Royall Education Notes: Staff, students met numerous challenges during closure

By MARK GRUEN

Royall School District superintendent

Wow – Wow – Wow – What a crazy couple of months we have endured. Let me start by saying that I hope this find you and your loved ones safe and healthy. It has been a while since I put together a letter to our community. I am sorry for this, but for many days, it seemed almost like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray. I came into the office, met with our administrative/supervisor team to discuss COVID-19, and then spent a better part of the rest of the day participating in Zoom meetings on the same topic, always hoping to have some new positive news to report.

When Gov. Evers first announced that schools would close, our administrative team and teaching staff went into high gear. We obviously were hoping it was short term, but we also knew that we had to prepare for it to be long term. We immediately ordered 80 new Chromebooks and followed that up with an additional 40 for replacing ones that might break. We were prepared with regard to having a 1:1 onsite system in place for third through 12thgrade, but our rationale of it being 1:1 onsite was based on the lack of internet access for many of our rural and impoverished families. This had not changed, so we had to research and purchase as many hotspots as we could to accommodate students who needed them. We actually had a number of staff members who were also in need based on their home locations not having reliable internet access. As a last resort, we offered and had a number of students park in our school parking lot so they could access our internet and do school work from their automobiles.

If you have followed my articles and noted our investments over the past few years, it would appear that we were doing our part to prepare for just this. Again, I must admit that this was not on our minds when we invested so adamantly in technology. We took advantage of our federal e-rate money to update our entire wireless infrastructure, investing over $100,000 into it. Eighty percent of it was paid for by e-rate; the balance was paid for by TEACH grants. That is correct — we did all of these upgrades without spending district funds. With regard to our devices, we have equipped all students in second through 12th grade with their own Chromebooks. The vast majority of these were purchased from grants and the common school fund. So, again — very little district money.

I want to tell you how impressed I was with our staff members’ call to action. We had staff members working tirelessly to meet the needs of each one of our students. We had staff members offering to help other staff members quickly become “tech savvy” enough to run a Google classroom and to host a Zoom meeting. This continued throughout the balance of the school year. I have spoken with many of our teachers, who have said that teaching online is actually much, much more time-consuming than normal teaching. I have witnessed this personally, as many of our staff members were holding office hours from early in the morning until late at night.

As we worked to prepare to offer comparable academic rigor, we also put in place the process to feed ALL of the children in our community who would accept the help. We are currently feeding approximately 250 breakfast and lunches five days a week. This was no small task, as are delivering most of the meal directly to their homes. Our cooks and bus drivers have stepped up with no complaint!

It is our sincere hope that things will settle down and return to normal in the fall. However, we are entertaining different options and will be prepared if the Wisconsin Health Department does not allow it. We are making decisions this month on how Royall will slowly open back up in July. Before the COVID-19 epidemic hit, we had decided to put more emphasis on our staff’s and students’ mental health. I am sure that this time of uncertainty will only exacerbate the issue for many.

With regard to our future planning, we are continuing to work on a potential referendum in April 2021. We make our last long-term debt payment of approximately $400,000 in the spring of 2022. This will result in a considerable reduction in taxes, making it the ideal time to make some necessary safety upgrades and other improvements. Our goal was to have a number or referendum meetings throughout the spring and get as much community feedback as we could. This was not possible, putting us in a little bit of a time crunch. Please stay tuned as we work to collect your ideas in the near future.

On a totally separate note, I would like to encourage you to respond to the census. We receive Title I funds based on the data, and we certainly would not want to be undercounted.

Comments are closed.

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