By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — Several students have fallen behind academically as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the regular monthly meeting of the Wawasee School Board Tuesday evening, March 9, in Syracuse, the board heard a brief report on efforts to cut the gaps in learning from elementary school principals Eric Speicher (Syracuse), Chris Gerbers (Milford) and Lee Snider (North Webster).
Speicher said it is normally around February when elementary schools start their after school tutoring programs and those programs typically target students in grades three through five. He said the tutoring has been “more robust” this year due to COVID related issues such as students being placed in quarantine and missing several days of school.
Title I funds are used to pay teachers who do after school tutoring and this year fortunately there was extra money available to pay teachers even more. “We decided to open up the tutoring to K through second grades too,” Speicher said.
Snider said at his school the focus is typically placed on third graders because they do the IREAD test, which was given Tuesday. He also noted some students have missed as many as 40 days due to being quarantined.
During his report to the board, Dr. Steve Troyer, superintendent, said a summer school program is being designed to address the learning loss due to COVID. “It will be the biggest and most robust summer school program we’ve ever offered,” he said, and will begin the week of Memorial Day in late May.
Don Bokhart, school board president, said, “Imagine where we would be if we didn’t make a concerted effort to open up our schools in August.”
In other business, the school board approved a resolution (2021-2) declaring opposition to Indiana House Bill 1005 and Senate Bills 412 and 413. The bills are designed to expand the state’s school voucher program and education savings accounts. If the bills are signed into law, they would divert funding away from public schools to private or charter schools.
Rebecca Linnemeier of the school board said there is no state oversight of how funding is provided to private schools and those schools can choose whoever they want to accept, but public schools accept everyone. James Flecker, director of finance and personnel services, said Wawasee could lose close to half a million dollars in state funding if the bills pass because “the money would be taken from the pot.”
Also during Tuesday’s meeting Troyer said there were 11 positive tests for COVID during the month of February with nine being students and two staff members. He said the positivity rate is down 70 percent from January and the quarantine rate is down 25 percent for the same time period.
The board approved a memorandum of understanding between the school corporation and the Wawasee Community Educators Association. Included in the agreement will be paying teachers $37,500 as an incentive for early retirement, which is roughly equivalent to the cost of two years worth of health insurance premiums. Troyer said it is one way to reduce staffing to be more in line with student enrollment numbers.
Also in the agreement is paying teachers $40 per hour for academic remediation efforts during the pandemic.
And Mike Snavley, who recently retired as the school corporation’s director of transportation, was honored with a plaque for his 30 years of service, five of which were with Wawasee. His replacement, Alicia Coday, who had been the administrative assistant in the transportation office the last four years, was introduced to the board. She is a Wawasee High School graduate and has extensive knowledge of the transportation routing system used in the office.
Snavley has since taken a position as a construction site manager for Habitat for Humanity in Fort Wayne.
Other agenda items included:
• WHS winter sports athletes who qualified for state tournaments were recognized including Brenden Dilly and Jace Alexander (wrestling), Alexis Mishler, Hayden Neer, Cammy Kryder and Rileigh Atwood (girls swimming) and Nathan Harper (boys swimming).
• The WHS boys basketball team received a second exemplary behavior report this season as the result of the Feb. 26 game at Tippecanoe Valley.
• Milford School received a $500 donation from the Builders Association of North Central Indiana that will be used to purchase coats or meet other needs for students.
• Syracuse Elementary students raised $7,798 during the Read-A-Thon fundraiser.
• The school corporation received the Family Friendly Business Award from the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce during its annual awards program.
• Kindergarten roundup is scheduled in person from 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22, at the elementary schools.