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School progress report made at board of education meeting

Judd Weil
Dodge City Daily Globe
The Dodge City USD 443 Board of Education received a positive start-of-school update from Tami Knedler, Ray Wipf, Matt Turner and Scott Springston during its meeting on Sept. 14.

The Dodge City USD 443 Board of Education met on Sept. 14 and received a progress report on operations and activity in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Two board members were absent from the Sept. 14 meeting.

Assistant superintendent of elementary education Tami Knedler informed the board that there are currently 103 kindergarten through fifth-grade students participating in Remote Live Learning.

Seven kindergarten students are participating in Remote Live Learning, dropping from around 20, and 27 fifth-grade students are participating.

There are 504 kindergarten students enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year, a decrease from last year’s enrollment, said Knedler, but the numbers are looking up every day.

Knelder said schools are reporting that the normal flow of face-to-face learning in school is positive.

“Students are glad to be back in school,” Knedler said.

Elementary students were said to understand that if they wear their masks, they can interact with their peers.

Knedler said the parents she visited with are happy with the option for Remote Live Learning should a situation arise for their child to need to use it.

She said students who may be quarantining are not falling behind, as they are participating in teachers’ lessons via Google Classroom through Google Meet.

Executive director of information management Ray Wipf said that even though there may be problems with Remote Live Learning, most of those issues have been solved promptly over the phone.

“We have to be cautious because we actually had some quarantine kids come to our office, and I said, ’No, we can’t have that because they’re in quarantine,’ ” Wipf said. “It’s a bit of an extreme, but most of the time we can deal with it.”

Wipf said they have traded 254 of the RLL iPads for laptops, with 60 more to go before all needs are met.

About 118 wireless hotspots out of 200 ordered have been given out since the start of school, and Wipf said they learned very quickly they could only be distributed one per child meaning should school shut down again, USD 443 would have to distribute 2,100 hotspots, despite being contracted with United Wireless for 1,000.

Wipf told the board that one of their current problems is that while there are still working iPads compatible with the current operating system that can be used, outdated models are still mixed in with them.

The new laptops for the fourth- and fifth-grade classes should be able to be distributed and operational by Sept. 18.

Wipf said officials do not expect the larger shipment of laptops until mid-November.

Assistant superintendent of secondary education Matt Turner said RRL students at the secondary level roughly number at 230.

Turner said that instead of having to keep track of RLL students’ progress via daily individual logs, now parents will just need to provide signatures with assurance that they will be working with their child during a set timeframe.

The board passed 5-0 a motion to approve additional funding for the continuation and expansion of the Culturally Responsive Instruction Contract, presented by deputy superintendent Scott Springston, as a way to evolve current teaching methods with incorporated techniques that will benefit all students from all backgrounds and schools in USD 443.

Robert Vinton, director of the ESL/migrant program, said the overall teaching dynamic is bridging what English Language Learner students already know culturally from their own background and what they are being taught in schools.

Socorro Herrera, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction for the College of Education at Kansas State University, is currently working on training staff from Beeson Elementary School, Dodge City Middle School and Comanche Middle School in these techniques.

Beeson Elementary fourth-grade teacher Crystal Strobel, who has been working with Herrera for two years, said she has multiple strategies that she implements daily to better maximize the potential of her English language learners.

In order to bring these techniques to all schools districtwide, additional training of personnel, already trained by Herrera, is necessary.

The funds will come through the Bilingual, Migrant, and Title III budgets, and costs are set to not exceed $80,000.

Public information officer Kerri Baker, informed board members how USD 443 is reaching out to the public with COVID-19 information from the district website.

“If you go to our website, on the menu tab, you will see COVID-19 correspondence and there we will keep a running total of COVID numbers by schools,” said Baker.

The board was requested by district director of safety and security Shawn Lampe to approve a change on page 15 of the USD 443 Operations Plan from “Students and staff impacted move to Remote Live Learning (RLL) and Affected area is closed for deep cleaning” to “Students and staff will be moved from the classroom to a safe area until the classroom can be sanitized.”

This came by recommendation of Angela Sowers with the Ford County Health Department and was passed 5-0.

This will make COVID-19 case response move more efficiently by ensuring that after sanitizing an adequate and available space for non-compromised students, they can stay in school, while compromised students are sent home and set up on RLL.

Currently there are 21 active COVID-19 cases, consisting of eight staff members and 13 students.

“Last week the Department of Health and Environment started releasing something called cluster summary, and I want to talk about it in a public meeting because it caused a lot of challenges for this district and across Kansas,” said superintendent Fred Dierksen. “It caused challenges for Dodge City, it caused challenges for any entity and the list they are sharing is a list of all the cumulative cases going back to March.”

Dierksen said that at the time that list came out, the district had identified 10 positive cases compared to a chart released from Topeka that showed 27 confirmed cases.

“And so, the first thing that happens is, it goes viral on something called Dodge City Chat and on that everybody started accusing the school district of hiding information,” Dierksen said. “And so, immediately they believed, for the first time in a long time, they believed what they hear from Topeka, because the school district is wrong, and in reality, we’re not wrong.”

Dierksen said the school district did not know additional case numbers from Topeka were coming out. The message he wants to send is that USD 443 will be completely transparent with the public regarding COVID-19, adding that it is not something that they can hide.

“If we do have a problem, we’ll get it out there,” said Dierksen.

A joint letter from the Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce by Dodge City Community College, National Beef, Cargill, Ford County Commission, Dodge City Commission and USD 443 is being sent to the office of Gov. Laura Kelly and KDHE.

This letter will ask the current case numbering process to be reconsidered and that the affected entities’ frustrations also be considered.

Principal of Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Center Arthur Barker requested approval to hire two additional floating paraprofessionals to help students in both of their RLL classrooms as well as on-site classrooms, in favor of being unable to fill a RLL teaching position due to lack of applicant availability.

The board passed this 5-0.

The board approved 5-0 an addendum to the previously approved contracts between USD 443, Architecture Plus LLC and Building Solutions regarding the Memorial Stadium Improvement Project, that has been ongoing for almost a year.

The Guaranteed Maximum Price will be paid to Building Solutions in the amount of $2,356,383.46, and the professional design fees will be paid to Architecture Plus LLC in the amount of $141,383.01 from capital outlay funds.

An approval for the invoice for the Dodge City Education Center adult alternative high school program in the amount of $152,000 and that it be divided between eight installments of $19,000 each so that the program may continue, was passed 5-0.

Dodge City High School senior Christopher Montford and his family were recognized at the meeting for Montford being named a National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalist.

The board of education will meet again at noon Sept. 28.