School Board members favor classroom time for younger grades as they ponder plans for fall

To view the entire School Board meeting, visit youtu.be/VfBfLWcghe0.

By Scott Swanson

Lebanon Local

Lebanon students in kindergarten through third grade should be most likely to spend time in actual classrooms in the fall, School Board members agreed at their monthly meeting Thursday, July 23.

Most older students will likely start the school year during distance learning via what Supt. Bo Yates and other administrators said would be improved “methods of delivery” over what students experienced in the spring, after the abrupt closure of schools due to the coronavirus.

Yates said the district’s current plan, formulated beginning in June, is “still fluid because COVID-19 is changing continuously.”

He said the plan, which administrators and staff have worked on for the past “four to six weeks,” offers two options for all three groups of students in the district – elementary, middle school and high school.

The first option would have younger students, those in kindergarten through third grade, attend school half a day every day, divided into morning and afternoon classes.

All students who actually attend a school would be divided into cohorts, with each student individually having 35 square feet of space in the classroom, and with socially distant spacing when transported on buses.

Students in older grades would attend school on either Monday or Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday for full days, with Wednesdays devoted to “online support/development” and sterilization of school facilities.

Yates and board members spent quite a bit of the two-hour meeting discussing the need for classroom time for students. They agreed that younger grades were a priority for face-to-face contact with teachers. Yates said in-person instruction was necessary for reading skills, which “they don’t learn as well online.”

“Those kids in the lowest grade levels need more instruction from an instructor.”

The second option for all levels would simply be online school: Teachers would provide online learning utilizing district curriculum and Canvas, an online platform that, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Meckley said, provides “more interaction between students and students, students and teachers” and is “much more robust than Google Classroom,” a program used last spring.

Yates said that the primary focus of the district plan is “making sure students and staff are safe.”

He emphasized more than once during the meeting that day-long interaction with students presents health risks for staff members.

“Teachers and instructional assistants, staff have a tremendous amount of exposure throughout the day,” he said. “It’s not the safest environment to be in during a pandemic.”

Other priorities in the plan are conforming to parameters issued by the state for social distancing, facial coverings, sterilization schedules, etc., and following the state’s dictates on transportation, food services, custodial services, classroom size, etc.

The final priority, Yates said, is the educational effectiveness of the district’s programs.

Board Chair Tom Oliver noted the position of education in that list.

“It’s hard to swallow that that’s the last priority in a list of four,” he said. “It illustrates where we are right now, which is unfortunate.”

“The only way we’re going to be effective with K-2 if is they’re in the classroom,” he said, adding that district staff are being asked “to do something completely different than what they’ve been trained, what they’ve done for many years in the classroom.”

He said committing resources to lower grades is critical because “when we look at where we struggle

Board Member Mike Martin said he thought third-graders should be included in the age groups that would get the most classroom time, because “it is such a pivotal year.”

“They would benefit greatly, cementing what they’ve learned in K-2.”

Board member Tammy Schilling questioned what “an acceptable level of risk” is. She said the district shouldn’t just do “what everybody else is doing.”

“That’s not necessarily right, especially in the political environment we find ourselves in.”

“My stomach is churning with this discussion,” Schilling said. “What I’d like to hear is how we can make it happen. Am I crazy? Am I the only one who feels that way? We’re supposed to be educating our kids. That’s our sole goal.”

She called the district’s experience with online learning in the spring “a nightmare,” recalling that her own 14-year-old daughter struggled with online learning.

“It’s unfair to say that one group needs (classroom time) more than another. They should be on an equal playing field.”

Yates replied that younger students “don’t have the capacity to pick up a Chromebook.”

“Yet we look at our 10th-graders,” Schilling responded. “They have a serious challenge now. They are tremendously behind. We were just talking about how to get them caught tup. Are we going to write that group off?” she asked, adding, “That’s a rhetorical question.”

Board Member Todd Gestrin noted that his daughter actually did better in online schooling during her first two years of high school.

Board Member Richard Borden agreed that “brick and mortar” was best, but said he was concerned that the state would “force” students back online.

in our district, it starts before them come to us.”

In addition to how to get kids into classrooms, trustees and Yates also discussed how much authority the state Department of Education directives to districts actually represent.

Schilling said “blindly following what the state wants us to do is not in my DNA,” adding that she had doubts about reported numbers of coronavirus infections in the state and suggesting that health officials are ignoring “secondary problems” children are experiencing from being missing out on social interaction.

“We all want to feel safe but there is no safe,” she said. “I think it’s important to first step out and think what we are doing for current students, our current cohorts on every level.”

She acknowledged later that “safe” is relative:

Yates said he believes the district needs to “approach this in a systemic way” so “we don’t have continuing issues bringing kids back as fast as we can.”

Schilling suggested that children could be taught to clean their areas, the way gym users do after using exercise equipment.

Gestrin agreed: “We need to train students, have a canister of wipes and cleaning at every desk” and teaching students to “disinfect their area.”

Gestrin also suggested that schools hold classes on weekends to maximize capacity under the state’s requirements.

Schilling suggested that local church classrooms could be used.

“I don’t pretend to think we’re going to go five days as week,” she said. “At some point in the discussion, we have to find a sweet spot.”

She asked Yates if he had numbers for the space needed to put all students in classrooms and whether the district has data on parents’ feedback.

“Your idea of safety might be very different than Joe Smith out there.

“For every study that ODE comes up with about risk and categories of risk, there’s a complete opposite stat that says, ‘OK, now we’re exposing kids to this kind of risk.’ We can pick and choose. What I’d like to see is what’s best for our community and for our set of parents, for the kids we serve.

“To just come out of the gate and say ‘let’s go online,’ that’s completely opposite of how we’ve started things moving again in the right direction.

“Let’s open up and see where we go and if we go too far, then we can roll it back. All of a sudden, we’re crouching down and we’re waiting for things to pass.”

“I know the majority of our parents want their kids in school, but my job is to ensure those kids are safe and that our staff is safe,” Yates responded.

“Is your job to ensure those kids are safe a higher priority than parents determining that their kids are safe?” Schilling asked.

“As it relates to staff, I would say yes,” Yates said.

Gestrin said he doubts “education will ever return to what it was before COVID,” noting that the future may offer “a diversified mix that parents can select from.”

Schilling reiterated that she was concerned about waiting for “the ODE and pharmaceuticals to tell us it’s safe.”

“We just cross our fingers and hope it gets better. It won’t be. It’ll be a long time before it’s safe, if you even believe in that term.”

She said she wanted “numbers” to base her decision upon.

“Nobody’s given me any raw data. For this big of a decision, I would expect to see some numbers. This is why – not just because ODE says we should do something, but because the numbers are there.

“I just can’t see any of our kids being successful on the platform we left on last year. If you don’t take anything else away, take that away. It was unacceptable.”

Martin asked whether, if the district returned students to school “as usual, what do we have to subtract to make that work, to fit the state model?”

He said he agreed with Schilling that Lebanon has “a strong sense of policing ourselves.

“Is it inconceivable that we could police it?” Martin asked. “We could have a super strong education program regarding safety, over-the-top, things on the desk, self cleanliness. Is it possible, or are we past that point?”

He suggested dividing the high school gym into six classrooms to create more space for students, and using instructional assistants as teachers move from cohort to cohort.

Yates noted that infection rates have changed from the end of the school year, adding that when school was halted in the spring, “it wasn’t due to student infections, it was due to staff.”

Martin said he agreed with Schilling that board members need numbers.

Oliver and Borden questioned what authority the district has to act on its own.

Yates said the DOE has issued “guidance” to the districts.

“The governor is going to make mandates, but everything the ODE proposes is guidance.”

Oliver suggested the district could mandate that all students wear masks and “operate schools just as we did Sept. 1, 2019.

“If families didn’t want to do that, they can enroll their kids elsewhere, in an online academy or go somewhere else. There would certainly be an issue with staff not being comfortable with that.”

He added that he wasn’t “advocating” that position, but he wondered what authority the district has.

Yates said he could check to see “whether we could work around the 35-square-foot” requirement.

“I’d have to check with ODE if we would be penalized for that.”

Board members agreed that they wanted to hear from parents on issues they’d discussed, and Yates said it isn’t too late to survey parents.

He said administrators would be working on the district’s plan for ODE, which the board would need to approve.

He asked the board to support moving a “soft start” to the school year, with students conferencing with teachers starting Aug. 31 after staff returns Aug. 24. Student conferences with teachers would take place the first week, with school beginning the day after Labor Day, May 8.

Staff will spend the first week getting technology “worked out” and setting up small groups, conferencing and tutorials.

“I don’t know if that’s enough time,” Oliver said.

“We’re having a discussion of bad options,” Yates replied.

“I think we’re better served by allowing staff to be as best prepared as possible for a completely different experience,” Oliver said.

The board’s next meeting will be a Zoom meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13.


Meckley acknowledged that online learning in the spring was “quite a challenge because teachers were not trained to do it.”

“Spring was rough,” she said.

The Canvas system allows teachers and students to interact in different modalities, sometimes seeing everyone in the class, or watching something on a screen, or chatting, taking quizzes, writing papers.

“It’s an absolutely better platform for everyone,” Meckley said.

Schilling suggested that parents might want to see how the program works.

Oliver said Canvas will not be a live stream of a teacher the student had on Monday and Tuesday. Rather, he said, it will be a different staff member or “some combination of self-direction or interaction with classmates.”

Schilling asked why it couldn’t be a live feed from a classroom.

Meckley responded that the district’s technological capabilities don’t permit that.

“We have to build capacity to make that happen,” she said.

She said teachers are being asked to develop plans for both hybrid and online scenarios for the fall, but acknowledged that is difficult.

“It’s really hard for them to wrap their heads around. Hopefully, we’ll have extra time for them to build their skills in that area.”

Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction

Tami Volz, school improvement administrator, introduced several new programs that will be used by teachers in the fall.

“Teachers don’t know how to teach online,” she said, “We’ve purchased a few things to provide teachers with methods of delivery.”

A big change will be the use of Amplify, a new English language arts program for middle schoolers, to replace Springboard, which has been used for the past five-plus years, Volz said.

Middle schoolers will use Amplify, a new language arts curriculum for the school district, which offers a comprehensive on-line platform.

Volz also introduced Zearn, which will be an online partner to Eureka Math, used for K- through fifth-graders.

Grades six through 12 will use CPM for math.

Volz said a new assessment tool, ESGI, will be used for kindergarten and first-grade teachers. The program offers an electronic report card, assessments and progress monitoring. First-grade teachers will use this tool for assessments until the students are ready for the STAR assessment.

Volz noted that over 35 teachers, grades K – 12, have “jumped in” to lead the design of lessons for their grade level and/or content area. They will be trained on Canvas and all the online curriculum resources needed to make sure we are all ready for students in the fall.

In other action, the board:

– Approved the hiring of 13 new teachers and two temporary instructors.

The permanent position hires are: Kacie Bell, secondary/middle school math teacher; Jenna Broadhurst, speech language pathologist; Kelli Conraads, secondary counselor; Sandi Cox, secondary mental health specialist; Marissa Eng, elementary teacher; Jacob Johnson, secondary welding/small engines; Kristina Kinney, elementary teacher; Lisa Kuenzi, elementary teacher; Tayo Mulholland, elementary teacher; Caitlin Sherburne, elementary teacher; Dylan Taylor, secondary math teacher; Miranda Treadway, elementary teacher; and Candace Van Patten, SPED Life Skills teacher.

Temporary hires are: Kayla Marshall, elementary teacher; and Madison Shryock. secondary/middle school language arts teacher.

– Approved a meeting schedule for 2020-21. Meetings will typically be at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Santiam Travel Station.