipment, social distancing standards, protocol and signage, health screening and information, protecting the vulnerable population, hygiene practices, cleaning and materials handling, response to suspected or confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, athlethics or co-curricular activities, transportation, food service and child care.

     The reason none of those were addressed is because the district is waiting for detailed guidelines or regulations from the MDE.

    Transportation will, however, be a huge challenge to the district, the current guidelines are not changed. Currently, only 13-14 students can be transported on a school bus that normally seats 72 students in order to remain socially distanced.

    Jones said the district plans to contact parents to find out if they are able to transport their children to and from the school.

    “Not long-term, but short-term until this goes away. We can’t afford more bus routes. Our bus contract this year is a little more than $2 million and we cannot add more to that That’s what would happen if we’d ask Strack or Palmer to run that route twice a day instead of once a day, so we have to find other ways to get the kids to school,” Jones said.

    Once the MDE has released more detailed information about what school will look like this fall, the district will inform parents, students, staff and the community, Jones said.

Little Falls School Board Briefs

    In other business Monday, the Little Falls School Board:

    •    Accepted the following donations: $750 from Cavendish Farms Inc to the FFA Club for the 90th anniversary, $1,000 from the Randall Cushing Lions Club for baseball field improvements at Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary School in Randall and $7,201 from Catherine Adamek for the Randall Area Scholarship Fund;

    •    Adopted the School District’s Fiscal Year 2022 LTFM 10-year plan;

    •    Approved renewing the contract for services for Liaision Officer Kenny Coppes at a cost of $33,000 for the 2020-21 school year and $34,000 for the 2021-22 school year;

    •    Extended the fiber optic lease agreement with the Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) for 26 years to June 30, 2039 at no cost to the district. The original agreement was executed in 2013. The fiber optic lines currently serve the Lincoln Elementary School and the Continuing Education Center; and

    • Set a special meeting for Monday, Aug. 3, at 5 p.m. in the Little Falls Community Middle School Media Center pending the information Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Education release in terms of detailed guidelines and/or regulations about how school will be done this fall. The Board will know by Wednesday, July 29, if the special meeting will be held or if it can wait until its regular board meeting.

    The Little Falls School Board’s next regular meeting will be Monday, Aug. 17, at 5 p.m. in the Little Falls Community Middle School Media Center.

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