Administrator’s Corner: Planning school during COVID
Administrator’s Corner by Mike Funk
A new school year is upon us, and it is unlike any I have experienced in my 29 years in education. The conditions on how we operate as a school system may have changed, but our core mission to ensure academic, social and emotional growth in our students remains the same.
The teamwork of district teachers and administrators over the last few months has been truly remarkable. For two months this summer, the Minnesota Department of Education informed districts to be prepared to implement one of three instructional models for the 2020-21 school year. On July 30, they finally provided the guidance to implement instruction based upon COVID numbers in the county. Our numbers indicated in person at the elementary, hybrid at the secondary, with a distance learning option available for students who felt more comfortable learning remotely. In three weeks, we prepared our community and our school system for full implementation of these models, to include the addition of a second tier of busing to allow more social distancing on our buses for our students.
Albert Lea Area Schools now operates a traditional elementary program of instruction four days a week, with a virtual day on Fridays. We also have a hybrid format at the secondary level where teachers interact with students in person two days a week, and provide virtual instruction the other three days. Finally, we developed a distance learning academy that has over 700 students receiving online instruction five days a week.
Technology has allowed us considerable flexibility to meet the needs of our learners as the conditions of the pandemic have dictated. Over 3,000 students in our system are either provided a laptop or chromebook to take home with them. We also provide approximately 200 mobile hotspots to students with no internet access. The expanded use of these thousands of devices is putting a strain on our resources. Later this fall, we will be asking the community for an increase to our operating levy to support our technology needs. The tax impact will amount to about $3 a month on a $100,000 home, with no tax increase on agriculture land. More information on the levy will be coming over the next few weeks.
Albert Lea Area Schools is in strong shape. The collaborative leadership of our educators, combined with the continued support of our community, is allowing us to meet the needs of our students in these difficult times.
Mike Funk is the superintendent of Albert Lea Area Schools.