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Even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 12 December 2020  

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  September BOE meeting wrap up
  By Lindsey Harrison

   All members of the El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Board of education were present for the regular meeting in September. Maia Case, a 12th grade student from Sand Creek High School, and Ilana Sherwood, a 10th grade student from Pikes Peak Early College, attended as members of the student board of representatives. The meeting was held at the Creekside Success Center with limited in-person attendance because of COVID-19.
   
   Board update
   Members individually expressed their excitement for students returning to learn in whatever form or fashion they have chosen, and thanked parents and teachers for all the hard work getting the year kicked off.
   
   Chief officers’ update
   Peter Hilts, chief education officer, said he has been impressed with how students and staff are handling the changes for the new school year. He said. “It will lift your spirits to see how our students, teachers and other staff are persevering through this tough season, and great learning is happening already.”
   
   Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer, said the early September snowfall did not take the district by surprise and they were well-prepared to handle it. He did say, however, that the district is experiencing a shortfall in transportation drivers; the department is working to recruit new drivers.
   
   Action items
   The BOE unanimously approved the following:
  • A change to the 2020-2021 school calendar to keep Sept. 4 as an elementary professional day and recapturing a student-learning day for middle and high school students
  • The graduation date and times for the Class of 2021 at the World Arena in Colorado Springs as follows: May 29 at 9 a.m. for Vista Ridge High School, 1 p.m. for Sand Creek High School and 5 p.m. for Falcon High School
  • Oct. 27 as the official impact aid survey date for the 2020-2021 school year
  • A resolution supporting Constitution Day for 2020: Sept. 17
  • Contract reauthorization with the Pikes Peak Board of Cooperative Educational Services
  • Revisions to policies related to reopening schools as follows: prevention of infectious disease 1 and 2; workplace health and safety protection; student absences and excuses; communicable/infectious diseases; and visitors to schools
  • Revisions to policies reflecting Title IX changes as follows: report of discrimination or harassment; nondiscrimination/equal opportunity 1 and 2; nondiscrimination/equal opportunity complaint form; sexual harassment investigation procedures; student concerns, complaints and grievances; and nondiscrimination/equal opportunity complaint and compliance process
  • Contract renewal with the Community Partnership for Child Development for the provision of Head Start programming
  • A proposed revision to the BOE meeting dates to move the Oct. 28 work session to Oct. 21

   
   Discussion items
   Andy Franko, iConnect Zone leader, updated the board on school performance in his zone, progress on Grand Peak Academy’s renewal milestones and status of the expansion of the shared campus for the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence, Pikes Peak Early College and Falcon Homeschool Program.
   
   The chief officers updated the BOE about the district’s “Return to Learn” plan. Hilts said students are complying well with mask-wearing, although it has proven difficult to consistently maintain social distancing. “If we keep stepping forward, purposefully, gradually and intentionally, we are on track to return to a full in-person model,” he said.
   
   Almeida said innovation is taking place across the district with a location-by-location approach to meeting challenges. He said the graduated return for students has been helping, and added, “It helps us to preserve manpower and staff resources because folks are following procedures.”
   
   The BOE requested that the chief officers distribute information about the status of the district’s transportation department to the community and ensure that schools are meeting the individual education plans for students who have them.
   
   Ron Sprinz, director of finance, provided an update about enrollment and said current student counts are lower than budgeted, which has created a negative potential impact on the district’s general fund. However, tracking student counts this early on allows D 49 to plan better and be more flexible; and, ultimately, will determine how the amended budget process goes as well, he said.
   
   Following the regular session, the BOE held an executive session to discuss the chief operations officer’s evaluation and performance review. No action was taken at that time.
   
   The next regular meeting of the BOE is Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in Peakview Hall at D 49’s Creekside Success Center.
  
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  D 49 — the new normal
  By Leslie Sheley

   COVID 19 has led to many changes in the school systems, from online classes exclusively to hybrid classes to teachers and some students wearing masks. This past spring, the state also cancelled the College Board PSAT and SAT assessments that juniors and seniors usually take to prepare for college.
   
   After a couple months of school with these changes and more, how is El Paso County Colorado School District 49 dealing with COVID?
   
   Testing
   Amber Whetstine, D 49 executive director of educational services, said to this date there are no proposed changes at the state level for the required testing that occurs during the second semester each year. District 49 already completed the state-required Early Literacy Assessments within the first weeks of school for kindergarten through third-grade students. She said this year there will be flexibility with the state required school-readiness assessments for kindergarten students.
   
   Districts will not be required to report these results to the Colorado Department of Education, although they are required to implement the assessments to the best of their ability. “We know some kindergarten families are reluctant to send their children to school in person, so the results of this assessment may not be as valuable from a statewide perspective as in previous years,” Whetstine said. District 49 is encouraging teachers to do their best and be flexible and supportive of families in assessing the readiness skills of kindergarten students, she said.
   
   Almost all families have chosen to have their students tested in person for the elementary-level assessments, even those students who are opting for an online experience. “We are making adaptations to our processes for families that cannot or are not willing to have the tests administered in person,” Whetstine said. For example, some of the assessments are available to be virtually administered by a teacher; in other cases, schools are coordinating with families to schedule in-person assessments off hours when other students are not in the building. They have also extended the timeline for the completions of beginning-of-the-year assessments, she said.
   
   English learners, students who have learned a language other than English as their first language, will take the state-required ACCESS or Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State test in early January. The Colorado Measures of Academic Success is scheduled to take place as usual in March and April and College Board Assessments for ninth to 11th graders are planned for April. Juniors and seniors can take the PSAT and SAT tests this fall. Whetstine said while these are not a requirement, many students and families rely on these tests for college preparation.
   
   She said, as always, parents have the right to opt their student/s out of state assessments.
   
   Enrollment
   Brett Ridgway, chief business officer for D 49, said, “We are experiencing the same decrease in traditional enrollment that districts are experiencing statewide. Although we are seeing upticks in enrollment to our blended learning campuses and our home school program, along with some families choosing to enroll in one of our authorized charters, there is not a known common denominator to account for the significant decrease in enrollment.”
   
   Budget
   Ridgway said because of the COVID-19 recession the budget for the 2020-2021 school year has been impacted. Operated schools (schools that are not charter schools, said Ridgway) cut $4.9 million from their budget while charter/contract schools projected growth will exceed per-pupil revenue cuts by $2.7 million. He said they also implemented a pay freeze for everyone; in addition, each chief officer voluntarily donated $6,000 of their 2020-2021 base salary back to the district to cover nominal COVID-related expenses. Operated schools had a net 85 positions lost because of attrition, he said.
   
   “With this recession, as with any prior, we adjust to the new reality and are launching off of that new reality toward growth in the subsequent year — assuming, of course there are no additional cuts to funding,” Ridgway said. “Online education, as you might imagine, is going to grow even more in 2020-21 than its previous steady pace. As a result, we are projecting something close to 4% overall, led by 12-15% growth in online programs.
   
   He said D 49 declared a fiscal emergency, but did not declare a fiscal exigency. Ridgway defined the latter. “A fiscal exigency can be declared if an event, or condition such as a decline in student enrollment, restriction on revenues, or increased costs may cause the district’s current, or projected budget to be insufficient to adequately meet the district’s current or projected needs. A board-approved declaration of fiscal exigency gives the district the path to cancel contractual relationships, real or implied, for both vendors and employees.
   
   “The fiscal emergency is an appropriate step to validate the strategies and decisions to deal with the revenue shortfall that did not include releasing employees,” Ridgway said. “Items like the freeze in pay, the strategy to not replace selected voluntarily vacated positions, and such that were necessary to reduce expenses and balance the budget overall.”
  
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  COVID-19 effects in other districts
  By Stephanie Mason

   Amidst all the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic introduced, one of the most difficult hurdles was deciding how to reopen schools. While some schools in the area opted for an online approach, others opened their doors to students.
   
   Peyton 23 Jt School District
   The Peyton school district was among the schools that decided to bring students back into the building this year. After the first few weeks of the school year, Peyton school district is doing well, said superintendent Tim Kistler.
   
   “It is a routine that everybody has picked up on,” Kistler said. “Everyone has accepted that, for a while, this is where we are and what we need to do.”
   
   The high school students attend school in cohorts. The students alternate between going to the school and completing days of online school so that only half of the students are in the building at a time.
   
   As a surprise silver lining, having half of the students at a time appears to greatly decrease the amount of disciplinary problems, Kistler said.
   
   “High school disciplinary issues have been much lower,” Kistler said. “We don’t exactly know why, but we assume that with less students there are less problems. When (students) are in a cohort the whole time, it is not as if they have extra influences that may egg them on to act out.”
   
   The school is taking measures to ensure student and faculty safety. All faculty and students have their temperatures read before they enter the building. Everyone over the age of 11 is required to wear a mask.
   
   Kistler said that several students and faculty underwent COVID-19 testing, but all tests came back negative. He said it is important that they remain diligent and continue the safety measures they already have in place.
   
   The faculty and students continue to make adjustments to ensure safety and success. Kistler said it is all a learning process.
   
   “Our hope is that, as we move forward, we continue to get better at what we are trying to do,” Kistler said. “I am so happy with how our families have been so flexible and understanding. I could not have asked for a better response from our parents, kids and teachers.”
   
   Karlee Kimsem, a second-year kindergarten teacher at Peyton Elementary School, said the safety precautions are difficult for the kids when it comes to socializing.
   
   “They are really struggling with not getting to be with their friends,” Kimsem said. “But I do think the teachers are trying to put our kids’ social needs first by finding other ways for them to connect. We are trying to make the school year as fun as we can for them.”
   
   Kimsem mentioned special spirit days each month where the kids are encouraged to dress up according to different themes. The staff is also sharing pictures of their classrooms so kids in other classrooms can see what is happening elsewhere.
   
   “I think the school put everybody’s safety first and foremost,” Kimsem said. “They were very diligent in explaining the rules to everybody. I think they did an excellent job.”
   
   Calhan School District
   Calhan School District decided to enhance their health and safety procedures in order to open its doors to students this year. Calhan schools are following the state guidelines to ensure the safety of their students.
   
   “It was a very considered decision to offer in-person instruction to open in August,” said David Slothower, Calhan superintendent. “When I saw kids together, it reaffirmed my belief in how important it is for students to be together. I think their desire to stay in person is the basis of their compliance.”
   
   The school is also taking extra measures to enhance cleanliness and safety by purchasing electrostatic fog machines to sanitize the rooms and adding an extra bus route to keep buses under 30% capacity. The response from students and faculty has been optimistic, Slothower said.
   
   “I think the response of students and faculty has been nothing short of amazing,” Slothower said. “I could not be happier with the level of compliance. I think students understand that these measures are a way to keep school open and others safe.”
   
   There have been several students who displayed COVID-19 symptoms and were sent home, but each of their coronavirus tests came back negative.
   
   “When we have a student who is exhibiting symptoms that we would consider concerning, we ask parents to make sure they are medically cleared by a doctor before they can return,” Slothower said. “Obviously, that can be really cumbersome. But the community has really accomplished that in an exceptional way.”
   
   Overall, the faculty at Calhan schools are doing their best to make every school day as normal as possible for their students.
   
   “I think we spent a lot of energy making sure that this feels as much like normal school as possible,” Slothower said. “We were in a unique position to offer students a return to normality, which we felt was important.”
  
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