Nokomis Votes Down Return To 3:12 Dismissal

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The March meeting of the Nokomis School Board was called to order on Tuesday, March 16, by President Chad Ruppert, with Superintendent Scott Doerr, board members Joe Gasparich, Steve Janssen, Denny Bauman, Carl Ray Fesser, Jim Eisenbarth, and Ben Tarter all present.  Also in attendance were principals Reedy, McDowell, and McDonald; as well as other interested guests.   A variety of parents, teachers, and other interested parties attended via internet connection.

After his report to the board, Dr. Doerr advised of three full-time remote learners at the North School and a whole pre-K class would be out until next week due to a positive.  Junior and senior high school has 16 full-time remotes and five short-terms.

The report on remote learners led to his discussing with the board the new Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) guidance for schools released the previous Tuesday.  He said as a result of this guidance, IDPH is not requiring remote learning any more unless the student is at risk or increased risk of illness, has special healthcare needs or lives with people with increased risk.  This paves the way for the district’s revised Return to Learning Plan for in-person learning for students not meeting the criteria.  In his summary of the guidelines, he said that while many of the social distancing and other preventative measures, such as wearing of masks and contact tracing remain in place, the district was not required to continue on-line learning for students not meeting the criteria.

With this in mind, he said that their plan called for a return to regular dismissal time of 3:12 beginning on the return from spring break on or about April 6.  All remote students not meeting one of the three criteria, with medical certification, will return to in-person learning at that time.  If at any time 25 percent of the district’s students have to go to remote learning due to a positive test or close contact, they would revert to the 2:30 dismissal.

Ruppert expressed optimism at the current numbers, the district’s efforts and record to-date, and the opportunity to move closer to normalcy.  He made a motion to approve the Return to Learning Plan effective April 6.  Fesser seconded the motion.  

Gasparich dissented, saying, “the 2:30 dismissal has worked well.  I think it’s gotten us through this mess and I am not in favor of switching back to 3:12 for two reasons.”  He went on to explain that no students had been vaccinated, and IDPH was predicting a third wave of the virus.  

He was afraid they were “pushing the envelope a little too tight”.

The motion failed three votes to four, with Ruppert, Fesser, and Janssen voting “yea” and Gasparich, Tarter, Eisenbarth, and Bauman voting against it.  Those opposed all cited the 2:30 dismissal as the only part of the Return to Learning Plan they did not agree with as their reason for voting against the plan.  All appeared to be in favor of requiring in-person learning for those not meeting the previously mentioned criteria to qualify for remote learning.

Gasparich cited the additional class time as potential additional exposure time.  Ruppert said he struggled with that argument.  Tarter said he understood both sides of the argument, but the routine for this year had been established with the students having a 2:30 dismissal and that a return to 3:12 dismissal with only about six weeks of school remaining might be more disruptive than helpful.  Tarter went on to say if it was coming out of Christmas break with half a year to go, he would be for it, but not with only six weeks to go.  Doerr said he understood the argument for routine, but he thought this move would better prepare the students for a full time return next August.  He was also concerned about learning loss from the cumulative loss of that classroom time, relaying concerns some teachers had mentioned to him.

A parent attending remotely offered her experience with her student’s success with remote learning versus in-person learning.  Her student struggled with anxiety at in-person learning, but thrived in the remote environment.  Teacher Melissa Shalter, also attending remotely, spoke about the stress on faculty and students and the difference between instructional time and planned time. 

Gasparich then made a motion to approve the Return to Learning Plan as amended, eliminating the 3:12 dismissal time.  All other portions of the plan were acceptable to all board members.  The motion was seconded by Eisenbarth.  Ruppert declined further discussion, as the motion had been called. The motion passed on a 4 – 3 roll call vote, with Ruppert, Fesser, and Janssen voting “nay.”

Earlier, in his report to the board, Dr. Doerr reported that the state currently owes the district $59,416.  The monies owed are primarily related to transportation, driver’s education, and both agriculture grants.  He said the CARES II grants had been released and he was in the process of writing it.  Once completed he will submit it to the board to see what items will be approved.  Doerr said at this time he had reserved about 60 percent of the amount for this year and summer, with the remainder to be used in FY22.  He added that Congress had already passed the CARES III bill, which the President was expected to sign, but the amount that would roll down to the state and ultimately to the district from this program was unknown at this time.

Related to the CARES II grant funding, Doerr gave an update of the planned list of projects and ideas to be considered by the Building and Grounds Committee, which was to meet on March 11.  These projects were to include:  greenhouse, junior-senior high kitchen renovation along with kitchen equipment for that kitchen and the one at North School, intercom and security systems at North School, HVAC controllers and software for all three buildings from Johnson Controls, and replacing carpet or tile in the North School office and music room and both high school science rooms.

As a part of his report to the board, Doerr presented an outline of the summer school proposal.  His power point presentation of “Camp Redskins” emphasized the program’s intent to be “fun, enriching, and educational.”  He said surveys were being sent to all teachers and aides to help develop the program and the plan was to make it feel more like camp than summer school.  Students who are the most at risk of failing will be required to attend, while other students pre-K thru grade 12 will be offered opportunities to participate.  Doerr confirmed for Ruppert that all those needing credit recovery would be required to attend every day until they get the work done.

He said the “camp” will take place from June 2-30 from 8:30 a.m. to noon, with teachers reporting at 8 a.m. for a half hour planning period.  They hope to provide three one-hour blocks focusing one hour each on literary and math studies, with the third hour featuring enrichment areas such as art, music, agriculture, and STEM areas.  He said for the third hour they were trying to “think outside the box” in order to make the program more valuable for all who attend.   Doerr said more information would be provided to parents soon.

In an update on the vocational consortium, Doerr reported they continue to meet monthly and discuss the vocational pathways.  He said right now they are working on a pathway for computer science because it would be a required subject for all high school students in a few years.  He said he is also working with the two ag teachers to get their paperwork completed for LLCC for dual credit classes in the ag department.  He said right now they were ready to move forward next year in vocational programs in auto mechanics, education, LPN/nursing, building trades, and bake shop.  On the horizon are the programs in computer science, agriculture, union trades/carpentry, and additional culinary arts programs.

Doerr also provided a brief update on the situation with NPT and Taylorville’s request to leave the group.  Doerr said there had been a special board meeting of NTP last week at which two of the three members were represented.  They adopted a resolution with regard to Taylorville’s request to withdraw from the group.  That resolution included a statement of recommendation on Taylorville’s petition to withdraw as well as 16 reasons why the other two members felt they shouldn’t withdraw and a recommendation to deny their request to withdraw early.   The resolution would be sent to all three school districts, the ISB, and the regional office of education.  Doerr added that Taylorville had yet to respond to the inquiries sent them in January, let alone the resolution from last Thursday.  He said he would update the board as he had information to relay.

Doerr also reported that he, Mrs. McDowell, Mrs. DeWerff, and Mrs. Hilgert had met with Jody Reynolds about the suicide prevention program QPR, which Reynolds had discussed with them back in January.  He said the program offered a lot of professional development for all district employees and they would start working with her to implement that program.  He said it is the same program that Hillsboro Area Hospital is working with, but unfortunately they could not get on the hospital’s list to work with them for two years; so the district would be working directly with Reynolds and the QPR organization to provide the development for the staff.  Gasparich asked if there might be 708 money available to use for this program and Doerr thought there was a very good chance of it.

As a part of the principals’ reports to the board, Reedy said they had been visited by a representative of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, who seemed happy with their progress with the program.  McDowell reported that the state had decided there would be no PSAT this year and that the SAT would not include an essay portion.

Janssen made a motion to remove from the table and approve the resolution to adopt the TRS voluntary supplemental savings plan employer agreement.  Doerr had explained that this agreement simply allowed the Tier 3 employees to have the opportunity to create a 403B type plan, but the district would not be responsible for any additional funds; this is strictly for the employees to set up on their own if they so choose.

Eisenbarth made a motion to approve the food service management contract agreement with OPAA! Food Management for the 2021-2022 school year.  The motion was seconded by Tarter and passed unanimously on a roll call vote.

Tarter made a motion to approve the instructional coach job description and the second was provided by Janssen.  The motion passed unanimously on a voice vote.

After a closed session, Janssen made a motion to approve the letter of intent to retire for Tammy Waggoner effective June 11. Eisenbarth seconded the motion and it passed on a voice vote.

Janssen then made a motion to approve the letter of resignation for Jesse Haulk, Melissa Satterlee, and Hannah Riedle effective at the end of the school year and Janelle Stolte effective March 16.  The motion was seconded by Tarter and passed by voice vote.

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