Putting together a back-to-school plan amid the coronavirus pandemic has been a truly collaborative effort, Coleman Community Schools Superintendent Jen McCormack told the Daily News on Thursday.
“We will continue to have staff meetings weekly to review the plan,” McCormack said. “We have held community meetings either every week or every other week throughout the summer.”
The district’s instructional plans for the upcoming semester will be presented to the school board at its special meeting on Monday, Aug. 3.
Provided that the board approves the plan, it will be released to the public on Tuesday, the superintendent said.
“We intend to do in-person instruction according to the calendar that was put out in the spring,” McCormack said. The fall semester begins on Monday, Aug. 31.
Every school district in the state is required to have an instructional plan for Phase 3, Phase 4, and Phase 5 of Gov. Whitmer’s Safe Start Plan. Midland County is currently in Phase 4, which allows for in-person instruction with restrictions, including mandatory face masks for all teachers and for all secondary students throughout the school day.
“We’re providing training for our staff and we’re working with the (Midland County) health department, (which) will be coming in to train our staff,” McCormack said.
Masks will be provided to all students who don’t already have one.
“We’re increasing our cleaning. We’re working with the food service and transportation departments to make sure those (activities) are seamless transitions,” McCormack said.
According to Whitmer’s Return to Learning Roadmap, students in elementary school classes that are self-contained throughout the day are not required to wear masks.
“We’ll be bringing breakfast and lunch to the classroom (in the elementary school), McCormack said, also noting that meals will now be pre-packaged.
At the secondary level, the superintendent said regular opportunities will be created for classes to get outside, weather permitting.
“We want to make sure they have a few minutes each hour to take their masks off and social distance outside,” she said.
Other instructional aids that have been added include clear masks for teachers, for the benefit of students who are hearing impaired; and audio enhancement systems in the elementary school.
If Midland County goes back to Phase 3 before school starts, all instruction must done virtually until Phase 4 is reached again.
“We’re going to prepare the kids for Google Classroom and our lower grade-level platforms, so that, in the event we are in Phase 3 at some point, the kids will already know (what’s expected of them),” McCormack said.
Families who wish to have their children start the school year learning from home — regardless of which phase is in effect — can sign up for Coleman’s Online Learning Academy by Aug. 9.
Those who choose the online option must commit to it for an entire semester, McCormack said. Chromebooks will be provided to those online students who need them.
Online students will still be able to participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, and to be dual-enrolled.
Parents, teachers have questions, concerns
McCormack has received many questions from students’ parents throughout the summer.
“Everybody is trying to do the best they can to make the right decision for their own kids,” she said, adding that some new families have enrolled at Coleman this year as a school of choice.
Teachers, of course, also have many concerns about returning to school.
“The No. 1 thing I’m hearing from teachers is they want to be with their (students), and that the staff is safe,” McCormack said. “If we’re in person (for instruction), they want to be able to still do extracurriculars with their students — robotics, Lego League. We’ll do them in person if possible. If not, we’ll do them virtually.”
Teachers are also concerned about being protected from the virus, and about ensuring that kids still get a rigorous education if Phase 3 goes into effect again, the superintendent said.
A small, collaborative community
While Coleman is a small school district with a small staff, McCormack appreciates the close working relationship she has with parents, staff, and other superintendents while planning for these extraordinary circumstances.
“The advantage are, I know my parents here, and I have a very dedicated staff that cares about kids,” said McCormack, who has worked for larger districts in the past. “Being able to be collaborative with the superintendents in the surrounding counties … is really beneficial.
“I have a supportive community here. But getting things done is very time-consuming,” she added.
If anyone wants to join McCormack”s online community meetings, they can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org