The Sisters School Board voted unanimously to keep Jay Wilkins as chair and Don Hedrick as vice-chair for another year at the monthly meeting held at Sisters Middle School Wednesday, July 8 — the first “in-person” meeting conducted since the pandemic shutdown began in March.

After recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, one board member quipped. “That sounded a lot better than when we did that on Zoom and we were all speaking at different speeds.”

Designated as an organizational meeting, most of the business of the evening centered around members agreeing to appointments on different committees on which the board has representation, as well as approving other institutional organizational appointments, though Curt Scholl did share a superintendent’s report that included some updates related to reopening of schools in the fall.

The board enthusiastically endorsed Wilkins to take on a second year at the helm.

David Thorsett said, “It has been a pleasure to watch Jay’s leadership skills in action and he’s been a good mentor for me as a first-year board member.”

Hedrick, whose career in education spanned 34 years, has served on the Sisters School board for a total of ten years, bringing, as Wilkins noted, “a tremendous amount of valuable experience” to the board. The vote to retain Hedrick as vice-chair was also unanimous.

Wilkins proceeded to run through a list of seven committee positions in need of renewal, resulting in the following assignments:

• Facilities and Master Planning: Don Hedrick and Jay Wilkins.

• Bargaining: Don Hedrick and Jay Wilkins.

• Sisters Country Leadership Group: Curt Scholl.

• Sisters Schools Foundation: Edie Jones.

• Mission/Vision/Equity: Jeff Smith.

• Superintendent Evaluation: Jeff Smith and Don Hedrick.

• Student Calendar Committee: David Thorsett.

The board adopted the monthly meeting calendar for the upcoming year and also approved pay-to-play fees, mileage-reimbursement rates, per diem rates and the substitute-teacher-salary rate.

Curt Scholl’s superintendent report included an update on the district’s focus on equity, which will include further work on ensuring equity in educational access as well as equity in light of the national discussion on race, culture, LBGTQ, special education needs, and socio-economic issues.

Scholl reported that with the shutdown, progress on the district’s strategic plan halted, so he recommended that the plan be “rebooted” as we start the next school year.

In referring to the school budget update, Scholl told the board that Governor Kate Brown has come out in support of maintaining the proposed $9 billion school fund, but uncertainty remains about the money that had been anticipated from the High School Success grant and the Student Investment Account (SIA). Scholl was pleased to announce that the district did receive the Preschool Promise grant.

“The reality is that we are not now at a full funding model based on our approved budget,” he said. “We are navigating that and waiting on what comes from the short (legislative) session that is supposed to happen later in July. There is a lot of information still coming, but we believe we will be able to maintain our current staffing levels.”

Scholl also said there may be some emergency federal funding to help state and local governments that could be passed along to schools as well and that the Oregon “Rainy Day” fund could also come into play.

When it comes to school reopening, there are more questions than answers and Scholl said he looks forward to updates from the state leaders. He said he remains confident that Sisters will be able to meet the needs of the students in the district but confirmed that a lot more information and work will be needed to arrive at a final plan.

Board discussion ensued on the topic of reopening, including comments from Dr. David Thorsett about recommendations coming forth from the National Association of Pediatricians as well as comments that, because Sisters is a relatively small district, it may be able to maneuver through the COVID-19 challenge in flexible and creative ways.

The published guidelines for school reopening under the “Ready Schools, Safe Learning” are available on the Oregon Department of Education website at www.oregon.gov/education.

Second readings on policies regarding sexual harassment, disclosure of information, personnel records and student suicide prevention were approved and closed out the meeting.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August 12, which is the day after the last update regarding school opening from the governor and the Oregon Department of Education.