Last night, the Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools met in open session for approximately an hour on the GoToMeeting videoconferencing platform. They heard updates from district staff and a student, voted to accept a bid package for the next phase of school renovations and then ended with a closed session to discuss “negotiations.”
It was the first meeting for new board member Jessica Curtis, who was selected last month to fill a vacant seat. She was sworn in at the start of the meeting. All other board members were also present.
Student and Staff Updates
Before discussing action items, the Board of Education first heard an update from Erin Walters, principal of Bushnell Elementary School. She provided an overview of the district’s virtual learning program for students in grades K-5.
“It’s very robust,” she said. “It’s very different than it was in the spring.”
In total, 256 students in the elementary grades are enrolled in virtual learning, and 14 teachers are dedicated to these classes. Walters noted students interact with teachers throughout the day, and she shared several screenshots of classroom homepages, lessons and projects.
Later in the meeting, interim superintendent Nate Fowler shared that 677 students across all grades were enrolled in virtual learning in August, and that number dropped to 411 during the second trimester. The vast majority of students have engaged in all communications with their teachers, and the district is working to connect with those students who have not been as active.
“We’ve seen there may be some demand for virtual learning even after we come out of the pandemic,” Fowler said, hinting that remote learning options may continue into the next year.
Student Skylie Raab provide an update on student leadership activities. She said that students were creating Christmas cards for delivery to Green Acres and other area long-term care facilities. Students also seem to be handling remote learning well, but leadership is looking for ways to keep everyone motivated and connected, as well as physically active after the day’s schoolwork is done.
Board Action Items
The Board of Education had four action items on their agenda, and all were approved unanimously:
- Purchase of Kubota equipment: While purchased with snow removal in mind, Fowler said this vehicle could be used for other purposes as well. The board approved $38,162 from the general fund for the expense.
- Sale of bonds: The board ok’d the final sale of bonds to pay for the middle school renovation and updates to high school athletic fields. The sale of these bonds was authorized by voters in 2019.
- Acceptance of bid package: The board also approved a bid package of $6.35 million for athletic and high school technology upgrades. This is the third and final phase of work from the bond proposal passed in 2019. Fowler expects to break ground on the project in April.
- Extended continuity of learning plan: The state requires school boards to vote every 30 days on its continuity of learning plan, which spells out how districts will provide education during the pandemic. The Lowell plan was adopted earlier in the year and no changes were made to it prior to last’s night vote.
Before the board went into closed session, Fowler noted that teachers are on the 1B list for the COVID-19 vaccine. He has heard that means educators could be eligible for immunization as early as a month from now or as late as April, depending on different factors.
Fowler also met a representative of the Kent County Health Department who shared that there has been a pause in the rising number of COVID-19 cases locally. However, the department is encouraging schools to continue using a hybrid model for grades 6-12 until case numbers go down more.
The next regular Board of Education meeting will take place at 7pm on January 11, 2021.