Schools are closed through the end of the year due to concerns about COVID-19. And in Ketchikan, that has meant massive changes for students and teachers alike.
“We’ve had to adapt, we’ve had to make an adjustment,” Ketchikan school psychologist Derek Meister said while detailing his distance learning recommendations at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
He said school officials have to be cautious — trying to do too much too fast could leave some students behind. Teachers shouldn’t assign required activities or try to teach new material, Meister said.
But Meister said optional assignments reinforcing concepts taught before the shutdown are a good way to prevent students from backsliding.
He said teachers should focus on supporting their students’ social and emotional needs. Early community survey data indicate that 60 percent of student households are under moderate to severe stress, Meister said in an email Thursday.
That support could take the form of family-centered activities, or even what he calls “digital social skills” — simply talking with teachers and students via videoconference. And he said teachers should do their best to provide activities that are fun.
“It’s best practice in education anyway to do things that are fun and entertaining and engaging,” Meister said to the board.
And as Superintendent Beth Lougee told KRBD last week, that’s been the approach so far as teachers hold videoconference sessions with their students.
“Each week we continue to see a little more release of activities, more time spent with students through Zoom,” Lougee said in a phone interview.
She said students wouldn’t be graded on new work. Students’ grades for the first half of the spring would be extended to cover the second half of the spring. But those who would like a chance to raise their spring grades before the end of the year will have an opportunity to do so, according to Lougee.
“So if somebody had a C their third quarter, and they wanted to use this time to improve that and work with their teachers, we welcome that,” Lougee said.
Elsewhere in Wednesday’s school board meeting, the body voted unanimously to adopt the district’s budget for the next fiscal year.
The budget process was complicated by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of $30 million in supplemental school funding earlier this month.
That means Ketchikan’s district won’t see an anticipated $600,000. Because the district is required to balance its budget, that means cutting costs in other areas: faculty, materials and equipment. But district business manager Katie Parrott said in a memo that cuts to the budget for teachers and aides can likely be made up through cost savings. And district officials say some money could be rolled over from this year, though it’s not clear how much will be available.
State officials have offered federal coronavirus relief money to make up for the cut. But district officials say it’s still short of the legislature’s appropriation, and it remains unclear what restrictions will be attached to emergency aid from the feds.