Camas school board OKs recovery strategy

Plan will address student academic, social-emotional needs that resulted from closure of school buildings, move to remote-learning during COVID-19 pandemic

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category icon Camas, COVID-19 coverage, Latest News, News, Schools
Kindergarten teacher Marilyn Canfield leads students at Helen Baller Elementary School in Camas on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. COVID-19 protocols required students and staff to wear masks and physically distance throughout the 2020-21 school year. (Contributed photo by Doreen McKercher, courtesy of Camas School District)

The Camas School Board unanimously approved the school district’s proposed Academic and Student Well-Being Plan, meant to address student needs that resulted from the closure of school buildings and the move to remote-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan, required by the federal government if school districts hope to receive money from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, will now move on to the state level for its approval.

Camas Assistant Superintendent Lisa Greseth told school board members on Monday, May 24, that the district’s plan was required to:

Identify and address pandemic-amplified inequities in the district;

Accelerate and extend existing plans for improvement designed to eliminate inequities in student access and outcomes;

Make decisions about professional learning and student support that focuses on students’ academic and wellness; and

Engage in continuous improvements with regular monitoring at all levels of the district.

“The plan includes the voices of students, staff and families,” Greseth added, noting the district had incorporated feedback from ThoughtExchange surveys with families and staff as well as interviews with school and district administrators.

The district’s online ThoughtExchange survey, which launched earlier this month, had 645 participants, and asked families: “When you reflect on learning this year, what experiences of learning would you like to see for our students moving forward?”

The more than 500 shared ideas included a desire for students to attend school in-person, five days a week, during the 2021-22 school year, with more instruction from teachers, an emphasis on critical thinking skills to help students filter and process information, placing students’ needs above all else and ensuring that students are meeting the basic standards for their grade level.

Greseth said the recovery plan examines what went well in the district during the pandemic — increased access to technology, more flexible learning models to meet students’ and families’ needs, more online options for students, a focus on equity and anti-racism through community equity forums and school-based equity teams, and a strengthening of family partnerships using digital platforms like Zoom and the district’s two-way communication tool, Parent Square — as well as the challenges the district faced during the pandemic, including inequities in access for many students, the inability to reach every student and challenges meeting the social-emotional needs of students, families and staff.

“There are two goals of the recovery plan,” Greseth added. “The first speaks to social and emotional wellness, the second speaks to our system of support for students.”

To help students who may have fallen behind academically during the pandemic, the district is planning a range of learning supports throughout the upcoming summer months. The support will include a summer learning website with reading, math and wellness resources for all students in grades K-8; a Book MoVAn for K-8 students with access to books and activities that will come to three different schools on alternative Wednesdays June 23 through Aug. 11; summer learning programs in reading and math for K-12 English language learners and students with individualized education plans; summer reading camps for elementary students deemed in need of more intensive help with reading; and credit recovery sessions for high school students who need to catch up academically.

The district is required to use a data and equity lens for its recovery plan, Greseth said, “to review key measures and determine how all students are doing.”

Discussing the plan’s support for elementary students who are not reading at their grade level, Greseth said: “Our goal is that every student learns to read on grade level (and has the support) they need to be successful. We want to eliminate all opportunity and access gaps.”

Equity exists, Greseth said, when district leaders “can no longer predict outcomes based on race, gender or programs (such as) English language learners, special services and free-and-reduced lunch programs.”

“We want to know: What are the patterns and trends? And what do we need to do to better serve each and every student in our system?” Greseth said.

According to state data, inequities do exist in the Camas School District. For instance, according to the data the school district reported to the state following the 2018-19 school year, while 72 percent of white students were meeting grade level benchmarks in mathematics, just 45 percent of Black students and 58 percent of Hispanic/Latino students could say the same. Likewise, other gaps existed based on ability and socioeconomic status: with 29 percent of Camas students experiencing homelessness performing at grade level in math compared to 72 percent of students who had housing; 35 percent of students with disabilities meeting grade standards in English language arts versus 85 percent of student who did not have disabilities; and 25 percent of English language learners (ELL) meeting grade standards in science compared to 67 percent of non-ELL students.

School board member Doug Quinn said he appreciated that the plan’s outcomes looked at establishing equity and focused on providing support for students during the summer months. Quinn added that he wished the Camas School District was set to receive more funds from the federal recovery act.

Due to its small proportion of lower-income students receiving free and/or reduced lunches, Camas received a smaller portion of the federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“Camas had the lowest per-student rate in our county,” Quinn pointed out, “which is frustrating.”

Still, Quinn said he supported approval of the district’s recovery plan.

Board member Connie Hennessey agreed, and stressed that the type of work the plan was providing, including looking at student achievement through an equity lens, was “the work we do every year and have been doing for the last 15 years I’ve been on the board … we’re always looking at the same measures.”

Hennessey added that she had heard questions from community members regarding the plan’s use of “equity coaches” and said the reading-assistance staff are often known as “success coaches” in other school districts.

“They exist all over the country,” Hennessey said. “They’re making sure our kids are at the right reading level and helping with reading. This is normal school work — looking at kids and driving down into different populations to make sure we’re serving all kids.”

Board discusses mask requirement at recess

After hearing from dozens of parents concerned about students wearing face coverings at school and during recess, the school board asked district staff to research the need for masks during outdoor time at school.

Doug Hood, the district’s director of elementary education and soon-to-be interim superintendent, said Monday that he had met with elementary school principals to talk about the mask requirement during recess.

The current guidance from the state of Washington requires anyone age 5 and older to be masked inside the school buildings and for much of the time during recess. The exceptions include a structured lunch period and the opportunity to take “mask breaks” away from other students during recess, Hood said.

“To create a mask-free recess would be more structured recess than it is right now and (students) would have to be 6-feet apart,” he added. “The beauty of recess right now (with the mask requirement) is that kids can still take a mask break if they choose to.”

Hood said he heard of one student who enjoys reading during recess, so they sit in the “mask break” area and read without a face covering during their recess time.

Hood added that guidance surrounding COVID-19 safety protocols is constantly changing, and that the guidance for students at recess may change in the near future. If so, he said, staff would update the school board.