School administrators are managing what seems to be daily updates as to how the 2020-21 school year will operate in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The August 12 Sisters School District board meeting, conducted via Zoom, took place a day after the Oregon Department of Education released its latest update of guidance for schools, which, as was expected, did not change the fact that Sisters School District will be starting the year under the Comprehensive Distance Learning (CDL) model.

Superintendent Curt Scholl introduced the building administrators to give brief feedback of where they are in the process of starting the school year.

“I have great confidence in our staff and our building leadership to do the best they can in this difficult time,” he said.

Scholl clarified for the public that CDL is not to be equated with “online” education. Requirements for students and interactions with teachers under CDL will be vastly different than what students experienced in the spring, according to Scholl. He pointed to news articles and other publications that often use the term “online” or “virtual school” interchangeably with CDL when describing what schools will be doing this fall. 

“Comprehensive Distance Learning is led by a teacher, directed by a teacher and planned by one of our Sisters teachers, which is much different than some of the online opportunities available,” he said.

Under CDL regular attendance will be required and grades will be assigned. 

Sisters School District families do have the option to enroll in Sisters Educational Options (SEO), which does include online curriculum.

Scholl said, “We want to keep all of our families engaged one way or another and so we are working hard to engage families and reach out so they understand the differences to make the choice that is best for them.”

As he segued to the reports from the building principals about reopening plans, Scholl explained that the district is committed to making plans that will allow for “seamless transitions” once the district is able to move from CDL to a hybrid or in-school model. 

“This isn’t going to be over in six weeks, so we are looking at longer term plans,” he said

Joe Hosang said the high school is working on a plan from which they can quickly pivot, breaking the school year into six week segments in which students would carry two classes at any given time in addition to math, PE or music during “flex time” at the beginning and the end of each day. 

According to Hosang, limiting the number of classes students carry keeps things simple and more focused, and is also necessary in order to meet the requirement of keeping cohorts to a minimum once students return to the school building in person. 

“We are working hard to make sure that students still have choices and that we can meet the needs of individual students,” he said. “We know we will have to adjust and change as we go.”

Sisters Middle School Principal Alison Haney said, “Flexibility is the name of the game and we know the one constant will be change.”

She said she has met with her staff twice this summer to strategize, which she said she really appreciated. The initial plan, like the high school, is to keep things simple by limiting the number of classes students will carry, especially in the initial phase of CDL. Students will focus on the four core subjects of science, social studies, math and language arts, but will also have opportunities in the afternoon for electives.

The middle and elementary schools have been polling families to gather more information about what they are considering (CDL, SEO, hybrid or other). Haney said that 20 percent of the middle school respondents are leaning toward continuing in the CDL or SEO models even if schools reopen, which would have an impact on how her staff will need to respond if that percentage continues as more parents respond.

Fewer than 25 percent of the middle school parents have responded to the questionnaire, according to Haney, so it is hard to tell what the actual numbers will end up being. 

The full refinement of the middle school plan is expected in the next week or so, according to Haney. 

Elementary school Principal Joan Warburg started her update with information about the Preschool Promise grant that the district received, which will allow for preschool to be housed and funded at the elementary school. The grant was awarded later than originally expected due to COVID-19, but Warburg said that job postings had been published and hiring will be taking place soon. Elementary teacher Mylee Card will be changing roles and will split her duties between teaching and serving as the director of the preschool. 

A start date for preschool has not yet been established, but that information should be available soon, according to Scholl and Warburg. 

The immediate work for Warburg regarding K-4 students is continuing to gather feedback from families in order to make plans.

“We are working hard to communicate with families to help them determine what will be the best option for them,” she said. 

Warburg mentioned that because the Oregon Health Authority metrics are different for students K-3, it is possible those students could be back in regular classes before the older students. 

Scholl acknowledged that he understands that it can be challenging for everyone to not have more concrete information about the 2020-21 school plan.

“Changes in the state guidelines have been coming every week or two so our planning has to continue to flex, which can be quite frustrating for families.”

The school district and individual school websites (www.ssd6.org) include the latest updates as well as contact information for parents and students to reach school staff.

Scholl also reported that the new transportation facility located near SPRD is nearing completion and remains on budget.

The meeting concluded with first readings of board policy related to drug and alcohol testing for transportation personnel, expulsion, and prescription and non-prescription medication. 

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 9 at 6 p.m.