New Albany schools will go back to pre-pandemic routines as much as possible when classes resume August 5.
Superintendent Dr. Lance Evans updated school trustees on the plan at their July board meeting.
“It will be back to business as usual,” he said. “We have learned good health practices that will help us.”
All classes and activities will be in person.
“We don’t intend to have a virtual (class) option,” he said, but added that virtual classes might be used in event of bad weather.
“It has served it purpose but it also has its shortcomings,” Evans said of on-line learning. He said virtual classes particularly helped about 15 percent of students but “it is not good for mental health or academic health.”
The schools will continue to use multiple entrances to cut down on crowding and will continue transportation protocols. That means using assigned seats and keeping families together on buses. That will help if contact tracing is needed, as will having cameras on all the buses.
“We will do what the CDC and Mississippi Department of Health recommends, but we will not extend that,” he said.
Schools will continue to make hand sanitizer available but students will again eat breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria. Food and water will be allowed in classrooms for special needs.
Evans said birthday parties in classes will again be permitted, but only allowing sealed, store-bought food items for allergy and health reasons.
Water fountains and bottle-filling stations will be cleaned at least once a day, as will desks and classrooms, and more if needed.
The schools will continue to make extensive use of social media to keep students and parents informed and the school return plan will include a social and emotional support wellness component. “This was a big deal and students will have access to help” confidentially, he said.
“We will keep screening questions in the classrooms,” he said, but only refer to them. “We won’t require masks on buses or for the driver. If there is a problem we will handle it like we do bullying.”
“Athletic events will be like before,” Evans said. Officials will operate based on fire department seating capacity limits. “We won’t require masks but will have hand sanitizer available,” he said.
Dr. Brad Scott and Dr. Bob Barnett, chief medical officer for Baptist Memorial Hospital, were present and expressed satisfaction with the return plan, although reminding trustees that it would need to be reviewed at least after six months.
Barnett continued to urge vaccination for everyone, although in response to a question didn’t know whether it would work in a school setting. Concerning COVID, he said, “You’re gonna get it or get vaccinated. It’s just a matter of time. Everyone needs to be vaccinated.”
Scott complimented officials on the protocols, although he noted that things change as more is learned. For example, “We found out that temperature checks didn’t help us a lot.”
Barnett noted that “Vaccination has almost knocked out hospitalization” and Scott said their clinic is not testing nearly as many individuals as they did formerly. “It’s mostly for people going elsewhere,” he said.
School renovation and expansion
Trustees heard a presentation from architect Gary Bailey, who also owns the Bailey Education Group. Bailey has designed most of the school buildings here as well as many throughout the region.
Bailey talked about how much he has learned in designing the schools and working with officials over his 42-year career. He said his education group came out of that knowledge.
For a school to go from “great” to “wonderful” requires listening to educators, he said, and his focus now is “building based on how kids learn, allow them to dream.”
He told of a recent design made of steel, glass and open spaces, essentially without bricks or blocks, that can be opened, divided, rearranged as needed.
Collaboration and caring about people are key, he said.
Trustees commissioned a study and preliminary design before the pandemic that would expand and modify the existing high school, replace the career and technical center, add a ninth grade academy and also a new larger gym. Trustees apparently are interesting in taking up the new building project again.
Bailey said he would like to work with the school district on that and had no problems picking up what has been done.
“You’re in a dreaming phase now,” he said. “There’s no limit to what you can do. There may be a limit to what you can afford to do.”
In personnel, trustees approved:
- The resignation of Troy Trout, director, NASTUC, effective at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
- The resignation of Julie Hatcher, teacher, New Albany Elementary School, effective at the end of the school year.
- The resignation of Holley Burks, teacher, New Albany Elementary School.
- The resignation of Kelsea Epting, teacher assistant, New Albany Elementary School.
- The resignation of Chloe Lang, teacher assistant, New Albany Elementary School.
- The resignation of Tim Wigington, custodian, New Albany Elementary School, effective June 30 due to retirement.
- Hiring Mike Robertson, director of child nutrition.
- Hiring Chloe Land, teacher, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Shaler Grigsby, teacher, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Joanna Ozbirn, teacher, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Terri Cloyde, teacher, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Alli Hodges, teacher assistant, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Ben Harrell, teacher assistant, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Brandy Roberts, teacher assistant, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring James Smithey, custodian, New Albany Elementary School.
- Hiring Heather Smith, assistant softball coach, New Albany Middle School.
- Hiring Angela Medlin, media specialist, New Albany High School.
- Hiring or keeping the classified staff at all five city schools, as well as the transportation staff and classified staff at the cafeterias and central office.
In general business, Superintendent Evans said an attorney general’s opinion concerning a state House bill stated that a school district does not have authority to administer scholarship funds. Evans said the city and county schools are compiling a list of the scholarships they have been offering and are looking at something like the CREATE Foundation to be administrator.
Trustees voted to approve paying $299,902 for cyber and privacy liability insurance for the year. Agent Ray Collins was present to answer questions and said rates general had risen 24 percent in the past three quarters. He said the loss of sovereign immunity had driven up prices as well as cyber issues. He added that the insurance will include ransomware and data intrusions.
Elementary principal Gwynn Russell and teacher Neely Robertson gave a report on the new kindergarten skills-based report card they plan to implement.
They were concerned about the number of students who were having to repeat kindergarten, so they have developed a way to give step-by-step growth reports and better individualize working with students to focus on their needs.
“They may come in at five or four years old,” Robertson said. “Some have never been exposed (to school learning). They are at all different levels.”
To combat this, Robertson has collaborated with teachers and other districts to create a “kid-friendly, parent-friendly report card.”
It in fact resembles a report card design of 75 years ago and assesses the student in a number of areas, including a numerical grade. Emotional and social skills are included.
The card really represents a sort of individual teaching plan for current and future teachers to refer to and use.
The new report card will go into use in the fall.
Among informational items, trustees were reminded that the next board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2, in the high school media center. The public hearing on the proposed school budget for the coming year will be held before the regular board meeting.
Before adjourning, the board went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter. No vote or action was reported.