NEW PARIS — National Trail School District board members and administrators discussed potential challenges the district could face in the coming 2020-21 school year during their regular monthly meeting Tuesday, May 26.
Elementary school principal Ed Eals said that kindergarten applications for next fall are still “trickling in,” despite concerns that moving the application process online might result in complications.
“We were afraid it would have an adverse effect; that we wouldn’t have as many kids,” Eals said.
High school principal Mike Eyler, meanwhile, said he’d met with teachers in each department to discuss how to better prepare for the coming school year.
“We’re talking about what we’ve learned having to go into this situation this year, and how we can take that into next year,” Eyler said. “For next year – depending on what that’s going to look like – what are some of our concerns? How can we continue to support each other? We didn’t want to get into August without having talked about that.”
Superintendent Bob Fischer stressed there were “three schools of thought” as to what school districts will be facing when classes resume in the fall.
“We could return with minimal changes,” Fischer said. “We could return with no restrictions at all. Or we could return the way we are right now.”
Many possibilities are being discussed, according to Fischer, including a system where K-6 classes would meet in person while older students continue to attend school online. Fischer believed this would pose a challenge to the educational process, however.
“Education is so much about building relationships,” Fischer said. “What teachers are asking is, how do you build relationships with students if you never have the opportunity to be in front of them?”
While the current school year allowed teachers to work online with students they’d already established relationships with in the classroom, next year could find them trying to connect with students they’ve never properly met, according to Fischer.
The prevailing opinion, Fischer said, is that schools will probably be shut down at some point during the coming year, even if school initially resumes somewhat normally in August. Fischer cited fears that Covid-19 cases will increase in the coming months.
“They’re saying we’re going to be hit harder in the fall,” Fischer said. “Then again in the winter, when you’ll also have the flu going around.”
Transportation Director John Toschlog raised concerns about how the district will transport students in the fall, citing rumors about possible restrictions from the CDC that could limit bus occupancy to 12 students at a time, or possibly require districts to install plastic barriers in order to limit contact between students on the bus.
“We’re trying to create social distancing in a vehicle that is designed for maximum efficiency,” Toschlog said. “To hold as many kids as possible. Now we’re trying to do the exact opposite of that.”
Fischer stressed that these restrictions may be put into place without much thought of how school districts are expected to pay to bring them to reality, especially in light of recent news about cuts to Ohio’s education budget in the coming year.
“If we’re losing a million dollars as it is, how in the world are we supposed to add extra bus routes, or put PlexiGlass in between every kid?” Fischer asked.
Both Fischer and Toschlog stressed that these concerns are speculative at the moment, however, as official word on bus occupancy and other restrictions has not yet come down from the Ohio Dept. of Education, the Ohio Health Dept., or Governor Mike DeWine’s office.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting:
Food Services director Dorothy Frist reported that the district had delivered over 14,000 breakfasts and lunches to students during the closure. Board member Cindy Lee praised Frist and other National Trail staff for their service to students.
“That number is astronomical,” Lee said. “This is something we didn’t have to do. Think of the level of care and concern for the people in our district.”
Middle School principal Jen Couch also praised Frist and her other colleagues.
“I want to say thanks to all our staff,” Couch said. “And thank you, Dorothy, for making sure our students have food. That’s important.”
Couch also spoke about a recent professional development activity that aimed to help teachers and school employees manage stress; their own as well as that of students.
“You lose 10-30 cognitive processing points depending on the level of stress you’re under,” Couch said. “Our students are coming in the door with levels of stress we might not even know about.”
Couch said that teachers took a self-assessment during the activity to measure their skill level at managing stress.
“Some found out that, ‘Hey, I’m doing alright!’ And others found out that maybe they need to take some more time for themselves,” Couch said.
Finally, the board discussed plans for the district’s Class of 2020 graduation ceremony on Friday, June 5. The ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on the National Trail football field.
“Our next step is going out and doing some measurements on the field to figure out seating and stuff like that,” Principal Mike Eyler said.
Fischer stressed that the biggest challenge facing the ceremony would be dealing with the effects of inclement weather, as forecasts call for a 40 percent chance of rain on the three days leading up to June 5.
“The amount of rain we get could affect our ability to use the field,” Fischer said.
National Trail Board of Education meetings take place the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the elementary school gymnasium.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @improperenglish