The Poynette School district made a slight alteration with its Return to Learn plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. None of the schools will change their current operations, but the changes now give the district better guidelines for if or when it has to switch between learning models throughout the year.

Currently, the Poynette Elementary and Middle School have in-person classes four days a week, with the high school operating under a blended cohort model.

Gating criteria was added to the overall plan to have some more guidelines for administration if the schools have to move between instructional models. The board approved the decision of the Sept. 21 meeting.

“We were hoping for an ‘if’ this happens, ‘then’ this scenario, but COVID does not work that way,” District Administrator Matt Shappell said.

Like other districts across the state, Poynette is using criteria from available data of various health departments. It also viewed the plans of Sauk and Dane counties, along with the CDC, Harvard University and the state of Minnesota as guidelines.

It allows the district to make decisions on whether to move between instructional models based on the positivity rate of COVID-19 case numbers within two-week periods.

However, it is just one factor to consider if a switch between models is needed.

Shappell gave examples like the district could switch to virtual even though numbers aren’t high in the schools, but local hospitals are full. Also, if the numbers are acceptable within the district, but 10 teachers are out from one building, it may cause a switch in models. On the flip side, even if county cases are high, it doesn’t sound an immediate “siren,” signifying a problem locally, according to Shappell.

It’s just some of the many factors that go into deciding if and when to switch instructional models.

“All of this feeds into the decision making,” Shappell said. “We wanted some benchmarks to show where we would go.”

Director of Student Services David Fisher added, “There’s a lot of factors, but we wanted to put out some general guidance.”

The gating criteria, or metrics, add guidelines that weren’t there before. The district is aware that it can’t operate under “one matrix,” needing to address all the other factors.

The three schools in the district would also do their best to try and mirror each other if switching between instructional models is ever necessary. As of now, the high school has split up its students based on last names. All schools won’t have the same cut off point if they switch to a blended model. Plans can be altered if siblings aren’t lined up to go to the buildings on the same day, and if it lines up with certain cohorts in the building.

“It’s a frustrating document because we want it to be A-B-C, but this is a frustrating pandemic,” Shappell said.

In other news, the board agreed to move its next meeting from Monday, Oct. 19 to Tuesday Oct. 27 as to allow the Business Office more time to finalize the budget after it receives CARES Act funds on Oct. 15.

District will not sell current unused land back to village

The Poynette Village Board has been discussing potential opportunities for business and industrial expansion in and around the village. One area that was brought up was the 16 acres of current unused land that is part of the overall land purchased by the school district from the village.

The district purchased the land in April 1996 with the agreement that it had 30 years to build on the property. Amendments were made in 2006 and 2016, with the current agreement between the two parties ending in 2026.

The district has no interest in selling any other the property back to the village. Shappell said that the district could entertain the idea in the future, but will not do so under the current agreement.

Administrator reports

Each administrator provided a brief update to the board about how the first few weeks of school have been going.

Fisher said he was amazed at how students and staff have responded to the safety protocols in place. At first, he said there was some doubt when initially talking about the subject in summer, but added that students are taking everything seriously, “which is great for the community.”

Middle School Principal Jerry Pritzl said that a routine has been established by all in the building and that the students understand why the district is doing everything they are.

Elementary School Principal Jay Hausser said that the only struggle he’s seen is with some of the technology aspect, which has surprised staff. “We’re not doing as much live things as we would’ve liked,” he said.

High School Principal Mark Hoernke said he has been pleased with how people have handled all the safety precautions. He added to the board that staff sends out weekly emails on Sunday to notify parents of the upcoming learning goals and activities for the upcoming week.

Personnel update

As the final piece of action at the Sept. 21 meeting, the board accepted the resignation of varsity baseball coach Alex O’Connor. It now leaves the district with seven open positions (varsity baseball coach and assistant coach, full-time custodian, senior advisor, assistant football coach, eighth grade basketball coach, and strength and speed coordinator for spring).

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