Albert Lea secondary schools look at adding Fridays with in-person learning to current model

Published 7:01 am Tuesday, February 2, 2021

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The Albert Lea school board was introduced Monday night to a plan that would allow middle school and high school students to start with in-person learning on alternating Fridays based on their current A/B model placement. 

The board also discussed the possibility of moving to full-time, four days a week, in-person learning starting in the fourth quarter for these students. 

The current learning has students grouped into A/B groups with students in the A group attending in-person classes on Monday and Wednesday, and the B group attending in-person classes Tuesday and Thursday, and all students using distance learning on Friday. The new model would have students in the A and B groups start attending in-person classes on alternating Fridays starting with the A group on Feb. 12. Fridays would remain as a virtual learning day for students not attending in-person classes. 

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Tasked by the school board and Superintendent Mike Funk to come up with a way to get students back in the school on Fridays, Southwest Middle School Principal Chris Dibble and Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus presented this option to the board as one of the two top options to accomplish that. 

The second option presented to the board was an “intervention day.” which would involve students who needed extra help to come in and catch up on their work. 

Dibble said he leaned towards the A/B option because it would involve getting all students in the building an extra six days through the remainder of the year. 

Some of the concerns raised about the alternating Fridays model included staff with children that would now need day care, students who looked after their younger siblings on Fridays and paraprofessional support for Friday child care. Dibble said staff would be eligible to receive child care provided by the district and there was enough paraprofessional support for the Friday addition. 

Funk said the younger siblings of students would be able to be taken in at the Hawthorne Elementary day care. 

“We have transportation and food service to our day care or child care,” Funk said. “For the students watching them now, we could have the younger siblings picked up and provide the child care and lunch, and transportation.”

Board member Dennis Deiser said it would be pivotal to communicate to those parents that the Hawthorne day care option exists for them. Funk said a survey would be sent out to families in the coming days to gauge the interest in the Hawthorne day care program and the district would then help coordinate. 

As a part of the alternating Friday’s model, Fridays in April would be used to take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. Students who opted out of the MCAs would still be required to attend the in-person classes on their designated days. 

Board member Kim Nelson raised the question whether returning to full-time in-person classes for all students is an option at some point this school year. The issue was also brought up about getting all staff and teachers vaccinated before that would be a possibility. 

Funk said after talking with Mayo Clinic Health System and Freeborn County Public Health, staff who signed up to receive the vaccine will now be able to do so in Freeborn County instead of traveling to Rochester or Mankato to do so. He also said the district is receiving 114 vaccinations that will be provided to staff Thursday and Friday this week. 

“We’ll go from roughly 60, 70 to close to 200 (vaccinated staff) by the end of this week,” Funk said. “I think by the end of next week we may see the vast majority if not all the staff who are interested in the vaccine have at least one shot in the arm.”

Funk said the second dose would be given around March 10, which would be just before the district released for spring break. 

Board member Jill Marin brought up the idea of going to the alternating Friday model for the rest of the third quarter with the possibility of switching to a full-time four days a week in-person model to start the fourth quarter.

Board Chairman Dave Klatt said he was in favor of potentially bringing students back for in-persion learning four days a week.

“Getting those kids back in school for at least four days a week has to be a positive step towards getting them to not only pass their classes, but to hopefully start turning this around in the world of the pandemic,” Klatt said. “If nothing else, getting the kids back to learning. I would be very much in favor of that if we can do the vaccinations and continue with our protocols.”

Grossklaus said while he wants students to be back in the building as much as possible, bringing all the high school students back at the same time does present some challenges. One of the biggest challenges would be social distancing. Now, classrooms, the lunchroom and other common areas are strategically designed to keep students six feet apart. However, returning all students at the same time would make that nearly impossible. 

Funk said he would come to the next board meeting, scheduled for Feb. 16, with a detailed plan on what the fourth quarter could possibly look like. 

“At that point I can tell you how many of our staff members will be vaccinated, I can tell you the concerns that our leadership teams bring up,” Funk said. “At that point, we will move forward with us maintaining the Friday plans that we are going to be implementing or moving towards the four-day-a-week plan starting in the fourth quarter.”

In other action, the board watched a presentation given by Dean of Students Tyler Johnson about the correlation between attendance at the high school and grading data. Some of the main points of the presentation included:

Students who were absent less than 10% of the quarter have a roughly a 90% pass rate in their classes, compared to a 60% pass rate by students who are absent more than 10% of the quarter.


About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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