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Charles City superintendent says school will start on schedule this fall, but questions remain

By Bob Steenson,

“We are 100% anticipating opening on time. That is our plan this year,” said Charles City School District Superintendent Mike Fisher.

But what that school opening will look like – whether students will be in class all the time or part of the time or something else – hasn’t been completely determined, Fisher told the Board of Education at its meeting this week.

“We will not be planning on opening early or anything like that,” he said. “We are going to stick to the schedule as approved and work with that.”

The official school calendar calls for new teachers to report Aug. 13, other teachers to begin Aug. 18 and the first day of classes on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

“There’s going to be a key word that I want you all to get familiar with, and that word is ‘fluid,’” Fisher told the school board members. “It has been a fluid situation. It is constantly evolving and changing and we’ve had to adapt to that.”

The big focuses for planning are safety and teaching and learning, he said.

“What will social distancing look like? What will sanitation practices look like, and cleanliness and working through that?” Fisher said. “We don’t have final decisions made, but we are getting closer.”

The teaching and learning aspect of the plan is the most exciting part, he said.

“We’ve used this opportunity to cast our new vision of creating compassionate competent problem-solvers and we’re rethinking teaching and learning,” Fisher said. “We’re going to be really prepared for a world where teaching and learning look a lot different for our kids, and respond to their needs.”

Fisher said some of the changes would have happened with or without the COVID-19 impact.

“We need to rethink how we did things. … And it will be learning that will transcend location, that we can get this learning to kids at high levels regardless if they’re with us or if they’re not, if they’re home.

“It’s always better if we’re together,” Fisher said. “It will be spectacular if we’re in person, but it’s still going to be really outstanding even if we’re not able to meet.”

He said the process was being led by the teachers.

“Administrators are guiding the process, but our teachers know best,” he said. “We have been accessing experts and professionals from across the country in this, some of the best resources possible.

“But I’ll tell you, it will be messy at times. It’s something new. When we come to the fall there will be hiccups, there will be bumps and things we have to get through, but we know we’re going to get to a better state, and we’re really proud of that,” he said.

Fisher said the district would begin putting out regular newsletters again to keep the community informed.

The district published a newsletter online daily as COVID-19 began affecting the school, then went to weekly publications, but has not put out a newsletter for about a month.

He said the first newsletter should go out this soon, then will probably occur every other week leading up to the start of school, or more frequently as needed.

“We have an aggressive communication plan,” Fisher said, to tell the community about plans for dealing with the coronavirus, as well as to explain the district’s new vision for teaching.

“Everything we’re going to do is – this is driving a lot of our work – is going to be reasonable and common sense. We’re going to do reasonable and common sense things to keep our kids safe, and I think that’s important,” he said.

Talking about other COVID-19 issues, Fisher said it was great to see athletes and fans in the new softball and baseball facilities at the high school, but there were concerns.

“We need to social distance. We need to see that better at our ballgames. Love seeing the great crowds, that was awesome, but I can’t say our social distancing was the best,” he said.

“We as administrators can’t really enforce that; it’s not within our purview. But we can, just please, ask our community and our kids, especially, to do the right thing. A lot of times it’s not for the younger folks, it’s for our at-risk community members. The community’s spiking right now – we need to do the right thing,” Fisher said.

Board member Janiece Bergland asked if the district was going to recommend wearing masks.

Fisher said the district was following CDC and state and local Department of Health guidelines, which recommend face masks, and so the district was recommending people wear face masks.

“Of course, we’re not in an enforcement capacity, and also I’m just acknowledging this has gotten to be a very controversial topic with some people,” he said.

Fisher also said the district had received $281,000 in federal COVID-19 relief money, and was being very deliberate about how to use it.

“We’re really being intentional about that money going toward teaching and learning specifically. Some toward safety, but much of it toward teaching and learning,” he said.

“Much of that’s going to be directed at the campus level. Our principals, our senior leaders are going to have a lot of autonomy to direct where that money needs to go,” he said, adding the district has about 24 months to use the money.

Also at the Board of Education meeting this week, the board:

• Passed the new district early retirement policy second reading.

• Approved the appointment of Abby Wolfe as a high school special education teacher.

• Went through mostly routine end-of-the-year matters including approving leadership salaries and contracts; approving various policies and handbooks; approving funds carry over and spending district flexibility funds.