Education carries on despite shutdown

By Sean C. Morgan
Lebanon Local

Educators and students are taking advantage of modern technology to get around the physical closure of Lebanon schools a month ago as part of Oregon’s attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
When the governor’s order came to shut down schools, Supt. Bo Yates said the district responded first “to make sure kids are safe and receiving whatever they need to be safe, secure and healthy.”
Since then, the district has been providing more than 1,500 meals per day to help support children and their families, he said. Officials have been trying to make sure students are fed over the weekend as well.

PRESLEY HEFLIN, 7, picks up breakfast and lunch for the day, offered through Lebanon Community School District, at Green Acres, while mom Cassandra Mayberry watches.
Photo by Sarah Brown

“We’ve also worked with the Boys and Girls Club to help provide daycare for some of the workers that have to work,” like hospital employees, Yates said.
The district’s efforts were highlighted by the National Education Association in March, which included Lebanon’s efforts to feed children in its national publication.
Last week, the district began providing distance learning for Lebanon students, he said. “Our teachers are reaching out and engaging the kids.”
The teachers are working remotely with each other in professional learning communities divided by grade, he said. “They’re doing a fantastic job. They picked it up and jumped in with both feet.”
Each grade level has a template schedule they’re following, Yates said. The time they spend online is on a sliding scale based on their age, with older students spending more each day.
The district uses several online programs with lessons also provided by teachers, Yates said. The district has handed out more than 1,600 Chromebooks, which allow students to do lessons online and video conference with their teachers.
If students do not have access to Internet, the district is working with them to help them gain access or solve the problem another way, Yates said. In some cases, that means supplying paper packets. In other cases, parents and students can download school work in the school parking lot.
The district is still collecting data on how students are accessing their school work, he said, but he believes more than 90 percent are accessing their teachers on a virtual platform.
“Our technology team has been doing a fantastic job of supporting our community and our teachers as well,” Yates said, noting that people have different levels of comfort with the technology.
He expects the district “will learn a lot” from this experience, and it may change things going forward as the district begins using technology in new ways.
“You do the things you are comfortable doing (under normal circumstances),” Yates said. “Then you’re forced into a situation where you are no longer operating in that realm, and people step up to do fantastic things.”
The way the staff has stepped up for kids so far has been “unbelievable,” he said.

Under guidance from the state government last week, seniors who were passing their classes are now considered graduated.
At this point, more than 230 seniors are considered to be graduated, Yates said. The seniors who are close each have a graduation plan in place, and a seven-member team is working to ensure those students who have work left to do to complete it.
The state’s decision changing graduation requirements, “is going to facilitate some kids being able to graduate,” Yates said.
The most challenging thing at this point “is not being able to honor those kids” with the annual graduation ceremony, he said. “We want to make them feel how proud of them we are.”
Right now, the district is putting all of its efforts into getting its seniors to complete requirements and supporting the remaining elementary, junior high and high school students, but graduation is on the minds of the district staff.
“We’ll try to figure out how we can do something to honor those students,” Yates said, noting that the Keller Williams Laura Gillott Home Team has sponsored signs to honor local graduates. “We’re trying to figure out what that looks like.”
Yates said he is hoping for some type of traditional graduation ceremony, but if that’s not possible, then the district will look at alternatives.

Student Investment Act
The district submitted its application to the Oregon Department of Education for Student Investment Act funds two weeks ago, with plans to spend an additional $3 million next school year in a variety of program expansions to provide 45 full-time equivalent certified and support staff during the school year and 22 certified and support staff for K-6 summer school.
The SIA funds are part of the Student Success Act approved by the legislature last year. It is funded by a corporate activity tax, and a portion of then-projected revenues of $2 billion are to be shared among school districts statewide.
Yates said he anticipates lower revenue. Instead of expanding services, the district may be figuring out how to contract serves, but “not all these opportunities are lost.”
Additional guidance will be forthcoming from the state on the SIA program, and the district is developing supplemental plans that prioritize the features in its proposed plan to use SIA funds, “what will have the most impact on the kids in Lebanon for the long run.”
Overall, Yates said, it can be really difficult to navigate challenges in the short time frames the district has faced since the closure of the schools.
“It’s always the ‘what-ifs’ that cause you the most anxiety,” he said. “I think it’s an opportunity to look at a more blended learning model of how we can support kids. Our teachers have done an awesome job. We’re prepared the best we can be for the kids in this community.”
Yates also said he is thankful for how positive and patient people have been as the district has transitioned to school at home.