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Digital learning plan approved by board

by I.C. Murrell | April 14, 2021 at 3:03 a.m.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

Board members approved an all-synchronous digital learning plan for the White Hall School District during Tuesday night's monthly meeting.

The district will submit the plan to the Arkansas Department of Education by the May 1 deadline. Each plan must be approved by the state Board of Education before being implemented for the 2021-22 school year.

"It's real-time, live teaching," Debbie Jones, the district's director of federal programs and curriculum, said about synchronous learning. "If you wanted to go to your geometry class at 10 o'clock, you'll be able to Google me into the classroom and get that level of instruction at the same time as on-site."

Some aspects of online learning through small groups have been synchronous this school year, Jones said. Teachers in the elementary grade levels have instructed through Zoom and provided resources to students learning from home through the district's Ready for Learning program.

In the digital learning plan, virtual teachers will be assigned in grades kindergarten through third, and general education teachers will have dual roles. For example, a teacher may have two virtual students at an elementary school and have on-site students at the same time.

Overall, enrollment in virtual learning in White Hall schools has dropped to about 11% of the district's student population, Jones told board members. The number of high school students enrolled in virtual learning now stands at 114.

"Kids miss social and emotional pieces that you get from school," Jones said. "Parents are trying to juggle work, teaching their students and getting them part of the virtual program and can be admired for the efforts they have made, but now that the safety pieces are more in place and we understand what we're dealing with, they're opting for that return."

Secondary-school students will be allowed to attend class virtually and participate in electives such as agriculture and band in person through a hybrid model under the proposed plan. Superintendent Doug Dorris said virtual students will continue to receive meals.

Jones said if a student is struggling either academically or to engage in a lesson, an intervention with the parent will take place. If no progress is made following the intervention, school officials will recommend that student come back to campus.

White Hall schools are nearly finished using ESSER II, or the second round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds with ESSER III funding on the horizon, finance director Doug Brown said.

Through the federal funding, a 65-inch television, camera and microphone are installed in every classroom. Every teacher in the district will be equipped with a laptop by the time a new school year begins in August, Brown said, as the district has a surplus of Chromebooks.

ESSER funding has also provided for air purification in every district campus. Air purification systems have been touted by school officials as a defense mechanism against the spread of coronavirus.

In other district news:

• White Hall schools are on pace to see a minimum of a $1.2 million increase in operating funds from the last school year, Brown said.

• The district approved resignation letters from middle school physical education teacher and coach Antonio Lovelady effective Friday; Moody Elementary special education teacher Lesley Hipp, effective May 28; high school history and computer-aided drafting teacher and football coach Ketrin Goodwin, effective May 27; and Hardin Elementary teacher Sydnee Clark, effective at the end of the school year. Lovelady was named head football coach at Dumas High School, Superintendent Doug Dorris said. Phyllis Ridgeway will step down as district bookkeeper effective June 30.

• The district has hired Spencer Hartley as a high school science teacher; Shanna Kadlubar, Katelyn Price, Sarah Michael and Kimberly Cole as Moody teachers; and Morgan Hartley and Jordan Drye as Taylor Elementary teachers. Classified hires include Tracy White as district bookkeeper, Jessica Persons as Gandy Elementary special education aide and Josh McCall as middle school special education aide.

• Gandy Principal Tim Taylor has taken a leave of absence through the end of the school year. High school math teacher David Vance and Gandy Interim Principal Kent Baggett were approved as long-term substitutes

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