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Pagosa Springs
Thursday, August 11, 2022

Charter school board discusses reopening school

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On Monday evening, the Pagosa Peak Open School (PPOS) Board of Directors discussed how the school should move forward in terms of reopening in the fall, with the board favoring seeking funding that would allow the school to decrease class sizes for in-person education while also offering a distance-learning option.

The board discussed the matter in a work session, with School Director Angela Reali-Crossland first explaining what work she and the school staff had done in reaching out to students’ families.

Reali-Crossland explained that two surveys were sent to families, one for those with returning students and the other to the parents of incoming kindergartners enrolled with the school.

The survey for returning students garnered 38 responses representing 51 returning students, Reali-Crossland explained. The other received 12 responses.

That survey asked about successes and challenges of distance learning, components that were helpful in the distance learning process, what education options (in-person education, distance learning or hybrid) families felt would be best and priorities for safety. The survey for incoming kindergarten students was the same but did not ask the questions about distance learning that took place this spring.

Among the successes listed were helpful staff members, the ability for the students to connect with each other, parents understanding what their children were learning, students becoming more independent in their learning, and more.

Challenges listed included the lack of social interaction, parents struggling to serve as a teacher at home, parents not having the ability to both work and focus on their children’s schooling, poor Internet connections, too much screen time, and more.

Of the families with returning students, 60.5 percent favored full-time in-person education, 36.8 percent felt a hybrid model would work for them and a portion stated they needed a distance-only option.

Of the kindergarten families, 75 percent favored in-person learning, 16.7 percent favored a hybrid and 8.3 percent responded that they needed distance learning.

Reali-Crossland noted that only a few who listed a hybrid approach as their option mentioned COVID-19 in their reasoning.

Reali-Crossland also summarized what the families are most concerned about in terms of priorities for safety (families could choose several):

• 83 percent chose increased cleaning of classrooms.

• 81 percent chose increased handwashing stations.

• 54 percent supported health checks.

• 45 percent chose having a max of 20 students in a classroom.

• 32 percent supported a cohort of students staying together.

• 29 percent supported masks for staff.

• 29 percent supported staggered start times for different grades to lessen the number of people entering the building at a time.

• 27 percent supported masks for students.

In response to board questioning, Reali-Crossland explained that teachers expressed more about safety and logistics than class sizes.

She added that every instructor had the opportunity to serve on the distance learning committee, and Assistant Director Thomas Davenport reached out to each about resources and concerns for next year.

Some expressed concerns over things such as what it would look like to keep kindergartners 6 feet apart, Reali-Crossland explained.

“I think they would prefer lower numbers because it would be easier to enforce some of those things,” she said. “If we were at 25 in a classroom, they would have an assistant and so the ratio and the number doesn’t always create, I mean they’d have extra support, if that makes any sense.” 

Reali-Crossland further noted both at her meeting and in her written report, “All of our future classrooms will hold 25+ students with social distancing protocols in place.” 

That, she explained, is based off of 900 square feet for 25 students.

But, she noted, family concerns and the state will dictate the number of kids in a classroom.

Reali-Crossland noted that if the state allows 25 kids per classroom, PPOS has a chance to go back full-time five days a week.

“There are definitely some concerns of families related to that,” she said, asking the board what PPOS might want to do that would be more strict than the state, such as allowing 25 per classroom if the state does since that’s what the budget allows or “aggressively grantwriting” to help cover the costs associated with putting only 15 kids in a classroom.

Board member Bill Hudson suggested he doesn’t see a big difference between 15 and 25 kids in a classroom as far as safety of the kids, and asked if a hybrid option would be available for families wanting their kids to go only one or two days per week.

“It sounds to me like your proposal, Bill, is actually home-schooling, where they don’t really want to have in-person education,” board member Mark Weiler said, adding that fewer kids per teacher raises the quality of the time each teacher can spend with each student.

He recommended grantwriting to increase the individual attention, which would also differentiate PPOS.

Board member Julie Simmons suggested that high-risk students who missed out on half of the previous school year will probably need an in-person option.

Simmons added that she had heard from “quite a few” parents who probably wouldn’t send their students back without a distance option because of current conditions, and other parents stated they can’t work while their kids are schooling at home or who feel like their kids are not learning at home.

“There’s two totally different scenarios going on right now,” she said.

Later in the conversation, Reali-Crossland noted that if PPOS offers in-person education, she believes it legally has to offer distance learning.

As the conversation continued, Reali-Crossland and the board discussed possible learning platforms for distance learning and opted to not offer a hybrid learning model that would allow students to be on campus some days and home others.

Instead, PPOS will focus on offering in-person and distance-learning options.

Board president Ursala Hudson suggested pushing in-person education as the first choice, but noted that the distance-learning option would help the school be set up if it has to again close to in-person education.

During the regular meeting that followed the work session, the board unanimously voted to allow grantwriting to help cover additional costs associated with smaller class sizes and tech support.

Current enrollment

As part of her report to the board during the regular meeting, Reali-Crossland outlined the school’s current enrollment of 110 students, as well as its wait list numbers:

• Kindergarten: 17 enrolled, five on the wait list.

• First grade: 18 enrolled, nine on the wait list.

• Second grade: 18 enrolled, two on the wait list.

• Third grade: 12 enrolled.

• Fourth grade: seven enrolled.

• Fifth grade: 14 enrolled.

• Sixth grade: eight enrolled.

• Seventh grade: 16 enrolled.

Reali-Crossland explained that, with the exception of siblings of existing students, spaces in classes with more than 17 students have not been filled, and she indicated that some families are still debating their enrollment due to the pandemic.

Other business

In other business at the meeting, the board also approved allowing a firearms safety and instruction company to use space within the school when students and staff are not present.

Reali-Crossland explained that the company would use the space to do firearms instruction and would have no live ammo on-site, and no firearms would be left on-site.

In return, she explained, the company could either pay rent or trade work hours to help with things like maintenance.

Bill Hudson suggested PPOS have a policy for people looking to sublet space from PPOS, which the board agreed with.

He further expressed concerns with sanitation.

Judson Crossland, co-owner of the company looking to rent space, told the board the company always seeks to leave places it uses cleaner than it finds them, and Bill Hudson pointed out his concern centered more on sanitizing.

Crossland noted he was more than happy to accept an agreement on a provisional basis and allow PPOS to figure things out.

The board approved a letter allowing the company to have a firearm and instruction company on school property and is expected to discuss a policy at its August meeting.

The board also approved hiring a food security/food program advisor.

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