By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

School board discusses upcoming teaching changes

 

July 29, 2020



Tucumcari Public Schools board members last week discussed the upcoming school year that would have included a hybrid approach of in-person and online teaching in response to the coronavirus pandemic, plus an online-only option.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order days later rendered parts of that plan at least temporarily moot. She said the state’s public schools must use online learning only (with a few exceptions) through at least Labor Day because of rising COVID-19 cases in the state.

Superintendent Aaron McKinney said during a phone interview Saturday he didn’t anticipate the district or teachers having much trouble transitioning to virtual learning when the school year begins in mid-August.

“We’re just shifting back” to online-only instruction, he said. “Last spring, we had to move into this rather quickly. We’ve got more time for the teachers to work with this and get these kids online.”

He said more details about virtual instruction would be known in the coming days.

McKinney said if the governor gives the green light to in-person classes on Sept. 8, Tucumcari would go back to a hybrid model, as originally planned.

McKinney said during the meeting the upcoming school year would come with 10 additional instructional days, which half would be used on Fridays for professional development for teachers.

Responding to a question from board member Matthew Pacheco, McKinney said under the hybrid model, one group of students would go to school Monday and Tuesday and a second group Wednesday and Thursday, with the other days by both groups filled with online instruction.


Fridays also would have been devoted to fill-in online instruction and office hours for teachers. McKinney said in-school days likely would be shorter, with early afternoon dismissal times. McKinney said afternoons on those school days likely would have been used for elective courses or online office hours.


Even with online classes, McKinney said teachers would instruct from their classrooms because they have needed resources there.

An online-only option also would be available for students or parents who want it even if hybrid learning is used at the district later.

McKinney said the district is looking at setting up several internet wireless hotspots in Tucumcari with a signal of up to a 2 miles to help students with poor or nonexistent service.

With rural students, he said he was “working on” another solution.

The school district Wednesday also posted a school re-entry survey online via Google Documents to gauge how many area students would participate in in-person or online classes. Among the questions on the three-page survey are whether the household has internet access and the type of connection, plus the number of children enrolling in the hybrid learning model or online only.


The survey can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/y2npgv96 .

“I still want people to fill out that survey,” McKinney said Saturday. “People are still going to have those same feelings when we start back on (Sept.) 8th — assuming we start back on the 8th.”

McKinney said there is no deadline for filling out the survey but recommended it be submitted by Aug. 1.

During an interview on KTNM/KQAY radio Wednesday, McKinney added schools would do daily temperature scans for incoming students and staff and sanitize buildings daily under the hybrid model. Masks or face shields would be required, along with social distancing, during in-person teaching.


McKinney said depending on the number of students and teachers in certain grades, it would be possible for some children to go to school all four days when in-person teaching resumes.

The governor’s new order also allows in-person teaching for groups of five or fewer people in grades kindergarten through third grade.

He said lunches would have been served in classrooms or grab-and-go style as they left school. Lunches also would be made available for children learning remotely.

Buses routes also were planned, with masks or face shields required on the vehicles.

Board member Heather Gonzales said the parents “need more communication from the main office” about the coming school year and expressed dissatisfaction with that effort during the spring. Board member Jerry Joe Lopez echoed that concern, saying more needed to be done to inform residents about upcoming changes at schools.


Gonzales said she also wanted more accountability for teachers and their online work, citing an unnamed instructor was in Amarillo instead of teaching earlier this spring. McKinney responded that teachers would be “physically in the building” for online instruction.

McKinney said he’d met with faculty members for three straight weeks to work out details of the school year, though he said assistant superintendent David Johnson was having trouble filling some job vacancies less than a month before school was scheduled to begin.


On a related note, the board approved the 2020-2021 school calendar that lists student registration as Aug. 5-6; registration likely will be done online. The first day of school is Aug. 17. Homecoming is Sept. 18, with Christmas break from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1. Spring break is March 22-26, and graduation is scheduled for May 21.

In other business:

• The board approved pay schedules for the school year that reflect a 1% salary increase for teachers and staff. The New Mexico Legislature originally enacted a 4% pay increase early in the year but reduced that during a June special session amid a cash crunch from COVID-19 effects and falling oil revenue.


• The board approved a resolution receiving $21,419 from the government road fund program administered by the New Mexico Department of Transportation. The district’s share would be $5,355. The district would use the money to build several Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps at the football practice field and soccer field. McKinney said a steep slope at the edge of the field makes it difficult for the elderly to walk up it. Board member Jerry Joe Lopez asked whether next year’s money from that fund could be used to improve access to Rattler Stadium.

• The board approved mileage reimbursements for use of the McKinney’s personal vehicle for the coming school year. McKinney said he mostly uses the district’s vehicle, but he occasionally needs his pickup truck to move large items.

• The board approved the renewal of a professional services contract with special-education coordinator Cathy Fury, in the final year of a three-year deal.

• The board approved authorized signatures for the district’s bank accounts that included McKinney, Johnson, board President Leif Gray, clerk Bo Wallace, business manager Janet Sanchez and assistant business manager Teresa Maestas.

• The board approved an annual report of district assets. The district has $65.4 million in fixed assets and $3.7 million in supply assets. The report is required for an annual audit.

• The board held a first reading of policy changes regarding alterations to federal Title IX nondiscrimination laws that go into effect Aug. 14. It spells out new procedures on how to handle sexual harassment claims, including appointing a compliance officer or Title IX coordinators. Johnson said the new rules likely would require additional training.

 
 

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