Gosnell rolls out plan to reopen school

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Gosnell School District is offering face-to-face and virtual instruction options in the upcoming school year.

On Tuesday night, the Gosnell School Board approved a two-year agreement for Edgenuity software for kindergarten through 12th grade, allowing parents the online option if they are uncomfortable sending their children to school because of Covid-19.

The original first day of school was Aug. 17, but on Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson mandated schools could open no earlier than Aug. 24, nor later than Aug. 26.

On Friday, Gosnell superintendent Bonard Mace said he anticipated school beginning on Aug. 24, but the leadership team had not made that decision yet.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, curriculum coordinator Anita McKinney said the plan is for everyone to come to school for face-to-face instruction, with a digital option available.

She said the district will implement “blended learning” as students will take their devices home once a week, practicing using them by watching a video or doing an assignment, then turning it into the teacher.

“This will allow the district to see who does not have internet access,” McKinney said, noting the school will provide those children without internet access with the resources they need.

She pointed out there will be no more Alternative Method of Instruction days.

“If there is a school closure for snow or if there is a power outage, learning must go on, so this is going to be our avenue,” McKinney said. “We’re going to use Google Classroom to update with our students on what’s going every day.”

All assignments will be on the learning management system, Google Classroom, and will be posted daily.

McKinney pointed out students will have the opportunity to do their schoolwork at home if they have to miss for whatever reason.

She said teachers will create five videos of material, so lessons will be ready in advance if school is out.

If dismissed more than five days, teachers will create more digital lessons while students are working on the first five.

As for the virtual option, Gosnell teachers will be the teachers of record for the courses, meaning they will preview and approve all curriculum and all assignments that the student would do for that course, according to McKinney.

Teachers sign off on the child completing the work and give a grade at the end of the nine weeks, though there will be an individual — not the teacher — who makes sure the student logs in each day.

The online student will still receive a diploma from the Gosnell School District.

For those who choose in-school instruction, McKinney said the district will follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and the Arkansas Department of Education.

“I’ve been very proud of the leadership team,” Mace said. “We were trying to make sure what we rolled out, we could use for a variety of reasons, whether it be Covid-19 or anything else. We’ve had a power outage before; we had an ice storm a few years ago that put us out for two weeks. What we are trying to put into place is something that they can use all of the time.”

He added if a student is out for a period of time because of a car accident, illness, etc., or behind on credits, they can use the digital option to catch up on their work.

“I love what we’ve got here,” Mace said. “I think regardless of what happens over the next month and a half, we can have this in place and we can utilize it to our advantage over the next two years. The software she’s (McKinney) talking about is going to give us a two-year plan.”

School board member Danny Quearry asked if in-school instruction “would be normal.”

“We want regular school,” McKinney responded.

“What is regular,” Mace interjected. “We don’t know exactly what it looks like. If there is 1,230 kids that show up for school, we’re going to try our best to create an atmosphere where we can social distance reasonably for the safety of each and every child…We’re going to try our best to go back to normal with precautions. Of course, a lot of it will have to do with where we’re at with Covid-19.”

Mace called it “a moving target.”

Using some of the $180,000 in CARES Act money the district received — as it is for the software purchase — the board agreed to purchase 10 food carts, which hold 60 trays each and keep food warm.

Mace said if needed, the district will utilize classrooms instead of having a large number of students in the cafeteria for lunch, and the food carts allow for that social distancing measure.

Meanwhile, Gosnell High School principal Steven Milligan reminded the board that graduation will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, at the football field, with social distancing guidelines being followed. Each senior was allotted 10 tickets for their families.

Milligan also reported that Gosnell students beat the state average on the ACT exam.

The 69 who took the test had a composite average of 20.1; the state average was 18.6. One student scored a 34, missing a perfect score by just two points.

Gosnell students averaged a 19.7 in English, while the state average was 18.1. They averaged 20.8 in math; the state average was 18.1. In reading, Gosnell students averaged 19.9 compared to the state’s 18.7 and in science 19.8 to the state’s 18.9.

Milligan noted Gosnell’s ACT scores having been trending up over the last five years.

“Our kids completely knocked it out of the park,” he said. “They beat the state in all aspects.”

Milligan credited the students and teachers for the success.

Mace added this was one of the first years that Gosnell has averaged a composite of 20 or better.

Meanwhile, Gosnell Elementary principal Tiffany Kennemore said the recent kindergarten graduation was a success, with 75 of the 91 graduates participating.

In other news, the board:

— Heard from Mace that Entergy has been approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission for its solar project. Gosnell plans to participate and will enjoy a reduced rate, according to Mace. Entergy is responsible for all of the equipment and will offer an 18-year commitment, though Gosnell can opt out, the superintendent said.

— Approved the bread and milk bids.

— Approved Covid-19 waivers;

— Approved vehicle and property insurance renewals;

— Approved a $1,418 stipend for Jessica Weiss to coach cross country. Board member John Weiss, who is Jessica’s father, stepped out of the room during discussion and the vote.

— Heard from former Gosnell High School teacher Adrian Davis that the Washington, D.C. inauguration trip has been canceled for the safety of the students. Davis has taken students to several inaugurations. He retired at the end of the school year after 38 years in the Gosnell School District. “This place has been family to me,” Davis said. Mace said the district plans to continue the inauguration trips in the future.

— Accepted the resignations of high school teacher Vicki Baker (40 years of service), custodian Ann Ingram (22 years of service), bus driver Mary Ray (54 years of service), junior high teacher Josh Lawrence (two years of service), and bus driver Reba Walker (33 years of service). Of Ray, Mace said, “I think it’s unbelievable that she would give us that much of her life to make this a better place and a better community.” Mace thanked each of them individually for their service to the district, noting they have a combined 151 years of experience. He said, while the district is losing a lot of experience, it speaks well of the school that they would stay in the district so long. Mace said he appreciates all they have done for the students of Gosnell all these years.

—Transferred Beverly Rogers from the elementary to the junior high.

— Increased high school counselor Jamie Roach’s contract from 210 days to 240.

— Hired Harley Coleman as elementary teacher; Brooke Nelson as elementary paraprofessional; and Candace Williams as bus driver.