Brian Roebke photos
Wrightstown school administrators wore new, custom Wrightstown face coverings to last week’s board meeting. Pictured is Caroline Mihalski donning one of the three different designs.
Upper grades in school five days a week due to masking requirement
By Brian Roebke
It’s been an eventful five months in education since Gov. Tony Evers closed all Wisconsin school buildings in March, leading to at-home learning for the last 2 1/2 months of the 2019-20 school year and many discussions on what school would look like during the 2020-21 school year.
“We know more about the virus than we did on March 17,” Superintendent Carla Buboltz told the board of education at last week’s meeting.
They know more about how to mitigate and manage the risks to students and staff but are also reminded all the time that the only constant is change.
“For example, today at 1:30, we received the new guidelines from (the Department of Health Services), a 30-page document,” she said with a sigh.
She said they could have used that information a long time ago but is thankful they now have it, noting it’s new homework for the night.
“There’s not an administrator around who hasn’t taken home COVID homework most nights,” she said.
If there are changes to what the district is planning now, they will make the changes.
Another example is all staff using an app on their phones to screen themselves. The building principals tried to walk them all through it last week, but they found out it’s not compatible with Android phones.
Buboltz knows there are some parents who think they need information quicker, but administrators are cautious to release information that may change.
“Much of what we’re getting to our parents is in real time and just in time,” she said.
She noted they sign every letter with the same sentence: “Thank you for your flexibility, patience, and understanding as we continue to navigate these uncharted waters.”
“We sign them that way because we mean it,” she said.
Another change affects high school students, who will no longer be in school just two days a week.
With the change to required cloth face coverings for all people in Wisconsin by Evers, students at all levels 4K-grade 12 will have face-to-face learning every day, unless parents choose to keep their children home and attend school virtually.
After the July board meeting, the district formed COVID comeback teams in each building along with a social/emotional learning team consisting of Director of Special Education and Student Services Caroline Mihalski and counselors.
At that time, they decided that wearing masks was optional, but that’s now changed to required.
They did old-school parent mailings on Aug. 5 and Aug. 12 so they made sure the information got through to parents as soon as possible, in hard copy form. Included was a parent permission slip that allows the school to be prepared if they must pivot and quarantine a classroom.
They’re looking at 35-40 students on a bus every day on a 75-passenger bus, right around half capacity.
First Student is working on bus routes and the school is looking at dismissal times to make that run more smoothly.
Buboltz noted there is a “Fall 2020” link on the district website that leads to all information available about the return to school.
Building-level updates were emailed to parents by the end of the week.
She noted if parents test positive for COVID-19, to “please” keep their children home from school.
If a classroom is quarantined, they will continue to meet virtually with their teacher, but not switch to the online learning platform. It’s also possible for teachers to teach virtually from home if they are quarantined and feel well enough.
If parents choose their students stay home and attend school virtually, there is no direct correlation from the online program to what is happening in classrooms. Over the course of the semester, students will all be exposed to the same curriculum, and will have periodic contact with classroom teachers, although those teachers will not be providing instruction.
The district has 120 students who are using the learning-from-home online option, about 9 percent of the population. That’s a little better than the 15 percent figure that came from a survey of parents earlier in the summer.
Should a student have a hard time with virtual learning, they will be allowed back in school but once they are back, they cannot return to virtual until the start of the next semester.
She noted virtual learning will be more rigorous and there will be higher expectations than in the spring.
In grades 6-12, virtual students will be divided among teachers, but grades K-5 will be different.
The board approved a limited-term, 20-hour part-time position that will desirably be filled by a certified teacher, with paraprofessional level pay, to monitor the daily progress of those students and reteach if necessary.
Funding for the position can be obtained through the federal CARES act or fund balance that’s designed for one-time purchases. Without even having a student in school yet, the district has about $40,000 in expenditures built up in Plexiglas, masks, shields, sanitizers, and sprayers.
Staff returned to school last week for in-service that included a lot more “team time” than past years due to the changes that need to be made because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Buboltz felt that bringing in speakers was the last thing staff needed this year.
Staff is looking back to where they left students in the spring and where they should be when school resumes.
Buboltz told board members if parents ask them questions about the return to school to please have them contact the school offices. “We’ve had lots of parents who’ve asked lots of other people questions or used social media to ask lots of questions and then we’ll follow up with a phone call,” she said, noting they gave them the answer to their question.
Middle School Principal Bob Calewaerts reported it’s nice to see staff back in the building following a quiet spring and summer and they’ve established the routines so that if a class must go virtual.
“How do we have things when we’re face to face set up so it’s a fairly seamless transition,” he said. “We’ve had some really good conversations on how we can still teach, still engage kids, but doing so instead of them sitting in front of you, being virtual.”
Scott Thompson, high school principal, said freshmen orientation went really well, with just freshmen in the building due to social distancing, but he thought it was good for them to have the building to themselves to meet their teachers, get their schedules, and get their pictures taken.
He’s been working hard on balancing class schedules because of the way the virus has changed the school, and noted there are two foreign exchange students coming despite the pandemic.
Thompson is happy to have Shelly Klister return to work as guidance/activities administrative assistant, replacing Brenda Hafeman, since she’s been able to jump right in and not need a lot of training with guidance or the student management system.
She does need to learn the activities side of the job.
Elementary School Principal Sarah Nelson is impressed with the energy level of the three new teachers in her building, and thanked Ashley Post for working almost every day in July but officially beginning Aug. 1 as assistant principal and district special education program support.
“I’m not used to having a right-hand man, so she’s been amazing,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s also impressed that administrative assistant Penny Barta has kept up with students coming and going both in and out of the district and going back and forth from in-person to virtual status.
She noted 4K usually ran Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but has been switched to Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday to keep cohorts together.
“We were very flexible with families who needed to switch their days,” he said, noting it was mostly day care issues that made parents ask to change.
This year’s behavior team has chosen “Tiger Tough, Stronger Together” as this year’s theme and all staff will wear T-shirts with that theme on the first day of classes.
Nelson noted there was some hesitancy about the pandemic among teachers during the first half hour back, but she quickly saw them relax and begin to enjoy Gleason, and how they will come back.
Activities Director Craig Haese said the number of attendees in the fitness center is down but anticipates they will increase once the pandemic ends. He noted director Jordan Martzahl created some videos that people are still using at home.
The attendance limit is currently 25 people per hour and the Signup Genius is working well so they can have no more than 25 people there and not have to turn anyone away.
It will also help with contact tracing should that be needed.
He said preparations are underway for fall sports. See an article about that in the sports section.
Haese noted that a lot of things were taken away from coaches this summer, but nobody complained and they’re all ready to return to action. “Our main focus is getting kids an opportunity to compete,” he said.
He said kids are buying into the new way of doing things to guard against COVID-19. “If you want to be face to face in school, we want to play, we have to buy in,” he said. It’s not been easy to get kids masking but he told the seniors that if they start doing it, the others will follow them.
Mihalski noted the staff inservice started with a virtual meeting with Chris Gleason, the 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, about how to light a fire under kids.
She’s happy the school’s PBIS team plans to move forward with the program this year despite the new routines and procedures.
“Our whole team said we need this more than ever,” she said.
They’re also working on procedures for what happens when kids get sick and noted contact tracing is a big part of that.
Administrators have been working with Bray Architects and Miron Construction on the school building projects, which periodically puts together reports at various milestones.
The architect is at about 25 percent of design completion.
Wrightstown staff has been able to virtually “walk through” the design on a computer. That allows them to see what’s being proposed and be able to change it if they see it’s unworkable.
The first look at the budget showed the project is the design wishes and cost estimates are within 1 percent, which means nothing should need to be eliminated or cut back due to costs.
“That’s really good at this stage of the project,” Buboltz said. “We’re very excited about where we’re at.”
The district office is transitioning two positions — buildings and ground director and administrative assistant — with Jason Nelson working with Russ Bowers and Jessica Baerenwald working with Marian Kaufman.
Attending his last board meeting, Bowers said Nelson will do a fine job. Nelson and Baerenwald attended their first meeting.
Angie Sanderfoot-McNabb, district psychologist
Shelly Klister, high school guidance/activities administrative assistant
Lynn Lamers, school nutrition assistant
Carrie LeMahieu, district psychologist
Diann Hallman, grade 8 teacher
Tammy Lewis, instructional aide
Taylor Koltz, wellness supervisor