Both the impact of covid-19 closings and the school's response were reflected in the Siloam Springs School District's annual report to the public.
Assistant Superintendent Amy Carter presented the report at Tuesday's school board meeting. It focuses on the district's current statistics and demographics as well as its progress toward goals set during the ready for learning committee meetings over the summer.
All six of the schools in the district are accredited in 2020, Carter reported. Enrollment is down slightly from 4,376 to 4,194 as of Sept. 29 of this year. She speculated it could be down because more families than usual have chosen to home school, she said.
There has been a slight decrease in English language learners as the program exits some students, Carter said. The number of low income students has increased slightly, she said. The number is based on free and reduced lunch numbers from the end of last semester, said Superintendent Jody Wiggins. The school has received a federal waiver which allows it to serve free lunches to all students this semester, so there was a decrease in incentive for parents to turn in free and reduced lunch forms this year, he said.
The school's new virtual academy, which began serving students in August, has an enrollment of 507 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Carter said. The academy isn't just a covid-19 initiative and the district intends to continue offering it over time, she said.
There have been some students who have not engaged in virtual learning so the district has tried to shift them back to brick-and-mortar school, she said. Other students came back to in-person school on their own after finding out the virtual academy wasn't for them, she said.
The district followed state guidelines and worked with a community ready for learning committee to develop seven goals for the school.
The first goal focuses on ensuring that learning continues by providing a guaranteed and viable curriculum that includes blended learning and diagnostic assessments, the report states. The district has purchased several new curriculum this year to facilitate blended learning, where teachers have to be ready to pivot from in-person to online instruction at any time, Carter said.
Normally, the district presents data from the previous year's end of year assessments during the annual report to the public, but the assessments didn't take place because of the covid-19 pandemic, Wiggins said. Instead, data from screening tests from the beginning of this school year was presented, he said.
Students were given assessments during the first few weeks of school to determine what they had mastered or missed during the previous year when school closed for in-person learning in March, Carter said.
The assessments show a number of weak areas in math and English language arts. Math readiness scores, which are based on the number of students who score 70 percent or higher on grade-level proficiency tests, ranged from 11.6 percent for seventh graders to 68 percent for second graders. Math readiness scores fell into the single digits for fifth and sixth graders because the assessments were created to be for the student's current grade level rather than the one before, Carter explained.
English language arts scores were broken down by grade level and individual skill, and scores were generally higher than math, ranging from the single digits to 97 percent in several categories, according to the report.
"We are already seeing a jump with our kids being on-site, working on curriculum and kind of getting back in the habit of school after six months of not," Carter said.
The district's second goal focuses on addressing unfinished learning from the previous year. The school has created a plan to increase learning in each area of focus and to help students master and gain each specific skill, Carter said. The Intermediate School recently administered an Aspire Interim test, which showed substantial improvements, she said.
"There is a game plan even though those scores might have been below what we wanted or intended to get," Carter said. "The coaches have worked with the teachers and (professional learning community) teams to actually put some things in place to help remedy the covid slides our kids see."
The district's third goal is to utilize learning management systems for blended learning, so students can learn both in-person or transition to online learning if necessary. The district's primary learning management systems for blended learning are Seesaw for ages kindergarten and first grade, and Google Classroom for grades two through 12, Carter said. Supplemental management systems include Pearson, Summit Learning, Apex Learning and Schoology, the report states.
The district's fourth and fifth goals deal with scheduling teacher training for the learning management systems and for blended learning instruction. Teachers have received a total of 74 hours in training on the platforms to make sure they are ready to pivot at any time to online learning, Carter said.
The sixth goal focuses on providing support for parents and students. The district has produced tutorial videos in both English and Spanish for parents to show them how to use the new learning management systems, Carter said.
The seventh goal involves a communication plan with parents, students and the community. The plan includes a list of communication avenues such as social media postings, community events, text messages, face-to-face meetings, website updates and local media outlets.
"I hope that what came across through this is that our teachers are being asked to do things they have never had to do before and we have tried to provide them as much in person training and as much technology tools to help them do that as we possibly can," Wiggins said. "Our curriculum people and our technology people have done a tremendous amount of work trying to make this transition to a digital learning environment for all of our kids easier in one way or another."
Lori Clark and Fern Vogt, technology integration facilitators, have put in countless hours creating the tutorial videos to make the technology easier for parents and students to use, he said.
"We have spent quite a bit of money on technology and on technology tools this year, but our teachers have embraced it and really taken a learning attitude toward it this year," he said. "I have heard positive feedback from them. They are stressed, they are tired, but they are appreciative for the things they have been trained in and given to help them out a little bit.
"I applaud our staff, and I applaud our curriculum department and I applaud our technology department and I applaud our teachers because they are doing a very good job in a stressful year."
In other business, the school board took the following actions:
• Approved a minority teacher and administrator recruitment plan.
• Approved a resolution to contract with Arkansas Aims, which employs school board member Connie Matchell's husband Steve Matchell; and Harps, which employs school board member Brian Lamb. School board approval is required before the district can do business with an organization that employs a board member or their family member.
• Approved resolutions to contract with the following local businesses: High Class Maintenance; JR Sports World; Vanessa McNair; Jackson Contracting & Design; Edibles by Zoe; Bell Office Supply; Pro Trucks; and Isaac McBride. School board approval is required before the district can do business with an organization that employs a family member of a school employee.
• Approved an agreement for speech language therapy services with Kristy Burnett.
• Approved an agreement for speech language therapy services with West Therapy.
• Approved allowing teacher Anthony Coffey to work through his preparatory period.
• Approved the transfer of 12 students from the Gentry School District into the Siloam Springs School District.
• Approved the transfer of one student from the Siloam Springs School District into the Gentry School District.
Students receiving special education^13.8%^13.11%
Students receiving gifted education^6.3%^6.51%
Two or more races^5%
School^Blended learning**^Virtual academy
Northside Elementary ^259^24
Allen Elementary School^532^76
Source: Siloam Springs School District annual report to the public.
*All numbers are as of Sept. 29, 2020.
**On campus learning.