Waconia Public Schools are about six weeks into a new “hybrid” school year posed by COVID-19, marked by a blend of in-person classes and online learning.
“It’s been an intense, challenging time for teachers and staff preparing for and executing the learning model, but we are off to an unbelievable start to a year like no other,” Superintendent Pat Devine told the District 110 School Board at its latest meeting Oct. 12.
Students in grades K - 6 are in everyday instruction in small groups called learning pods, while grades 7 -12 are alternating between classroom and distance learning two days each week. About 8 percent of district families have opted solely for distance learning, a figure that remains fairly steady, Devine reported. Some 27 students moved from distance learning to hybrid learning during the latest learning model decision date, while 22 have gone from hybrid to distance learning. There are several opportunities for parents to make changes during the school year to provide flexibility and respond to changing conditions.
The district has had a handful of COVID-19 cases so far this school year, which are being managed through contact tracing and quarantine protocols outlined before the year started, Devine said. And based on current Carver County COVID-19 case numbers, the Waconia School District expects to stay in a hybrid model for now.
Minnesota Department of Health officials have outlined a formula based on a 14-day county case level rate per 10,000 people to determine the base learning model for school districts. The local number has trended from near 20 to as low as 11, but recently bounced up to 15. The threshold for full in-person classes is less than 10, the tipping point for full distance learning is 50-plus.
In school related business last Monday, the school board approved a joint powers agreement with area partner school districts to jointly finance the acquisition and improvements to a 100,000 square-foot commercial building on Dean Lake Boulevard in Shakopee. The building will serve as a new education facility for SouthWest Metro Intermediate District to provide special education, alternative education, and career, technical and adult education services to learners from its member districts in the region.
SouthWest Metro current sites are at near full capacity. The new building is expected to address space needs.
Member districts pay their share of SWMetro building costs through lease and maintenance levies based on annual use of programs as measured by student attendance hours.
Purchase price for the Dean Lakes building is $6.5 million with an additional $1 million needed to retrofit the building for classrooms. That cost is expected to be largely offset by a savings in lease and maintenance costs from its other buildings which will no longer be needed, so the local impact to member districts is zero net change, according to joint powers terms.
The board also adopted the academic calendar for the 2021-2022 school year. The first day of school will be Aug. 30, 2021. Other key dates during the year include Thanksgiving break, which is a full week next year, winter break Dec. 23-31, spring break March 7-11, graduation May 29 and the last day of school June 2, 2021.
ON THE BALLOT
As a reminder, Waconia School board elections are just two weeks away as part of the general election, with six candidates vying for three spots on the board. Candidates include Luke Deboer, current board chair Dana Geller, Amanda Hayford, Mark A. Murphy, Alycia Myers and Seth Waterhouse. Candidate profiles were published in the Waconia Patriot, and in lieu of an in-person candidate forum some candidates have recorded video introductions that are on the school district website: isd110.org.
A school operating levy question also is on the ballot, with the district asking voters to approve a $410 per student levy increase, which would generate additional $1.7 million to help close a state funding gap and maintain educational programs. The tax impact on an average value home of $350,000 would be about $19 a month.
Devine reported that he has made 30 virtual and in-person informational presentations to various groups in the district so far leading up to the election. Extensive levy information also is available on the district website.