PAYETTE - The Payette School District is looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, and is gearing up to make needed changes to how it runs its schools, some routine, others a little more significant. Superintendent Robin Gilbert reviewed these planned changes, as well as other things the District has going for the new school year, at the Board of Trustees’ June 8 regular meeting. Following are examples of topics addressed during the meeting.

School reopening plan

Gilbert reported on building administrators’ meetings with their leadership teams to get feedback about plans to reopen Payette schools in the fall, following novel coronavirus COVID-19 closures. Gilbert said this plan has been in progress since schools closed down in March. 

Several concerns were brought up, which Gilbert relayed to the Board:

• Gilbert cited an article by the New York Times, which reflected research that distance learning exposed existing educational disparities in students living in poverty.

“It was something we knew before we ever got into it, and we tried to close that gap quickly; I am very proud of our schools and our principals and our administrators and teachers who were willing to open schools to kids as soon as possible.”

Payette schools opened in early May to allow for one-on-one instruction for students struggling with distance learning during the last weeks of the 2019-2020 school year.

• At Payette High School, summer school launched June 1 with fewer students. Gilbert talked about how the school planned around placing students on-campus, screening them, who would be in charge of operation, and how sanitation would work.

“We got it done,” she said, as she took a breath.

• Gilbert also reviewed the game plan for Westside Elementary’s STEM camp which began on June 15, and for summer school at the district’s K-8 sites, set to begin July 6.

“Some of the things we’ve been working on includes how to get them there; Busing is our number one hurdle to open schools next fall and to open schools for summer school.”

Gilbert said busing advice coming to the District from the CDC is modeled on city buses, with rear boarding/debarking doors. Typical school buses lack these rear doors.

“If we were to measure out six foot distances from shoulder to shoulder … with twenty-two seats on a bus, and not using the seat behind the driver, you’re down to about ten kids on a bus.”

Using a window-to-window configuration, Gilbert said 21 could fit. The District’s buses have a normal capacity of 50 to 80 students.

Another issue is Southwest District Health recommending taking temperatures before students can board, which presents another issue:

“If I take a kindergartener’s temperature at the curb, what am I gonna do if they have a fever, leave them there?” Gilbert said.

With assigned seats, Gilbert said the district has summer school managed but is seeking state assistance to flush out guidelines for the fall semester.

Markings at McCain help guide summer school students as they navigate the campus, and they eat outside during breaks as much as possible.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the STEM camp, pending Southwest District Health approval, as well as K-8 summer school.

• The District has also purchased infrared thermal imaging devices for each campus to speed onboarding of students at the beginning of the day.

“We can scan groups of people coming through the door, and then remove students out that need their … individual temperature taken.”

Gilbert said if an individual comes up “hot,” the device signals the user by highlighting that individual.

Grants and opportunities

Gilbert brought up the District’s continued partnership with Boise State University’s Community Impact Program, specifically the $50,000 Boise State has set aside for students enrolling in the program from Payette County.

“Not just Payette but Payette County,” Gilbert clarified. “If we have a traditional student or a non-traditional student, that needs to go back and finish a degree or start a degree … they could stay here in Payette and qualify for some of these scholarships.”

In Payette County, the Boise State program is focused on the healthcare industry, but students are also allowed to work toward other educational goals. The program is anticipated to launch in the fall.

Safety plans and updates

In July, the Board will present in executive session the District’s updated safety and emergency response plan for review and discussion. 

At Payette High School, security measures being taken include removing exterior door handles from several exterior doors around campus, as well as installing alarms on those doors, including some doors by the student parking lot. 

Also, “crash bar” gates have been added between the dome and the main building.

“That whole traffic pattern that went all the way around the dome, now we’ve sealed that off to outsiders so we can more control when and where students come into the building and other personnel.”

In addition, entrance flow has been modified, including a visitors’ window added between the sets of double doors at the main entrance.

At the front office, an electronic check-in station is being installed. The check-in system will automatically run background checks on visitors and vendors by scanning their state-issued identification or driver’s license.

“Last year we had the flood in one of the classrooms, and we had contractors in and out of there all day; It would give them a system to check them in. And if they return to the building, we would be able to check them in for the week and give them a pass.”

The District is also reviewing its suicide prevention measures, highlighting sources of strength at McCain Middle School as well as Payette High.

“We are required by Code to have a policy in place,” said Gilbert, who says the conversation now is what works and what doesn’t.

The District is investing in its ‘sources of strength’ program, which is expanding to McCain after first being implemented at Payette High two years ago. The District also has a licensed counselor who specializes in behavior intervention, who supports educational counselors at their sites.

“It’s building [those] student connections for students; They do presentations in classrooms, they do assemblies, they meet regularly, they … are designing that for a student perspective,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert pointed out that statistics often fail to reflect those students who are saved.

“What you don’t see in the data is the kids that we saved; The kids that we caught, the kids that we connected  with and made a difference. And there’s plenty of  those lives that we saved that you will never hear about because it’s a personal matter,” she said.

The District also has installed digital applications, such as Gaggle and Angel, on several District-owned electronics to look for signs of trouble with students.

“[Angel] is really built for the teacher to kind of track where the kids are, so if they’re teaching a whole group of kids on their computers. You can monitor constantly … if they’re going to a website that they shouldn’t be on, you can just shut it down,” Gilbert said.

When closures occurred in March, devices from McCain still had Angel loaded on them, which after consulting with the District, teachers reached out to parents and asked them to harness the app and get involved in their students’ activity.

Gilbert warns that all bets are off if the community doesn’t do its part to help prevent suicides.

“It’s not a school problem … it’s something we have to solve as a community,” she said. “We can’t do it at the school level.”

Facility update

Gilbert reported that the renovation project at Westside Elementary is moving forward, with windows in the process of replacement. The District is replacing the original windows at the campus with energy-efficient windows, and is upgrading its intercom and fire alarm systems.

Also in progress is the replacement of tennis court playing surfaces at both Payette Primary School and McCain. The District has also requested quotes to add markings for pickleball on at least one of the sites.

“I have had a community member ask me what it would cost for striping to add pickleball; it seems to be a growing [sport],” said Gilbert. “I don’t know the cost, we’re just looking into that quote.”

As for fitting the Payette High dome with new HVAC equipment, the project is going to bid on July 1. Tinker Engineering is working on drawing up plans for the dome HVAC project, which would see normally roof-fitted units adapted for ground-mounting.

With Payette Alternative School being turned into Presidio Alternative High School, the District is reworking the site to make room for the program.

With COVID-19 remaining a concern, Gilbert highlighted one concern yet to be addressed: Where to hold students who come to school with a fever.

“Our problem at every school, as I work with administrators is we don’t have a place to quarantine students that would come up hot … We’re working on that.”

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