Home schooling causes enrollment drop for district

By Kelly Kenoyer
Lebanon Local

Supt. Bo Yates told the School Board Sept. 10, at its monthly meeting, that enrollment is down about 10 percent across the district.
“They will come back because we will have a superior product to what they can get online,” Yates predicted. But as a result of the decline, he said, “We are trying to be very, very conservative on our hiring and expenses right now.”
Enrollment is at 3,450 students, Yates said, and the largest hits are at Riverview and Seven Oak Middle School, which are down about 20 percent.
“We had a high level of home schooling before this year,” Yates said, adding that the district needs to make the school district the best option possible in order to draw students back.
The decline may impact the school district budget next year, but Business Director William Lewis said the district is fully funded for the 2020-21 school year, thanks to state and federal support, which has never happened during a recession in the last 40 years.
“We’re in a very good financial position, which gives us time to respond to the situation instead of being pressured to make changes immediately,” Lewis said.
Board members Tammy Schilling, Tom Oliver, Mike Martin, Richard Borden, and Todd Gestrin attended the meeting.
Yates told the board that many students are going to other online academies rather than trying the online school available through the district, especially after the difficulties of last year. Oliver, the board chair, expressed confidence in the district’s ability to compete with those alternatives, however.
“We will create an experience better than anything they’ll get out there,” he said. “We’re going to demonstrate success, and that’s going to make our kids and our families want to be in our program.”
As for COVID metrics allowing for schools to start up, Yates said the numbers are looking good in Linn County. After a spike to 40 cases per 100,000 in Linn County in early August, the county has dropped below 30 for three weeks running. The latest metrics at press time were 13 cases per 100,000 the week of Aug. 30 — low enough to allow K-3 students back in person.
“We’re excited to see those numbers going that direction,” Yates said.
The district is waiting to get numbers from Labor Day weekend, and if metrics stay low, more students will be able to come back for blended learning.
“We’re planning to be aggressive,” Yates said, “but we don’t want to pull the trigger early.
“I don’t want to bring them back and then send them home immediately,” he added, suggesting it will be another week or two before the district decides to bring students back to school in person.
“I hope it’s as soon as possible,” Schilling said.
School district staff spent significant time discussing how the new school year is getting going and how Canvas will work. Students came back on Tuesday, Sept. 8th, but Canvas was not launched until Sept. 11 because of “things outside of our control,” according to Jennifer Meckley, assistant to the superintendent.
“The biggest challenge is building the plane as we fly it, the timeline is very challenging,” she said.
Sept 10 marked the first day with synchronous learning, she said. “I heard it went pretty well.”
56 teachers participated in the Summer Curriculum Work Meeting, which helped train them on how to use Canvas ahead of the school year.
Evan Brammer, a science teacher at Hamilton Creek School, gave the board a presentation on Canvas. He has used the program for 10 years and helped train other teachers on how to use it. “Every single teacher and classified staff has gone through the training and put so much effort in in the past few weeks to make it happen.”
The platform will look somewhat similar between grades, teachers and classes to keep things easy for parents and students, but each class’s page is also customizable for the teacher’s personality, subject, and student age group, Brammer explained. “Canvas has so much more functionality for students and teachers” compared to Google Classroom, which the district used in Spring, he said.
The platform is also able to support video recordings and stores zoom lectures, which makes it easy for students to review lectures they didn’t understand or that they missed. “That will help bridge that equity gap,” Brammer said.
The district has also pushed out guidebooks in Spanish for Spanish-speaking families to facilitate the transition. At a recent Spanish-language parent forum, the district also taught parents how to switch the platform into Spanish, which will help parents navigate the site with their students.

In addition to those conversations, the board covered the following issues:
♦ As of Aug. 31, Lebanon high school had 31 students participate in summer school with a total of 35.75 credits being recovered. School Improvement Administrator Tami Volz said the students learned entirely through Zoom and other platforms.
♦ A new assessment tool for kindergarten and first grade students is up and running. It’s called ESGI, and it has been well received by teachers, according to Volz. “It’s profoundly easy for them to see the results,” she said.
♦ Board members unanimously voted to hire Emily Farnell as a temporary secondary math teacher and Quinn Sansom as a temporary secondary language arts teacher. Members also voted to allow Dan Hartman, a behavior support person, to take a leave of absence for the 2020-21 school year.
♦ The district held parent forums in early September and helped around 150 parents and students prepare to use Canvas. There were two forums in English and one in Spanish.
♦ Oliver reported that Peak Internet is working on a project with the CARES act funding to “build fiber in some of our more rural areas” that are “currently underserved.” Those builds are under way now, he said, and they should have internet connectivity by the end of the school year. “As the year progresses that will certainly help those families.
♦ Yates reported that bus drivers are helping transport students for assessments and the Boys and Girls Club, “anything to keep them driving.” The district is reimbursed for those hours, he said. They’re also painting and doing artwork in the schools, he added.