SPS refines “Return to Learn” plan in Board of Education Meeting

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August’s Sapulpa Public Schools Board of Education meeting was held Tuesday, August 11th, 2020. Board members, SPS administration, teachers, staff, and guests (including newly-appointed Mayor Craig Henderson) were present via video conference and in-person at the Washington Administration Center. Board Member Steve McCormick was absent. The live meeting was viewable on the SPS YouTube channel. 

Athletic Director Michael Rose speaks to the Sapulpa Board of Education about the reaction of students regarding extra-curricular activities.

Superintendent Robert Armstrong began his comments by saying that “a lot of interesting and exciting things will be happening over the next few days.” Principals came back to school on July 21st, approximately 15 new staff members will report to school at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning for a kick-off breakfast, and the rest of the staff returns Monday, August 17th. 

School is currently scheduled to begin on Monday, August 24th.

An “incredible amount of students, almost 700,” some not currently enrolled in SPS, “have enrolled in full time virtual school,” according to Armstrong and Director of Instructional Design, Donia Doudican. This has created an abundance of extra work for staff and administrators in addition to the usual rigours of the back-to-school period. In particular, responding to parents’ inquiries in a timely manner has kept employees busier than usual. SPS has hired an interim elementary coordinator to help ease this transition for the younger students and their parents, as out of the 700 new virtual students, 54 are elementary-age and 28 are Pre-K.  

Many of the others are coming here from other districts, including some who had already applied to Epic Charter Schools. Therefore the onus is on the district to “reach out to all those parents within 24 hours with personal phone calls.” Armstrong said, “the numbers continue to outpace our expectations.” Last year SPS had less than 80 students attending virtually full-time. Doudican stated that 5 virtual middle school students and 28 secondary were “not SPS students last year.” So though the onslaught of virtual students may create extra work for staff and teachers now, ultimately, educators are “excited” to welcome new students in the district. 

Board Member Larry Hoover asked, “If [the pandemic] gets dramatically better, do students have the option of doing a hybrid program or are they locked in to full-time virtual?” Doudican answered that elementary students have the option to change every 9 weeks and that secondary students have the option every semester. Students also have 9 days after the beginning of school to decide to change their program. 

Armstrong further reported that the girls’ volleyball season was to begin that evening in Bartlesville, girls softball will start this week with a 40-50 team tournament in Broken Arrow, and that the high school football team started practice on Monday. “So things have started. We will remain cautiously optimistic. We have so much to prepare for, but we also have so many unknowns as we walk together.”

Athletic Director Michael Rose spoke on the reaction of students engaging in extracurricular activities with the district’s new health guidelines in place. He emphasized that “the kids want to be back and are excited to be back,” and that this is a good motivator in holding them accountable for their own and their classmates’ health and safety. He said, “Everyone is taking this seriously,” and that “there is no pushback from students.” 

The Board approved modifications to the district’s “Return to Learn” plan to allow extracurricular students in the Orange Level 2 and Red phases to continue to participate in their activities, as long as social distancing and other health precautions are followed. This will also give Armstrong the authority to rescind this privilege if students and coaches do not comply. 

They also approved the upcoming school year’s Distance Learning Plan to include the State Department of Education’s requirements. Doudican called the plan “a labor of love” and said that she and her team have been working on it since spring. They incorporated task groups from all different levels of the district. Considerations include things like the “equity of access” to technology for all students, the plan to continue to teach the Oklahoma state standards, a commitment to provide a “rigorous day” for students that mimics what would happen in a traditional school day, what constitutes attendance in a virtual program, and many others. 

Assistant Superintendent Johnny Bilby discussed the 2020-2021 Instructional Calendar that was introduced and approved last school year. With an increasing number of students enrolling in the virtual program, he said there is a good chance the administration will need to add a few extra days of professional development for teachers to the schedule for training purposes, and that this might delay the first day of school. He explained that “these numbers have grown exponentially over the last 5 days” and that “to make sure all of our policies and procedures are clear with teachers” this extra time may be necessary. They may also need additional time if and when Creek County transitions from the Yellow to Orange I phase, or from Orange I to Orange II. It “could take some time for [staff and teachers] to adjust the appropriate instructional delivery,” Bilby explained. 

The Board voted unanimously to authorize Superintendent Armstrong to “adjust instructional delivery between at school, in-person, and distance learning” programs, “as well as employee work schedules” as needed for COVID-19 during the upcoming year. 

The next monthly Board of Education meeting will be Monday, September 14th, at 6 p.m. at the Washington Administration Center at 511 East Lee, unless otherwise noted on the school website. 

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E. B. Thompson

E. B. Thompson

Born and raised in Sapulpa, Elizabeth has a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies and is a former banker. She is thrilled to be back in her hometown with her husband Michael and to be contributing to The Sapulpa Times.