As we embark on the second half of our journey this year at WAO Public School, I would like to reflect on a few highlights. These highlight events have supported our mission and goal to have PreK - 12 students in the buildings as much as possible this year.
In July of 2020, staff began brainstorming how to open school safely. At that time, our students had not been in the buildings to learn since mid-March of 2020. Using the Governor’s guidance and staff foresight to plan different scenarios, it became apparently clear that in order to achieve our goal of having students in the building, we needed to develop a system whereby our building and bus sizes were not going to be a limiting factor in meeting our goal. Governor’s guidance stated that we must reduce both school classroom and bus capacities by 50%, to be in compliance with Covid-19 regulations. Through our District QET leadership team process in July and August of 2020, we were able to figure out how to maximize our classrooms and bus capacities to meet the requirement. The summer brainstorming sessions were necessary and valuable. We knew that as we entered the month of September, we had a safe plan for re-opening our school.
In October, we realized that one of the problems with having students and staff in the buildings as much as possible, would be the availability of staff, should an individual need to quarantine. At that time, we asked our communities for any available substitute teachers, paraprofessionals or bus drivers to come forward and join our team. Since October, we have secured a few individuals who have become regular substitutes at WAO. This has definitely helped to lessen the need to quarantine classrooms and buildings, when staff are required to be away from the building.
WAO Public School employs approximately 100 staff members. During the first half of the school year, approximately 30% of our staff have needed to be on quarantine, due to being a “close contact” or they tested positive for Covid-19. In total, school has been in session 78 days this year. Because of staff quarantines between September 10 - January 15, we have been forced to move to a Distance Learning model for 17 total days. This equates to our WAO students being in the school buildings for their education 78% of the time this year. As we know, some of the bigger metro schools in Minnesota have yet to have any in person learning this school year. We are very fortunate at WAO Public School.
Each month our teachers have improved on the delivery and quality of education for our distance learners. Some of our families have chosen to learn from home during the pandemic. We embrace the family decision and our teachers have worked very hard to accommodate the request. Not only are teachers instructing their “in person” student learners in classrooms, they are also responsible for the “delivery” of education to our distance learning students via the internet. As of today, we have 35 PreK-12 grade students who “log in” daily to their classroom & teacher for their instruction and learning.
Late in November of 2020, our Governor mandated additional preparation time for teachers. In response, our Board of Education enacted “asynchronous” learning days on Wednesdays throughout the remainder of the school year. Asynchronous learning by definition means that “learning is not happening simultaneously or at the same time.” When students are in person and in the building, their learning is considered synchronous, or “at the same time.” On Wednesdays, teachers are tasked with providing learning opportunities for students while at home via the internet. Some students are logging in to their teacher using a school issued Chromebook computer, and some students who are at risk, are coming to the buildings for individual support from their teachers. In addition to the learning opportunities for our students, teachers are able to benefit from added preparation time, which is necessary for planning lessons for both in person and distance learning students.
Our communities and families have been very cognizant of helping us this year, and we appreciate it! Families have transported their students to and from school when necessary. Parents have also made trips to games with their student athletes so we can safely transport our teams, when bus capacity restrictions are being approached. Our families have not complained and made things more difficult for our staff, when Covid restrictions are enacted. We know that guidance during the pandemic is ever changing, and we appreciate the professionalism of our communities and families as we try our best to navigate the mandates.
As I reflect on some of the happenings so far at WAO Public School, I am grateful to work in such a wonderful school environment. On behalf of the students and staff, thank you for your continued support of our cause. We appreciate it!