I sit here, as I often do, trying to put words to print for the monthly newsletter. What is it that is most important to communicate to you this month? And as usual in October, the changing of the seasons draws my attention away. I so love the crispness in the air, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the change in colors around us.
As we wind down our Homecoming Week, the pride I have for our students, our staff, and this community is great. Every year, regardless of the situation, we do it right. In all of the frustration around this pandemic, I think it is important to remember that we get a lot of things right and that is a celebration.
As many of you know we are following a protocol to determine when the Board will act to consider a change in the current masking policy. The current masking mandate has been in place since September 17th or for the past two+ weeks. We are making progress towards that consideration. The protocol highlights three indicators with two being of significant consideration. The priority indicators are the presence of Covid-19 amongst our students and staff as well as the overall illness rates we are seeing particularly amongst our students. Percentages identified as desired levels to reconsider our current practice are 2% and 7% respectively in each of these areas with trendlines of the past 5-, 10- and 15- school day increments considered. The protocol also includes consideration of the positivity rate in Des Moines County and the percent of that rate that is attributed to those 0-17 years old. Each building will be considered separately in the decision-making process. We are nearing our 15-school day mark.
As of Thursday, September 30th, the high school had been at or below both indicators for 6 days and the elementary had been at or below both indicators for 4 days. As of Tuesday’s state reporting, the positivity rate for Des Moines County was at 9.50% for the past 7 days and 12% for the last 14 days. Children 0–17-year-olds accounted for 30% of the positive test results. Our staff illness has also declined over the past two weeks. If trends hold, I will ask the board to consider transition options later next week. I am including a document which details the data points in the various illness categories to date.
Covid-19 will continue to present challenges throughout this year. I wish I could tell you differently, but that is our reality. Staffing is and will continue to be a huge challenge. Breakfast and lunch menus will continue to fluctuate on short notice due to shortages. Projects will continue to be delayed due to both product and worker shortages. It is the phase of the pandemic we are in and as the pandemic, it too will pass over time. We have to remember to look at the celebrations…the seasons changing, the children playing games in the school yard, the Homecoming pep rally and its dance….to bide us through.
While, as last year, much attention has and will continue to be driven around Covid-19 this year, there are also a multitude of other critical work that continues as the cycle of the school year and our goal to continuously improve as a district in and out of the classroom. Several examples include:
- Once every 5 years schools are required to conduct a long-range needs assessment. This includes a survey of the district’s various constituencies. The survey will be conducted by the Iowa School Board Association (IASB) in the near future. This survey along with other data points is intended to aid in guiding the district’s future work and focuses. We are currently working on the timeline for the survey as well as the process to review the data and identify strengths as well as goals to move the district forward.
- Today, October 1st is certified count day. This means that all school districts must count all students they are responsible for serving and ensure that it is accurate. It begins the budget process for the 22-23 school year as next year’s funding is based on this count. This count also includes between 20 to 25 other information points to be completed for each child as well. There is quite a system in place to facilitate this process. We will officially certify it with the state on or before October 15th.
- Schools are complex systems with both human aspects and technical aspects. As an organization we need to continually improve, regardless of our role, in order to help students learn. We must continuously work on building and maintaining our systems of collaboration across the entirety of our system especially in instruction. Through our work about and in professional learning communities coupled with our use of technology we are able to provide greater efficiency and the best instructional systems possible. These two system structures drive changes in our professional insights and work. This is heavy work from the board table to the classroom.
School Boards, as a policy and monitoring structure, are critical to the success of schools. Collectively they work to determine what is best for ALL students both in the short term and the long term. Those decisions are often tough on so many levels and involve so much more than what we are currently seeing through national media.
While I have many concerns about the lasting effects of this pandemic, one of my greatest is the collateral damage that comes because of decisions school boards have had to make. Individually a board member has no power; it is only when seated as the board that they can move a district forward. As we exit this event, it will be more critical than ever that schools maintain strong leadership and collaboration processes focused on the complex work of our school districts.
School Board elections will be held in November. We have three open seats. There are two four-year terms and one two-year term. One incumbent as well as one other individual have filed for the open four-year terms. One seat, the two-year term, remains open with no papers filed to fill it. While any seat, with or without, filed nomination papers can be filled through write-ins, it is known that this open seat will be filled by a write-in candidate. For answers to FAQ’s about this situation and others related to School Board Elections I am linking a file from IASB. I am also linking a webpage from IASB with additional information about serving on the School Board. (Both of these links will be unavailable until October 5th) I encourage those interested in helping West Burlington Independent Schools through this challenging time to consider running.
In closing, thank you for your continued support of the district and its work. Enjoy this fabulous Fall season. Remember while we continue to face challenges, we have much to celebrate and be thankful for.