Madison County Schools push back student start date

David Gilliam

The Madison County Board of Education pushed back the student start date by two weeks.

The new start date for students at Madison County Schools is Aug. 26. It was approved unanimously by board members during Thursday's meeting.

The new start date for teachers is Aug. 12, whereas it was previously scheduled for Aug. 10.

“Teachers are going to have to plan differently because some of the strategies that they’ve always used in instruction, getting into a distancing situation, you simply cannot use them," Superintendent David Gilliam explained to the board.

The change allows for teacher training days that were scheduled to happen throughout the school year to be in those first two weeks.

"Plans for engaging students need to be restructured," Gilliam added.

For example, in physical education, students normally share equipment, which won't be allowed this coming school year because of the coronavirus.

"We're still going to have PE, but it's going to look different than it has in the past," Gilliam said.

The schedule change allows for all the breaks in the school year to remain the same, and both fall and spring breaks will still be a week long.

Gilliam pointed out teachers will also have to not only prepare in-person lessons, but they'll need to coordinate online learning in the curriculums for the 2020-2021 school year.

"It will help us get ahead of that curve so we can manage the school year," he said.

Additionally, for the 2020-2021 school year, the board approved creating 36 new student support specialist positions.

"This is a position that has been on the books for years in our district, and we have a few people across the district employing it," he said. "It’s typically considered a rank 4 teacher or a full-time substitute teacher … it does require a four-year degree."

He said this position is intended to help reduce class sizes and help with online instruction.

"We will not hire them until we have our individual school plans finalized, and we are sure that we’re going to need them and they’re going to be required," he added.

If they are hired, Gilliam said their salaries will be paid with a portion of the $2.9 million the district received in CARES funding from the federal government.

"We've been holding onto that," he said. "We don't want to spend that unless it's necessary."

However, he added, the two biggest things the CARES funding is intended for are additional staff and equipment.

Board member Lori Cobb asked Gilliam if the positions were to support teachers so that teachers aren't stressing about teaching online and in-person at the same time, which Gilliam confirmed.

"If you're doing two different things, you're going to need two bodies there somewhere, somehow, some place," he said.

Cobb agreed and said the extra staff would also help ensure students are getting better instruction.

Along the same line, Gilliam proposed to the board the creation of 36 emergency monitor/aid positions, which he said would be a classified 8 position and would also be paid through CARES funding.

" … These are the folks that are going to be right there hands-on regardless of the instructional piece," he explained. "So if we were to have to shut down again, if we’re not able to continue any type of in-person piece, this category of individuals would be furloughed …”

These people would be in the buildings to help in anyway they're needed, such as extra bus monitors, checking students' temperatures or overseeing a group of students moving through hallways if all the teachers are occupied because of the limitations of how many people are allowed in any given space.

Those who will be hired in these positions do not need to have any sort of teaching degree.

"It’s uncharted waters, and we all know that," board member Beth Brock said. "But supporting our teachers is critical to our students getting the best experience they can have."

The third agenda item the board passed that will be funded with CARES money was the purchase of 2,000 Chromebooks.

That will leave the district with 9,400 Chromebooks among its 19 schools, meaning the ratio of Chromebooks to students will be almost one-to-one.

However, Gilliam said, 600-700 of those are five or six years old.

And because of the pandemic, Chromebooks are on backorder with most vendors, but Madison County Schools were able to find a vendor who should have the new ones up and running by the time school starts in August.

The board approved them being purchased at $207 a piece after warranties and licenses, which Gilliam said is the standard price for the school district.

Some plans for re-opening Madison County Schools, Gilliam said, will be determined at the school level instead of at the district level.

Gilliam explained the schools have different buildings with their cafeterias in different places in the buildings. Some buildings have three floors while others only have one.

However, each school will have a new hand-washing station on rollers so students can wash their hands without having to crowd bathrooms before they eat lunch in their classrooms.

Gilliam said it's being included in the schools' food service program.

The board approved the purchase of the stations for a total of $58,989.80.

In other business

• The board approved a memorandum of understanding with Model Laboratory School and Eastern Kentucky University following last year's legislative session that restructured Model's funding. Madison County agreed to service Model's buses as long as Model pays for parts, and Model agreed to limit the cap size of their students, "so they don't encroach on our student population," Gilliam said.

• The board approved the final reading of policy updates, which states there will be no out-of-state trips under bus procedures.

• An instruction report was given in which concerns were brought up about the extended gap since schools shut their doors to students. Teachers are being advised to write up what they were able to go over with students before schools closed, what was gone over during at-home instruction and what material they weren't able to get through so that all teachers know what's been happening as students return to school.

• A construction report was given in which Tony Thomas said the Richmond technology center is out to bid, and the Berea technology center's final approval is expected to happen at the next school board meeting.

• In a finance report, Mark Woods said as of June 30, the reconciled school budget balance is $34,611,415.04. He said it's higher than usual as the school system's food service program has been more costly this year with the amount of children it fed during the pandemic. However, he said the school system is still doing really well.

Reach Sara Kuhl at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @saraekuhl.

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