Los Alamos School Board met for a regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.The meeting was held virtually with over 350 participants in addition to the School Board members.
The meeting began with the swearing in of new Board Member, Melanie Colgan, by the Honorable Judge Elizabeth Allen. They also elected Dawn Jalbert as the School Board Secretary, replacing Julia Baker who resigned from the board to move out of state.
Herb Mclean, Director of Construction, was recognized by the board for his 15 years of service to the district,
overseeing many construction projects including the high school, middle school, Aspen, Barranca and Mountain Elementary schools, and the new Sullivan Fieldhouse. He retired at the end of August.
The School Board then approved the selection of juniors DeJahn Tafoya, Elizabeth Booton and Nina Johnson as new student liaisons. They join seniors Logan Black, Audrey Nolen and Shena Han who are serving their second term. There were 15 applicants for the three positions this year which is more than any other year. All 15 student applicants and School Board Liaisons will participate in a review of the agenda Thursdays before regular School Board meetings
Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus, along with school principals Renee Dunwoody, Jill Gonzales, Suzanne Lynne and Ivanna Austell, updated the board on remote learning, highlighting the successes, challenges and supports in place at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels, as well as across the district.
For Topper Virtual Academy, teachers tout the successful blending of google meets, google classroom and Edgenuity coursework as one of the successes of the online learning option, according to Dunwoody. Students like the access to Edgenuity for support and reteaching as needed. Some of the challenges include engaging all students and the isolation. TVA supports include Edgenuity progress reports for students and parents, as well as an academic skills course and independent work time with instructional assistant support.
For the high school, teachers have a lot of technology resources as well as collaboration. “Teachers are sharing best practices,” said Gonzales. Students like the schedule and flexibility of remote learning.
However, like TVA, teachers are challenged by engaging all students while students are challenged by the workload and attempts at organization. Students are able to find support through academic time, Saturday School and teacher and counselor check-ins.
Suzanne Lynne, principal of Los Alamos Middle School, summarized feedback of a survey given to teachers, parents and students, noting that there were similarities among the three groups. She noted that everyone is getting better at remote learning.
Ivanna Austell, principal of Piñon Elementary School, was the spokesperson for all five elementary schools. She stated that some of the successes noted by teachers included closer connections with students and parents as well as the individual and small group instruction.
Parents also lauded the individual and small group instruction, as well as the availability and responsiveness of teachers. Austell also presented some of the problems that have been solved since the start of remote learning, including overcoming the challenges of new technology, issues with devices and finding a balance between assigning too much work or not enough work.
Teachers also are feeling overwhelmed and are concerned over the low attendance for specials. Likewise, parents are concerned about too much screen time for their students as well as that their children miss being at school.
Board President Ellen Ben-Naim acknowledged the challenges and stress faced by students, parents and staff and noted that the current situation is far from perfect. She added that the presentations gave a balanced look at how remote learning is going.
“We can celebrate the successes but also see the challenges,” Ben-Naim said.
Comments from the audience justified that remote learning is working for many students, but not for everyone. Student by student, staff are addressing the challenges.
The board then heard a presentation by Superintendent Steinhaus on the latest information about the hybrid learning timeline. He pointed out several significant changes since the last school board meeting.
These changes include that the New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary has changed the 2- week period between transitions to “4 to 6 weeks, no decision has been made”. Also, in a late Friday memo, the Updates on School Reentry Guidance document from the PED Secretary, “…finally, no dates have yet been established for the eligibility for middle school and high school”.
The just released COVID-19 Toolkit includes a new set of assurances along with a new requirement for MERV9 or higher air filters. In addition, NMPSIA (New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority) has released a warning about liability insurance. For Hybrid learning, PED has changed from 50 percent student population OR 6’ distancing to 50 percent student population AND 6’ distancing.
Steinhaus stressed that the district is working toward a safe school re-entry.
“Ensuring the health and well-being of staff, students and the community is preeminent,” he said.
The board unanimously approved LAPS moving forward with K-3 small group instruction at all five elementary schools across the district.
After a lengthy debate, the board voted 3-1 to have LAPS modify its planned date to move to hybrid to Oct. 19 for elementary schools. This will allow more time for teachers, parents and students to be ready to move to the hybrid model at the elementary school level, Ben-Naim said.
Finally, the board unanimously approved the K6+ application and calendar for the 2020-2021 school year. This program adds 15 days to the school calendar in June for K-6th grade, as well as adding more than $2 million to the operational budget.
The program would be similar to summer school, but parents would not have to pay their students to attend. Board member Melanie Colgan said she saw this as a win-win situation.
The board adjourned the meeting at 11:55 p.m. and decided to move the remaining agenda items to the next meeting.
The next School Board Work Session is Thursday, Sept. 24, and the next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13.
A Town Hall for students and parents is planned for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15.