Different but Meaningful

EWfNPocXsAMYvTcI spent more time this weekend watching the NFL Draft than I care to admit.  I’m a long suffering Bengals fan and this draft was their opportunity to change the trajectory of the franchise by drafting former Mr. Ohio Football, Athens High School and Ohio State Graduate, Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.  Sadly, as a Bengals fan you assume they’re going to do something to mess things up so I had to watch to make sure they actually made the pick.  By 8:15 P.M. on Thursday night I was relieved and excited for the future.  

The NFL draft was scheduled to be in Las Vegas, NV this year.  Thousands upon thousands of fans would have packed the Las Vegas strip and the players would have dressed in some fashionable suits to walk across the stage when their name was called and give a bro-hug to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Because of social distancing none of that happened and everyone was home.  Joe Burrow was in his parents’ house in Athens, Ohio.  He sat on a couch with his parents in what looked like their living room.  Instead of a suit he wore a long-sleeve t-shirt with the state of Ohio on it and the 740 area code which represents Athens.  

Going into the weekend I felt bad for Joe and the players like him.  They had dreamed their whole life of hearing their name called and walking across the stage at the draft.  They’d worked hard when no one else was watching to get to this point.  This was their time and instead they would have to stay home?  At first I thought, this is really disappointing.  But as I watched the draft Thursday night and again Friday night, and again Saturday afternoon, my thoughts on the whole thing changed.  Certainly this draft was different.  It wasn’t what the players had envisioned.  But it was good.  And in some ways maybe it was even better.

Player after player was selected and was able to celebrate one of the biggest moments in their life with those who they were closest too. They sat with parents and siblings in rooms that they were comfortable in and clothes that they might actually wear at another time.  Coaches and general managers were at home too and they shared important moments of their work life with their kids and spouse.  Some, like former Buckeye Mike Vrabel, had fun with the cameras as his college age children dressed up in some ridiculous outfits as their dad attempted to work.  The draft wasn’t what was normally planned.  But in it’s own way it was meaningful and in some ways more meaningful than what happened in previous years.

We’d like to gather and do all of our normal things.  We’d like to have graduation, prom, 6th grade camp, clap-outs and end of year recognitions and parties.  That’s what we do and someday we will do them all again.  In the meantime we need to find ways to take what we used to do and do it differently and make it as meaningful and maybe more meaningful than what we normally do.  As a school district over the next month that’s what we will be attempting to do.  Things can’t be as they normally are.  Initially that will be very disappointing to many.  But things can still be good and meaningful.  Together let’s work to make that happen!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

P.S.  Congratulations to Worthington Kilbourne Graduate Liam McCullough who signed a contract with the Las Vegas Raiders.  Go Wolves!

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A First Grade Teacher’s Remote Learning Journey

IMG_0120Yesterday marked six weeks to the day that Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton gave the order for all K-12 schools to be shut down for a three-week “extended spring break.” The past several weeks, most predicted we would not be back in our school buildings for the rest of the school year, but the official announcement on Monday was still hard for me. Really hard. Maybe we were naive to think we really weren’t saying goodbye to our students for the last time in person when we spent the day together on March 13th. Since that day, the range of feelings, thoughts, and emotions regarding my job and the students I love has ranged from grief to joy and everything in between.

I, while being a first grade teacher at Worthington Estates, also fill the role of a mom to a 2nd and 3rd grader at Bluffsview Elementary, and a wife to a Southwestern City Schools elementary PE teacher, and caring for our recently adopted dog. Working through these roles and their complexities of being at home together, teaching remotely, and helping my two children navigate their remote learning the last six weeks has been a journey like none other.  I am grateful for the leaders that have been put into place in our school district to help our staff remain focused on what is most important during this time, which Dr. Bowers stated so well in an email to our staff:  “I hope when this is all over our students and parents say, they tried that remote learning thing and did o.k. but man it was cool how clear it was that they cared about my child and about us as a family.”  Each new school year, Dr. Bowers works with his team to communicate expectations of all Worthington staff, and I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on those from the perspective of a first grade teacher.

The first expectation is to “be kind to kids.” I am so very thankful that this has been continually reminded of staff during this closure, as I do believe that making sure my students know that I am thinking about them and care about them is more important than anything else.  More about that in a bit.

Next is to “be present.” I know I share the sentiment with my colleagues that this one feels a bit like a punch in the gut. I would so love to be in the actual presence of my students, and I feel as though the carpet was ripped out from under me. But, we are trying to be present in different ways.  I have seen so many examples of this, which teachers across the district have shared via Twitter or in meetings I have attended.  To me, being present with first graders right now means that if they are sharing something with me on Zoom, that I am showing full listening to them, with my eyes looking at my webcam and not at something else or my cell phone, and giving feedback about what they are sharing or about their work in a way that is specific and meaningful.  

The third expectation is to “serve the customer.”  While we do not work in the restaurant industry, we believe that we as teachers and staff are given the responsibility to make sure the families we “serve” and work with “walk away” each day feeling as though their needs were met and they were taken care of.  Over this extended closure period, the feedback that I have received from my classroom families has been positive, and I am continually trying to do my best by checking in with families to make sure there isn’t more I can be doing to make this experience a better one for them.

Next is “communicate, communicate, communicate.” I think the hardest part about this has been how much and what to share with families. Since this shared experience is new for everyone, I know I can speak for all teachers in saying that we have tried to tread carefully with the amount of resources as well as the format our resources are being presented in, as to not overwhelm the adults as well as the students. I am so thankful for the technology we have today to be able to video chat with a student on his or her birthday and get a message to a parent quickly so he or she can be able to access a resource that is proving hard to navigate without support. Each week, I can tell that the staff in Worthington, and my own teaching team, are trying to alter communication to make it more fine-tuned and centralized. 

“Believe in growth” is the 5th expectation.  This one is where I feel my passion for teaching and learning is able to find its way out, even in the current teaching situation.  While the growth we as teachers are helping to coordinate during this time is not usual or typical of what we would see in a classroom, I have been so appreciative of the adults in students’ homes who are with our youngest students during the day. These parents and caregivers have supported teachers and their passion for being with students and learning together when our 6 and 7-year-olds cannot access on their own. While doing this learning through computers and Zoom meetings, of course, is not ideal for most students and teachers, I do believe that helping a first grader to log onto zoom for a share time and 15-minute lesson on double-digit addition will benefit them during this very different time in their educational path.

Finally, the 6th expectation is to “be kind to kids.” It is so important, it gets to be on the list twice. Birthday sticker house deliveries, wearing a superhero mask during a zoom meeting, dancing and singing a class song together, hanging a message in the windows of the school, coordinating a 3rd grade concert Zoom sing-along, listening to a child talk about Minecraft for 10 minutes, continually attempting to reach out when you haven’t heard from a student or family in a week, and having a Zoom “lunch bunch” are some of the hundreds of examples of kindness towards kids and families that I have witnessed or been a part of over the past several weeks.  

Twenty-two or so years from now when I am approaching retirement, I hope I can focus on the fact that during the COVID-19 pandemic stage of teaching, I have been grateful to have had the opportunity to have served my students and families, learned new skills, and been a part of the Worthington City School district, whose leadership has been focused first on kindness and care, because #ItsWorthIt.

-Tracy Keyes, Worthington Estates First Grade Teacher

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Are Socially Distant Schools in Our Future?

social distanceAs of this writing, we still don’t know whether we will go back to school on May 4th and whether there will be spring sports in Ohio.  I would love for us to be back in school on May 4th but based on what we read, I’ve maintained that this is very unlikely. With the belief that it’s unlikely we return May 4th, our board of education unanimously approved refunding over $450,000 worth of fees to families as soon as the Treasurer’s office can process the refunds.  All-Day Kindergarten and preschool fees for half of March and all of April and May, and spring pay-to-participate fees are all being refunded. The board recognizes the significant impact this shutdown is having on the finances of many throughout our community and wants to get money back to families as soon as possible.

Since March 13th, our Worthington Schools team has been working like crazy to implement remote learning, to improve our remote learning processes, to streamline communication to families, to provide food to families who need it and to plan contingencies for graduation, prom, summer learning, etc…We’ve been highly focused on the here and now.

Last week Ohio Governor Mike DeWine told school districts that we need to be thinking about how school will need to be different when we do open back up. As of right now, it feels like we’ll begin to reopen parts of society sometime in the next few months, but that until a COVID-19 vaccine is in place, we’ll need to find ways to utilize our current school buildings but to create socially distant schools.  The Governor of California talked about this in some detail last Wednesday.  If this is the case, we will need to be strategic about the use of space. We’ll need to make sure that we’re able to have enough classroom space to ensure that there’s proper social distancing which sounds like something we may be required to practice for a long time.  

If I’m brainstorming what that could look like, I think that could mean having students split the school day into morning and afternoon shifts or staggering days of the week for attendance, staggering lunch, gym and recess to limit the size of gatherings.  It could mean some level of face-to-face instruction combined with a level of continued remote learning. It could mean adjusting school year calendars. It could mean all sorts of things that we’ve never seriously considered in the past. There’s a long way to go before we get there and a lot of conversations to be had about what we can do.  I certainly believe we can create models that work for instruction and school in general.  But, unfortunately, those models may be incredibly difficult for families and may leave many students without good supervision at home as parents go back to work.

We want to bring our students and educators back to a safe environment. In April 2020, no one knows exactly what the fall will look like.  If things need to be different, we all may need to wrap our minds around how this will affect our schools and our families.

On the bright side, we are encouraged that we’re at least talking about having school in person in the fall. 

– Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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A High School Teacher’s Remote Learning Journey

IMG_4986As I sit writing this, I’m staring at a baby monitor amazed that my daughter has taken a nap after dropping them for several days. In fact, the only reason I can write this is because she is napping. When I sat in my classroom on March 13, 2020 contemplating remote learning, I was optimistic; I had trained in Schoology and most of my students had submitted assignments online before in one capacity or another. Many of my students had even helped me develop unique and relevant assignments. I felt confident and optimistic. I am still both of those things, but as week five of remote learning concludes, I’ve found that I have also had to embrace the unsure.

I started remote learning strong. As a journalism teacher, I asked my students to video blog their lives. I videotaped mine and posted them daily on Schoology for them to view. I posted student responses on our media website and on twitter; I made a plan for my AP English classes and posted assignments. Then the College Board revamped AP tests, videos became tedious, and my daughter’s toddler antics became less fun and more exhausting. What was once a historic moment laden with hope became a historic moment doused in reality. As rules change and weeks lengthen, so too do the situations of my students. Many of my students have chosen to take my classes in addition to their core classes of english, science, math, history, and foreign language. My class was meant to be the fun break in the school day, but what does a fun break look like during a pandemic? I’m not sure, and, in talking to all my students, I’m learning that it’s different for everyone.

My seniors are struggling. They are sad and upset and many of them aren’t excited about the idea of documenting this time. Some of my students are excited about learning new skills and want to share them. Some of my students have sick family members and need a distraction. Some of my students are sick themselves and barely keeping up with their core classes. Learning takes longer without a teacher, and after struggling through video tutorials and self instruction, they don’t have the energy to take on another assignment. I can’t blame them. What does a pass/incomplete look for an elective class? I honestly don’t know and I believe that to tell my students that I do is unfair.

Instead, we go week by week and month by month. As students grew bored with video blogging, I created more assignment options so they can adapt their work to their home situations and stay interested. I’ve scaled back what I ask of AP students because I only get nap time to grade and the AP test has been scaled back as well. There are so many more obstacles than I could have ever imagined. From trying to juggle multiple jobs or classes at once, to websites crashing and slow internet, remote learning has been far more challenging than any of us could have anticipated. Families feel divided between work and home. Students are stressed, parents are stressed, and teachers are stressed. Remote learning is far from perfect and it’s important that we embrace that aspect. What I thought would happen during remote learning hasn’t really happened and that is ok.

The hardest part of teaching during a pandemic is working in isolation. Nothing that we do in education is really ever supposed to be in isolation. Feedback isn’t best through email or comments on a document. Does it work, yes? Is it why we went into education? Obviously not. This week all of my students created videos and after I was done grading, I cried. In the midst of the struggle and the stress, I had almost forgotten the faces behind the assignments. I knew I missed them, but seeing them – that revealed it all. It reminded me that the hardest part of this epidemic is that it removed me from my favorite part of education, my students, and it was incredibly important for me to see them. Now, I ask for videos about anything and everything. Zoom and google hangouts are hard with a one year old, but my daughter sure loves my camera and we post videos no matter how tedious they feel. If I need to see my students, I’m guessing that they need to see me too, even if they don’t realize it. Now, I respond with bitmojis and not just words and I try to host open office hours when possible. I learned that visually seeing the other person is the most important part and it doesn’t matter how it’s done.

My story is not representative of all secondary teachers. I may argue that it isn’t even reflective of most teachers’ journeys, but I think we can all claim that. Families, students, and teachers are navigating a new normal – one that is incredibly individualistic. All we can do is embrace the journey we have and try to understand the journeys of those around us; no two are alike and that is ok.

Jessica Hemmelgarn – WKHS Journalism Teacher

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Reflecting on Your Feedback

wordcloud (2)We recently asked families in Worthington Schools to participate in a ThoughtExchange so that we can make improvements to our remote learning.  The questions we asked families to respond to were: What is your main concern about the extension of remote learning until at least May 1st and how can the school district better support you during this time?

436 thoughts were shared with us and if you’re interested you can review all of the thoughts here.   The intention of this communication is to reflect on and respond to some of what was shared with us.

First, it’s clear that the majority of respondents understand the extraordinary nature of this extended closure and appreciate the hard work of our Worthington teachers who are scrambling to re-create their brick and mortar lessons in a remote environment.  Respondents expressed gratitude for teachers reaching out and working to connect with students and they expressed appreciation for the understanding that student mental health is of critical importance during this time.

Second, the responses show that we are definitely caught in the in-between where some families desire more schoolwork and more structure for their children and other families are overwhelmed with all that is on their plate and feel like too much is being asked of students in Worthington.  I think this is real for everyone and not especially surprising. All of our children have differing capacities and we all handle change differently. In addition, our teachers have differing skill sets while some are transitioning more easily than others to this new and hopefully temporary structure.  It’s important that if you are a family in need or wanting more school work that you communicate those desires to your child’s teachers. We’ll work to meet them. In addition, if things are just too much right now, please also communicate that information. We’ll work to pare things back to only what is essential.  Just like when school is in session, if you don’t feel like you have had success with your teacher, please contact the building principal. Our goal is to meet your needs during this closure.

Third, responses show that there is a significant fear that students are not going to learn the necessary material to be prepared for their next grade level or next progression of courses.  There’s no question that in this emergency remote learning students will not be covering all of the material that they would have covered if school was in session. On April 13th I can’t yet tell you how we will make up for that loss of material but I want to acknowledge that we realize that it exists, we’re looking at options for summer learning (should social distancing relax and provide some options) but most importantly we recognize that when we reopen school it won’t be the same as every other year.  We know in Worthington, just as in every school in the U.S., we’ll need to begin grade levels and classes with more review and in different places than we normally do. We’ll have to work hard to formatively assess all students to see what they know and begin where they are. That’s the reality we realize exists. The good news is that no one is falling behind. Everyone in the U.S. is in the same boat.

Fourth, respondents are concerned about how students will be graded in the fourth nine weeks.  We put out guidance on grading for 7-12th grades last week. We believe

  • Remote learning should not have an adverse impact on student grades;
  • During this time, many students will experience positive learning gains in a way that may not happen in the traditional school setting; 
  • Growth and mastery occur with effective feedback – independent from percentages and letter grades; and
  • Effective feedback, grading, and evaluation can provide an important contribution to a healthy social-emotional state.

Teachers will evaluate students as either Passing (P) or Incomplete (I).  All “P” grades will convert to 4.0 quality points in a child’s GPA; students in AP/IB classes will have their Passing mark weighted accordingly (5.0).  Students who have an “I” grade will be given an intervention plan and an opportunity to earn a Passing grade by early fall. If a student does not complete the obligations to earn a (P) passing grade, the (I) incomplete will translate into a (U), which is an Unsatisfactory.  Incomplete and Unsatisfactory grades will not be calculated using quality points. However, it is possible that the student may have to repeat the semester course in order to address learning gaps and ultimately earn credit.

Fifth, respondents shared a general level of frustration with managing communication coming from multiple parties and with the district utilizing multiple different technology platforms such as Infinite Campus, Google Classroom, Schoology, Zoom, etc.  This makes it difficult for parents to manage and determine what students are doing. This is a real issue. We’re working to streamline communication. Our middle schools have developed some strong “one stop” hubs for families. We’ll keep working to make this better. Regarding tech tools, Infinite Campus is our data management system required by the State of Ohio.  It has many features but it is not an instructional management tool. Google Classroom and Schoology are more similar to one another and we have allowed teachers to use both of those tools. In a traditional school environment our students seem to manage this just fine. In this format it’s an issue but not something we can fix during this closure. Zoom, I will admit, I had never heard of 4 weeks ago.  Now, Zoom, Google Meet, etc. seem to be essential tools. Some respondents clearly want more learning via these tools and others asked for less.  

Sixth, our responses show honoring the class of 2020 is important to the community. We couldn’t agree more.  Both high schools have rescheduled proms for late June. As a district we are working on a back-up graduation date with the Columbus Convention Center for late July or early August.  We’re committed to holding these events if it is at all possible.

Seventh, there is concern regarding inequities that exist.  As a school district we share these concerns. We have provided chromebooks to families who have expressed that they need a device.  (If you need one please just reach out to your school principal and we’ll get you one.) In addition we have provided over 500 wifi hotspots to households who don’t have internet access.  Finally, we are providing breakfast and lunch at three pick-up locations daily as well and on several bus routes coming into neighborhoods.  If you know of a family who needs help with food or with technology please let us know and we’ll work to connect them with the help they need.

Finally, these are extraordinary times.  The ThoughtExchange shows that there is a significant amount of angst about how learning is proceeding and what the future holds.  We share that angst and are working to get better at helping students learn remotely everyday. We’re committed to doing the best we can during this closure and also to getting students back in school with teachers and doing the things they enjoy doing as soon as we’re allowed to do so.

We’re all in this together.  

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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A Privilege

web1_stayathomeIn our house this has been a challenging week of remote learning and staying home.  I’ll blame the full moon but I just think the five of us may have hit a wall. We’re going on many, many walks and so far we have resisted getting a new puppy (I see many new puppies out there) but we’ve exhausted our board game collection and yard work doesn’t excite me much. I hope your experience this week was more positive as we know that “we’re all in the same boat but we don’t all experience the same storm.”

As I think about this spring, being home is difficult for our students.  We have students missing sixth grade camp, others special music performances and sports seasons.  Obviously, for our seniors this is really impactful. This is not the final few months of their senior year that they envisioned.  While we’re working to make sure we can schedule graduations and proms for this summer it doesn’t make up for the many special experiences that they’re losing. I think about Jackie Wolford at WKHS planning to play her senior lacrosse season for her dad and with a real chance to compete for a state title.  Likewise, I think of Abbey Midnight at TWHS who worked incredibly hard to be ready for her senior lacrosse season that may not happen. I was looking forward to seeing Caleb Kirker play at Gussler Park and to see Braydon Biehn on the volleyball court one last time. Everyone has lost something and it stinks!

All that said, I’m cognizant that for many of us it’s an incredible privilege to be able to stay home.  To be able to work from home or do school from home is a privilege. To be able to stay home and remain safe is a privilege.  To live in a time where we can still connect with one another via Zoom is a privilege. I think about my friend, Amanda, who’s a nurse and our friends, Katie and Sarah, who are doctors risking themselves to serve others.  They don’t get to stay home. I think about our friend, Cameron, going to work daily at the grocery. He’s stocking shelves so we can buy food. I think about our partners with the Worthington Police, Columbus Police and Perry Township Police.  They’re going to work everyday and they don’t get to stay home. In Worthington Schools I think about our food service team showing up to put together 1,000 – 1,500 meals and serve them to students who are at home. They’re not home everyday. I think about our friend, Ian, trying like crazy to keep his small restaurant business afloat.  He’s not home – ever!

Staying home has gotten old.  I want to see our kids back in school and I wish with everything I am, that our seniors were getting the senior spring of their dreams.  But I remind myself that getting to stay home is a privilege and not everyone in our community has the same privilege.  

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent

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School in Worthington During COVID-19

91296695_3245300522165821_6204825070825635840_nWe’ve entered Phase 2 of this extended school closure due to COVID-19.  Governor DeWine has extended our closure until at least May 1st and it feels unlikely as of today that we will get to come back to school this year.  We’ve never been more proud of our team in Worthington than we are today. 

The reality in Worthington, and in all surrounding school districts, is that three weeks ago we sent our teachers home with just a laptop and the charge to keep learning going for students, to connect with students, to love them, and to do it all remotely.  We’ve been blown away with what we see from our educators. The quality of learning is amazing! Their effort has been inspiring! I believe our teachers are doing more with less than could ever be expected or asked.  

Our food service team is choosing to put themselves at risk while serving hundreds of meals to students each day.  Members from transportation have volunteered to drive buses to take meals into neighborhoods and our maintenance team continues to manage closed school playgrounds and upkeep facilities.  We’re proud of our team effort.

As we enter Phase 2 of remote learning we continue to believe that “less is more.”  The recent passage of HB 197 states that schools are to “keep students actively engaged in learning opportunities for the remainder of the year.”  There’s no intent from the State level, or the district, that we attempt to cover the standards in the same manner as if we saw our students every day.  There’s no way for that to occur on a consistent basis with all that students and families are dealing with at home. When school resumes, we’ll adjust our instruction to address potential gaps in learning from this extended closure.  I recognize that there is great fear and anxiety that students are falling behind or won’t be prepared for the next grade level. In this time of crisis schools are closed everywhere. Nothing will be as it always has been and we’ll adapt to our new reality when students return to school.    

As a school district we are caught in the in-between of families who think they “want more” and families who cannot do one more thing.  I am grateful for your partnership as we navigate this journey. For now, as we continue remote learning with our students during this 4th quarter, we’re asking our teachers to focus on solidifying and enriching topics and skills to which students have already been introduced since it’s very difficult for teachers to expect all students to be able to learn all new standards at home and without their teacher with them.  That said, we believe learning must go forward for our students and thus in phase 2 our teachers will determine how to best make sure students learn the important overarching standards imperative for the course the students are enrolled in. You should see both review to keep skills sharp and new learning to help students advance.

Our teachers are learning, growing and getting better everyday.  They’re learning what works and what doesn’t work. While our expectations for teachers are consistent, each teacher has a level of autonomy on how they design their work and help their students learn.  This can be difficult for families but realistically our teachers are all working from home and they don’t have the luxury of a well designed online curriculum. What is happening is not homeschooling. It is not distance learning. It is not online schooling.There are philosophies and research guiding those ways of teaching and learning; theories and pedagogies that are enacted in intentional ways. To be honest, what we’re doing today is teaching and learning in COVID-19. This is not business as usual and it is unethical to act as if it could be. No one can (or should) expect the COVID-19 schooling happening at home to be anything close to usual.  We’re asking our teachers and families simply to “do the best you can.”

We’ve been wrestling with important topics that will be divisive.  How should grades be handled during this time of COVID-19? How will colleges evaluate grades during this national shut-down of schools (Harvard weighed in on this)? We understand how important this question is to many and we’re wrestling with it from all angles and attempting to make decisions that are in the best interests of the majority of our students.  How do we recognize our seniors? How will a senior know they are on track to graduate? What are our back-up plans for graduation for the class of 2020? How do we handle Varsity letters for Spring sports?  What about the Phoenix Lottery and 6th grade traditions? My commitment to you is that we’re actively working on each of these issues and will be communicating on each of them in the next few weeks. Each day we learn more and will attempt to do more.  

Our hope for us as a school district is that even remotely we live out our value which we state as “Be Kind to Kids.”  We want every child in our school district to know that even though we are not physically together that they are cared for and loved by the adults in their school. 

These are hard times.  There are no easy answers or simple solutions.  Please communicate with your child’s teachers or your school principal if you have a need.  If you need a chromebook the school can get you one. If you need more schoolwork, or less schoolwork, we’ll attempt to make that happen for you. If you know someone who needs meals let us know and we’ll make sure they get them.  

Continue to take care of yourself and each other. We are all in this together!

-Trent Bowers, Superintendent & Angie Adrean, Chief Academic Officer

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