Grand Forks School Board receives update on distance learning plan in wake of school closure
Grand Forks teachers, principals and other staff members are working as quickly as possible to finalize a plan for distance learning in light of Gov. Doug Burgum’s decision to close schools indefinitely, district administrators told Grand Forks School Board members at the board’s regular meeting on Monday, March 23.
The plan is due Friday, March 27, in the state’s Department of Public Instruction, said Superintendent Terry Brenner.
Burgum has ordered distance learning to begin April 1.
At the governor’s closure directive, all the district schools are closed, so only staff members are permitted to enter the buildings, said Associate Superintendent Jody Thompson.
In addition to developing the distance learning plan, staff members are focused on student technology and device deployment this week, Thompson said.
Schools are gearing up for distribution of Chromebook computers for students in third grade and higher. Wednesday, March 25, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., will see the distribution at elementary schools as staff members greet parents at a drive-thru location, get the student’s name and radio that name to someone inside the school who will deliver materials to the parent’s vehicle.
Parents have been asked to arrive at designated times to alleviate traffic congestion. If parents cannot make it to the school at those times, staff will deliver the materials to their homes, Thompson said.
A similar operation for middle and high school students will take longer, he said, adding that Gate City Bank has donated 7,000 tote bags for the distribution of materials.
Teachers are identifying the essential priority learning standards and the means for students to achieve those standards through distance learning, said Catherine Gillach, assistant superintendent.
The district has ordered “hundreds of hot spots at greatly reduced rates or free” from Midcontinent Communications to fill gaps for families in need of internet connection, she said.
Teachers are exploring the use of various distance learning mechanisms, such as group-meeting platforms, whereby teaching and learning take place in a virtual setting.
They’re also considering the use of videos that can be accessed and viewed individually by students when convenient, Gillach said.
Teachers’ hours will be listed on their school website.
Professional development modules are available for teachers who may be unfamiliar in the use of the different computer platforms, Gillach said.
While students and parents may be feeling anxious about how school will continue to function, “we are hoping for grace and hope” as the district works through this process, she said, adding that she’s concerned “people are expecting perfection right off the shoot, (but) we’re building this ship as we’re sailing it.”
In a related action, the School Board voted unanimously to grant Brenner emergency powers as outlined by the North Dakota School Board Association.
The action gives the superintendent latitude to prepare and submit the distance learning plan, for example, without first presenting it to the School Board, Brenner said.
“Our plan is due Friday. The board doesn’t meet again until April 14,” he said.
On a related note, Burgum is holding a conference call with all school board presidents Tuesday, March 24, said Bill Palmiscno, School Board president. He is unable to participate but has asked the board’s vice president, Amber Flynn, to represent the board.
Topics will include funding issues and the school days the governor has forgiven so far, Palmiscno said.
Facilities Task Force
On another matter, the Facilities Task Force meeting, which was scheduled for Thursday, March 26, has been canceled.
Tom Weber, senior business consultant with SitelogIQ, has given the members homework, including a “virtual form of engagement,” such as reading selected materials and watching videos, some of which explain modern education theories and practices, he said.
He is exploring options for task force discussion, which will occur virtually in this time frame, too.
The scheduled meetings in April have not been officially canceled, but Weber said he and his colleagues will make a call on that closer to the meeting dates, when they can assess better what is happening with coronavirus, the state of school closings at that time, and what is being advised regarding travel, acceptable meeting sizes, among other considerations, he said.
The School Board also decided not to award a bid for the sale of bonds, which had been proposed based on the prospect of securing a much lower interest rate.
“We won’t be going through bond refunding now, due to the crazy things happening with the stock market right now,” said Scott Berge, business manager for the school district.
Interest rates have swung upwards in the past three days, he said, recommending that the board delay action.
“We need a few more months for the markets to settle down,” Berge said.
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