Fears allayed; schools open with few hiccups

Cindy Zimmerman was presented with the Clearview Star Award at the Clearview Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 16 in recognition of her contributions and achievements as a volunteer at Stettler Elementary School. ECA Review/B.Schimke

On Sept. 16, a sense of relief was evident as Clearview trustees met for their first public trustee meeting since school reopening. 

“Staff and students were excited to show up after a six-month absence”, said Superintendent Brenda MacDonald. 

Teachers appreciated the opportunity of having a staggered re-entry as they were better able to get to know their students with smaller initial numbers. 

Clearview’s extensive communication throughout the summer with parents seemed to have alleviated many fears and startup hiccups were quickly resolved.

Student enrollment

Associate Superintendent, Peter Neale, presented preliminary enrollment numbers.

“Parents are still making decisions around which program (at-home, in-school or homeschooling) they will utilize, and not all (no-show) families have been contacted yet”, said Neale. 

Overall numbers show a decrease of 68 student registered with Clearview, 15 of which are being homeschooled. 

Gus Wetter is down by 21 students because of families moving from the area, and the Erskine School’s drop of 11 students reflects decisions by parents to register with another school division for homeschooling.

Based on the new formula, which is a 3-year rolling average, and confirmed each spring, Clearview should not see a funding decrease due to lower enrollment. 

In previous years, funding was finalized based on the actual student count as at September 30. Although there’s been nothing official, Neale said there is now talk about whether funding will actually be decreased for districts losing students and moved to districts that are teaching the students.

At-home versus in-school

Deputy Superintendent, Daram Van Oers, when talking to colleagues in other school divisions believes that Clearview’s quality of communication with parents helped build faith and trust in our schools. 

As a result, less than four per cent of Clearview’s parents choose at-home or home schooling. Most other districts are seeing 20 per cent to 30 per cent choosing out-of-school options.

Clearview’s at-home schooling officially started on Sept. 15 with approximately 130 students. 

Of the three new teachers hired, one will be responsible for K-3 with 28 students, another will teach 23 students in Grades 4 – 6 and the third one will be responsible for Grades 7 – 9 which currently has 13 students. 

At-home high school students, currently at 40+, are being served through the outreach programs.

At-home school programming focuses on the six core subjects and teachers will be conferring with the regular classroom teachers to try and coordinate curriculum timelines. 

It’s a move to better facilitate students who may choose mid-year to switch their learning preference. 

Evaluation of these students is still a challenge that hasn’t been totally overcome.

Trustee Ken Checkel highlighted two unique situations at the Coronation School to illustrate how innovative and flexible the system can be. 

In one example, a student felt sick, stayed home and joined the class on-line. 

In another example, a teacher who had stay-at-home symptoms, but wasn’t sick per se, was able to lead the classes on-line from home with a supervisor in the classroom.

2020/21 Budget

“If it wasn’t for the federal government, we would be having a pretty big conversation about using our reserves,” said Associate Superintendent, Peter Neale. 

Neale estimates that an additional $1 million will be spent because of Covid-19 which will primarily be offset with the federal government allocation of $830,000. 

Covid costs include additional on-line teachers, enhanced software and support for online learners, increased custodian time, modification of water fountains, increased mental health professional development, sick leave usage, ventilation and increased PPE. 

One example shared was this school year, $150,000 would be spent on sanitizers.

Covid-19 update

Legitimate concerns were raised about the hand sanitizers initially placed in schools—they contained alcohol and were in spray bottles that led to some spraying mishaps. 

A highly reputable non-alcohol sanitizer in pump containers or wall units will now be used.

MLA, Nate Horner has been asked to confirm whether Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Public Health Officer or Human Rights trump when a mask issue arises. Ergo, can a child who refuses to wear a mask be excluded from the bus or admittance to a school?

The custodial staff at the Stettler Complex undertook a two-week test to see whether they could keep up with the added day-time sanitizing by splitting their shifts between day and night. 

It was found the night time staff’s workload had all but doubled. 

The board unanimously approved an additional $100,000 to hire appropriate levels of custodial staff.

Associate Superintendent O’Neale explained the current ventilation filters were rated at 95 per cent particulate removal—an equivalent rating to N95 masks. 

A motion was approved to allow administration to purchase some of the very expensive filters rated at 98 per cent. 

These will be kept on standby should a Covid-19 outbreak occur at any of the schools.

Financial update

Associate Superintendent O’Neale projects a year-end deficit of $273,000 for the 2019/20 school year which will be covered from unrestricted reserves. Because of the early shutdown, $1.6M of budgeted deficit was not spent.

The board unanimously voted to allow schools to keep all their year-end surpluses to help with extra educational assistants and other costs. 

Schools will also get a $100,000 one-time transfer from the division’s unrestricted reserves to make up for lost provincial staff funding in the spring.

Bussing

Clearview lost five full-time bus drivers and 10 per cent of its casual drivers, many of whom were not willing to return because of the pandemic. 

The shortage of drivers on the east side is an ongoing concern. It was acknowledged there wouldn’t be the same demand for casual drivers until Covid restrictions are lifted.

The board unanimously approved a motion to pay bus driver trainees $16 per hour while attending the 53-hour MELT program. Three drivers are currently in training.

OH&S review 

Three schools, Erskine, Stettler School Complex and Gus Wetter. will undergo an Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) review. 

Superintendent MacDonald welcomes this audit and sees it as an opportunity to learn and get better.

 

Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.

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