In the running of schools during a pandemic, Wadena-Deer Creek Superintendent Lee Westrum along with the school board thanked school nurses Amy Yglesias, Leanne Johnson and Ashley Mumm for their many roles and extra time on aspects such as answering questions from staff and parents, contact tracing and monitoring symptoms.
As of Oct. 19, there is one student and two staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Westrum. The number of positive cases in Wadena County are increasing; districts also view data by zip code, which show that Wadena, Bluffton and Deer Creek are lower than surrounding communities, as Westrum said. With several factors determining the learning models, districts also monitor the case rates that show the number of cases in Wadena County over the last 14 days divided by the county population over 10,000. The case rate for Sept. 20-Oct. 3 was 18.32, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
With the 7-12th grade students switch to hybrid learning on Oct. 19, Westrum and middle high school principal Tyler Church noted the “chaotic” changes of splitting students schedules, having 10 middle high school teachers in quarantine and the restructuring of lunches. Classrooms also have greater distance between desks since the hybrid learning model requires, rather than recommends, six feet between desks.
The students follow their group schedule, with group A attending on Monday and Tuesday and group B on Wednesday and Thursday with distance learning for all on Fridays. Paraprofessionals will also have individual Zoom sessions with special education students on Fridays.
“It was quiet, and I think certainly it was a lot less crowded,” Westrum said. “This is one of the goals when you go to hybrid is to just have fewer people in the building and so that certainly has been accomplished.”
From activities to ACT and PSAT testing, Church said “We’re trying to offer all the normal things that we usually do, just having to change a little bit on how we’re offering them.”
The preK-sixth grade students continue full in-person learning with classes organized in cohorts. In a survey to families about needs for possible distance learning, with 223 responses, 85% had high speed internet, 23 iPads were issued and 63 iPads were needed, according to elementary principal Louis Rutten. The technology issues are also being addressed in “trial runs,” as Rutten said, with some students and staff members in quarantine.
“Keeping the elementary kids in school is, I think, really crucial. I worry the most about our littlest learners when it comes to trying to do distance learning of some kind. And hopefully with the way we have things set up in K-6th with the cohorts, and if we do get cases, we can contain them within a group,” Westrum said.
For students completing distance learning, Rutten said the Promethean boards have been “pretty handy” since the entire board is shared with the students rather than a camera pointed at the board. The district has six boards and is ordering six more. A Promethean board is an interactive whiteboard that allows you to project an image from a laptop or computer. You can also interact with the board through touch or specialized pens.
The district will also purchase 170 iPads for 5-6th graders to ensure reliability and availability for possible hybrid and distance learning as well as 100 Macbooks for staff members. The iPads and previous 500 Chromebooks ordered will be paid for with CARES Act funding allocated to the district from Wadena County, according to Westrum.
In other actions, the board approved:
The hires of Carrie Halvorson (Elementary Paraprofessional), Evelyn Foy (Elementary Paraprofessional), Michelle Lunde (Elementary Paraprofessional) and Kevin Tumberg (Junior High Football Coach).
Paying the district’s bills totaling $597,145.92.
Donations to the district totaling $1,571.89.
The Wadena County Community Concern for Youth Program intervention program with Todd-Wadena Community Corrections for $2,709.
A special meeting to canvas the general election on Nov. 12 at 12:30 p.m. on Zoom. The date is later this election cycle because absentee ballots can be counted up to one week after the Nov. 3 election.
The board also welcomed board member Barb Tumberg, who is replacing Vince Hinojos for the remainder of his term until December. He filled the school’s technology director position. Tumberg is also running in the school board election on Nov. 3.