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BOYCEVILLE — The Boyceville Community School District, in its entirety, will be moving to a remote or online model of learning following the upcoming Thanksgiving break.
Following a proposal from superintendent Nick Kaiser, in which he advocated for a “reset” to combat rising close contacts and positive cases due to COVID-19 within the district by moving to remote learning, the board of education voted 3 to 1 to approve the request at its November 18 meeting held in the high school/middle school IMC with several of the teaching staff in attendance.
Board members Erik Evenson and Jeremy Mittlestadt, who made the motion and seconded it respectively, along with board president Tim Sempf, voted in favor of the motion while Peter Score voted against the measure with the fifth and final member, Steve Olson, abstaining.
With its passage, education in the Boyceville school district will switch to remote learning, for 4K through 12th grades, beginning on Monday, November 30 and continue until Friday, December 18 when the two-week Christmas break is scheduled to begin.
“September 1st seems a long time ago, where we were planning for things and where we started,” said Superintendent Kaiser. “It has always been a fluid plan but we have always understood that we really want to see the kids faces, we have always pressed hard for that and have put in as many mitigation measures as we could.”
“Our staff here has done a great job of keeping our schools open, making plans and changes as we go. We have always been fluid in trying to make improvements to the plan, however, COVID has had a significant impact on our students, staff and communities,” Kaiser said. “The hospitals in the area are in extremely serious situations, they are overwhelmed, the region is overwhelmed. Our numbers in the area have continued to climb and I have not been given any indication that they are going to get better anytime soon.”
“We have made informed operating decisions to date working with outside organizations, working with public health. We certainly do not need to make decisions solely based on what any other district is doing or not doing,” noted Kaiser. “As we continue to navigate this pandemic, our greatest motivation is to keep students and staff safe and keep them face-to-face if we can, that’s the main objective. However, that has become extremely difficult the past couple of weeks. Staff shortages, increases in positive cases in the community and the number of students and staff that have been identified as close contacts.”
Currently (as of last Wednesday, November 18), Kaiser said the district has four active cases and 23 have recovered.
“That is going to change,” stated Kaiser. “If there is one thing we have learned throughout this time of pandemic, just give it another hour and things change and give another day and things really change.”
From November 1 to 15 in Dunn County, there were 790 new cases, and 21 of those new cases were in the Boyceville Community School District, according to Kaiser.
“We have had 20 of our staff out for multiple days the past two weeks,” continued Kaiser. “The middle school/high school has been especially hit hard by that.”
“If this trend continues we will be unable to staff our buildings in a way that is good for educating children,” emphasized Kaiser.
Kaiser continued by saying that nearly 20 percent of the district’s students have been out due to quarantine the past two weeks. He informed the board that a lot of those had returned this week but as of November 16, at least 65 students still remained out of the buildings.
“If something is not done to get that number down then we need to take a closer look at our schedules because it is putting a large strain on planning and staff preparation,” stated Kaiser.
“Proactive versus reactive when its comes to this,” Kaiser continued. “The reason I have a proposal for you tonight to look over is to try and be proactive about things instead of reactive. There are two different ways to look at things; you ride it out and then have to make a decision the next day and shut thing down and that is a possibility; or the proactive approach would be better for families because it gives time to prepare, time to get out information and time to make changes.”
Kaiser acknowledge that there was not much time to make changes this past spring when the pandemic hit but feels the district is in a far better position currently than it was seven or eight months ago.
The superintendent then told the board that the administration’s proposal is to pause in-person instruction and going to remote learning for 4K through 12 grades to begin on November 30 (following the week-long Thanksgiving break) through December 18.
“We will evaluate our status at the end of December and chose how to proceed in January,” stated Kaiser.
He then added, “I realize that there are other options but we believe that is the best one that fits our current needs of getting staff and students back and our feet underneath ourselves. This decision was not made lightly and I recognize that this will create quite a hardship on families, however, we would like to give them enough time to go this route to plan and prepare for this change.”
Several minutes of discussion did ensue with the board asking a variety of questions. Kaiser told members during this time that there is no way to continue in-person education with the staff shortages that the district is experiencing.
Board member and vice president Jeremy Mittlestadt asked how the district could justify the continuation of sporting events and other extra curricular activities during a shut down.
“I know the WIAA has not been very helpful as far as getting firm direction, with closing the school down and continuing on with extra curricular activities, I agree that having things for students to do, but I don’t know we can justify it to be honest,” said Mittlestadt. “If the school is closed and we still have kids wrestling with one another or bump into one another on the basketball court aren’t we just co-mingling those households when we are trying to keep them apart as it is?”
“I wouldn’t say we are switching our learning model because of the kids because of what is out there,” Kaiser responded. “I am not saying it’s not bad out there, I’m saying right now it is a staffing problem. That is our biggest problem right now, we can’t continue to educate with 21 to 22 people (employees) gone. I am not talking just teachers, I am talking all sections of our labor pool.”
Kaiser went on to explain that the district has “just been getting by” and its time to stop and reset and get people back.
The superintendent also recognized that Boyceville, along with other districts, will not be recommended to do sports, but he told the board that he felt that students do need to be engaged in some type of activities.
Board member Erik Evenson said that contact tracing those in sports or extra curricular activities might be easier and that organizations outside school districts are already offering opportunities to participate in sports and activities.
“There are only three schools out of 39 in our CESA district that are going to a virtual remote model and are not having activities,” said Kaiser. “Everyone else around us that has had to switch quickly because of staffing issues has chosen to keep their activities going.”
Discussion continued for several more minutes before the board finally made a motion of the proposal and ultimately approved it.
In other action, the board accepted the resignation of Jolene Bird as the high school girls’ basketball coach. Bird has successfully guided the program for the past 23 years, highlighted by a pair of state runner-up titles in 2002 and 2004. Members thanked Bird for her service to the students and athletes of the Boyceville District before giving her a well-deserved round of ovation.
In a related matter, the board then approved the hiring of Jay Lagerstrom as the new girl’s basketball head coach. Lagerstrom, who previously served as the high school boys’ head basketball coach, has worked along side Bird the past couple of season as her assistant and junior varsity coach. Denise Jeske has been appointed to fill Lagerstrom’s post as the JV coach.
The administration team also gave abbreviated reports during the meeting.
Bonnie Barker, Director of Special Education and School Psychologist, that her staff has been working diligently on contingency plans for those students with special educational needs. She noted that additional support at the high school and middle school now includes study time from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday with special education teachers Stone, Bignell and Armstrong. In addition, Barker stated that special education teachers at Tiffany Creek Elementary were also offering before school skills review on an individual basis.
During his report, high school/middle school principal Tyler Moy told the board that the middle school had added some distancing measures to help minimize the number of students that have to be sent out of school due to contact tracing and give valuable practice for remote learning. Moy also informed the board that a socially-distanced fall induction ceremony for the National Honor Society was held November 9 and an online Veterans Day celebration took place on November 11.
Moy noted in his report that nearly 35 percent of his schools’ student population was learning out of buildings, of which 15 percent was by choice. In grade seven through 12, five are using virtual learning, 43 partake in the district’s remote learning programming and 63 were remotely learning due to quarantine for a total of 111 out of 316 students in total.
First-year TCE principal DeeAnn Thompson’s report included a glowing description of the fourth grade’s online Veterans Day presentation that included the Connorsville AMVETS Post 72 and the Boyceville Harris-Harmon American Legion Post 314. Thompson said the program, which was broadcast live throughout TCE, included historical readings about the day’s purpose.
Thompson also said that a staff inservice was held at the end of October and will be again during the Thanksgiving break.
Currently, TCE has 36 students doing remote learning out of the 372 students currently enrolled in Early Childhood through 6th grade.
The board’s next meeting is set for Wednesday, December 16.