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Autumn teaches us a valuable lesson. During summer, all the green trees are beautiful. But there is no time of the year when the trees are more beautiful than when they are different colors. Diversity adds beauty to our world.
– Donald H. Hicks, "Look into the stillnes"  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 9 September 2020  

None Book Review   None Community Calendar   None Community Photos   None Did You Know?  
None Editorial   None FFPD News   None From the Publisher   None Marks Meanderings  
None Monkey Business   None News From D 49   None People on the Plains   None Pet Adoption Corner  
None Pet Care   None Phun Photos   None Prairie Life   None Wildlife Matters  
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  April BOE meeting wrap-up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of Education were present for a video conference of the regular meeting in April.
   Board update
   Dave Cruson, treasurer, thanked the district’s communications team for facilitating the meeting and communicating with the D 49 community during the coronavirus pandemic. He also thanked Amber Whetstine, executive director of learning services, and her team for getting Chromebooks to the students who needed them. He thanked the nutrition services team for continuing to provide lunches for students across the district.
   Cruson also said the Falcon Education Foundation fundraising dinner, originally scheduled for April, has been rescheduled for Friday, Sept. 18, at 6 p.m. at the Boot Barn Hall in Colorado Springs.
   John Koster, director, said he has now seen firsthand how the e-learning process in D 49 works because he has a child in second grade. He thanked Peter Hilts, chief education officer, and the entire staff. “They are just doing such a fantastic job,” he said.
   Rick Van Wieren, secretary, said his wife is a teacher and he has seen how COVID-19 has affected her teaching efforts. “I have to say, I am in awe of the D 49 staff, of the preparation that has gone into this,” he said.
   Kevin Butcher, vice president, said he echoes the statements of his fellow board members. He talked about the class of 2020 and the events they are missing; he thanked the students for understanding.
   John Graham, president, said, “It is our job as the leadership to support our people, our staff, our teachers in what they need as far as tools, training, resources so they can get that education going, so that they can get the videos made and do what they need to do to support the community and the students.”
   Graham also said he spoke to Hilts about possible ways to recognize the students who are graduating this year.
   Chief officers’ update
   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer, said he is conducting business as usual. He said everyone in the department has been willing to do what they can to be supportive.
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said his department is doing what they can while they work remotely. He also recognized the nutrition services staff — they reached an all-time high serving more than 1,000 students in one day at the three original food distribution sites. He said the safety and security team is still working to ensure the district’s properties are safe. A few small cases of vandalism have occurred, but nothing major, Almeida said.
   He said construction on the new addition to the Springs Studio or Academic Excellence’s building, which will ultimately be the new Pikes Peak Early College site, is on schedule.
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • A resolution declaring May 4 – May 8 as Teacher Appreciation Week
  • Expansion of the applied and advanced learning specialist position to full-time
  • Revision of the policy regarding weighted grading to provide weighted credit for the successful completion of a professional industry certification
  • Updated job descriptions for the school nurse, school psychologist and board certified behavior analyst positions
  • The new behavior support assistant job description
  • Revision of the senior accountant job description
  • A waiver by the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy from the district’s armed security policy to allow RMCA to hire a private security company to provide an armed security presence on the campus
  • The alternative education campus renewal applications and proposed measures for GOAL Academy and Patriot High School
  • The district and school unified improvement plans
  • Revisions to the following policies: electronic participation in school board meetings; use of vehicles on district business; portability of non-probationary status; administrative staff assignments and transfers; resignation of instructional staff/administrative staff; discipline, suspension and dismissal of professional staff; and physical activity
  • Supplemental budgets for Power Technical Early College, RMCA and Grand Peak Academy

   Discussion items
   Rachel Duerr, health and wellness specialist, reviewed the 2019-2020 school health improvement plans and provided examples of those plans in action throughout the district.
   Ridgway provided a budget update and said there is an unprecedented amount of uncertainty regarding the 2020-2021 budget numbers. He expects to have more information in May or June.
   Other business
   The BOE discussed the possibility of students returning to the classrooms this school year, and Hilts said the district will follow guidelines set by the governor. As of this meeting, nothing has been determined.
   Hilts confirmed that Colorado state education assessments were canceled this year, including some of the college entrance exams 12th grade students were depending on. Determining how those entrance exams will be conducted is still up for debate, but a shorter online version might be the only way to make it happen, Hilts said.
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is May 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at the D 49 Education Services Center.
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  D 49 adjusts to COVID-19 mandates
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Ever since the administration of El Paso County School District 49 announced all schools and programs were suspended on March 12 until further notice, district leadership has been working to keep operations on both the business side and the education side running smoothly.
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said the transition to remote working and learning has not been easy.
   “All of our jobs have gotten more complicated because our routines and our systems and processes were not built for remote learning or remote working,” he said. “It is like trying to stand up an entirely new organization in a new format. Some jobs do not translate to online mode, but we are being patient.”
   The district will remain on an electronic learning schedule for the remainder of the year, and the administration has rebranded the education side “E 49” during the crisis, Hilts said.
   “We say that E 49 is open for learning and D 49 is open for business,” he said. “All our mission-critical functions are still operating, including our board of education.”
   While the rebranding may sound lighthearted, Hilts said the district is aware of the enormous burden of supervision and attention the switch to e-learning has placed on families, especially parents. He said they do not have a solution to that problem now but have empathy because many district staff members are parents, too.
   For the most part, D 49 teachers are working as much if not more than normal, which can be a burden on them, Hilts said. The district has not had to consider layoffs, he said.
   “Based on how the economy does, we know there will be a significant impact to our budget,” Hilts said. “We know it will be a negative impact, but we are not certain of the magnitude.”
   There will be ripples from lost learning and lost assessments, since e-learning is not how the district is generally designed to function; and state assessments have been canceled for the rest of the school year, he said. The district will do its best to work with students who need extra help to bring them back on pace, Hilts said. It is still unclear what next school year will look like, he said.
   Overall, the community has been supportive and the district is doing everything it can to provide the type of education expected at D 49, he said.
   “We are very grateful for the kind of support we have seen, not just from the students and their families but from the community as a whole,” Hilts said. “We do not take that for granted and we appreciate it.”
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  D 49 counselors working through COVID-19
  By Lindsey Harrison

   On March 12, the administration at El Paso County Colorado School District 49 announced the suspension of all district schools and programs until March 30 due to the new coronavirus pandemic. At that time, the district would begin an electronic learning schedule through April 30. However on April 16, the district announced e-learning would continue through the remainder of the school year. With no in-person contact possible, counselors in D 49 have had to find creative ways to connect with students in need of support.
   Kim Boyd, director of community care for D 49, said the district’s leadership started having meetings about how to maintain that contact if the schools closed completely or went to an e-learning format.
   “I felt Peter Hilts (D 49 chief education officer) was well above the curve,” she said. “Before spring break, each of us in different departments had talks about what this would look like and then over spring break is when we started hearing of closings.”
   Boyd said she was concerned going into the month of April since it is one of the three months with the highest rate of suicide completions in Colorado so she had already been gearing up to keep a closer eye on the students.
   Her department created an electronic counseling guidance document to help the counselors figure out how to support students with their mental health, not just for students they have regular contact with but also for students who feel they need support, Boyd said.
   She said she tasked the counselors to create a document on Google Docs with the names of the students they would normally check in with if school were in session. Boyd said she and her team then had to figure out how to handle student contact virtually to maintain everyone’s privacy and protect both the students and the counselors.
   “Normally, when a student comes to the counselor, they have the protection of having a window in that room or the door is ajar,” she said. “We had to figure out how to protect the students and the counselor from accusations in a virtual world.”
   The solution was to have public virtual meetings with at least three people involved in each meeting, including the student, Boyd said. That could be either two counselors, a counselor and a teacher, or a parent and the counselor to ensure more than one adult was involved in each meeting, she said.
   There are times when private meetings are necessary, like when a student has something they do not want to discuss in front of a lot of other people, Boyd said. In that instance, the counselor would set up a private virtual meeting which requires the consent from the parents for their student to be involved, she said. That consent indicates the time of the meeting and the format or virtual meeting program used so the parents always know when and where the meeting is taking place, Boyd said.
   “We know there are families struggling with finances right now,” she said. “They are worried about the electric bill or how to get food. Those are high-stress situations and students struggle to concentrate on things when they do not know if they will have electricity that next hour.”
   Boyd said the district has a community care page on the D 49 website that lists resources for people who need help for those high-stress situations. The page also has free social-emotional learning activities that parents can do with their kids at home, including how to talk to their child about COVID-19 or how to work with teenagers during this time, she said. The page is regularly updated.
   “We are concerned about the staff, too,” she said. “Everyone is feeling relatively disconnected so we are helping them find ways to make sure they are having contact. Many schools have started mini groups, like the English department on a Zoom meeting once or twice per week. I do a supervisor check in twice per week.”
   The schools are also trying to do activities for the students that promote connectedness, like having a Spirit Week where students log on to a meeting wearing a mask, Boyd said. They are trying to organize different things based on their school’s culture, with the main goal being to get everyone feeling less isolated, she said.
   “I attend a weekly statewide practice meeting with other mental health leaders of schools throughout the state,” Boyd said. “I shared our e-counseling guidance document and several schools around the state adopted that.”
   Her department is also working on how to do grief response virtually, which Boyd said she shared at the statewide meeting.
   “We are trying to do things on a variety of levels,” she said. “We are working on how to keep teachers and staff connected with each other, how to keep teachers connected to students to help maintain that relationship, helping teachers keep an eye on the safety of their students at home, helping keep students connected with each other and keeping the counselors in contact with the students already on our radar that need our support.”
   Boyd said it is clear they are not able to maintain the same level of connectedness with students and staff, but the district is committed to caring for its community and will continue to be available for students and staff who feel they need additional support.
   “If you can try to connect with two people every day so you feel like people care about you and they know you care about them, I think that would really ease some of this isolation,” she said.
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