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SVUSD reveals tentative reopening plan: Hybrid, online only options for Buena

SIERRA VISTA — Tuesday’s Sierra Vista Unified School District’s governing board meeting was the first chance for the board and the community to learn about the district’s plan for reopening schools in August.

Superintendent Eric Holmes and Assistant Superintendent Terri Romo repeatedly told the board and warned the community that the proposal they were going over is a “living, breathing document” that will most likely see changes as time goes on.

Holmes said SVUSD is scheduled to start its school year on Aug. 17, even if Gov. Doug Ducey pushes back in-person instruction again. If in-person instruction does get pushed back, SVUSD will start the academic year with 100 percent distance learning.

Face coverings will be required for all students attending classes in person.

The extra days leading up to Aug. 17 will be used to train teachers for the new teaching styles. Romo said they are using feedback from teachers and administrators to find out what they’d like training on.

A total of eight days were added to the 2020-2021 SVUSD calendar to make up for the missed instruction time. Currently schools have to be opened for the same number of days they were last year and they have to have 180 days of school.

The changes made will not affect teacher pay as there are still 198 teacher days and 180 school days in the new schedule. The governing board approved the change to the calendar during Tuesday’s meeting, with breaks throughout the year shortened to make up for the eight days.

The plan presented to the board on Tuesday consisted of options for parents to choose what is best for their child. Holmes said it was important for him and his staff to come up with a plan that includes multiple options and choices so parents can feel they are doing what’s best for their child.

Parents with children in elementary school or at Joyce Clark Middle School will have three options when August comes around, while high school students will have two.

Elementary and JCMSOption 1: Classroom learning

This option allows students to attend in person classes all five days of the week. Students will be required to wear face coverings and will be screened daily by staff. Transportation is still being looked at, as there are a limited number of buses and proper social distancing would require more runs.

Romo said roughly 70 percent of the surveys submitted by parents in May said they would be willing to drive their children to school, which would decrease the number of students who needed transportation to and from school.

Part of Ducey’s orders require schools to be open the same number of days they were last year and provide a place for students to go if they have no other choice.

According to the tentative plan, “in the event of health concerns, illness, or personal reasons, a student can transition to distance learning.”

Students will have an early release day on Thursdays to allow teachers to receive professional development opportunities.

Option 2: Flexible learning

This option is a combination between online and in-person learning. Students in this model will attend school online, while receiving support from SVUSD teachers and administrators. SVUSD teachers will give and grade student assignments as well as be accessible for help. Students will be allowed to transition to in-person learning if they’d like to.

“A student in this setting would be able to return to class when the parent determines that the time is right for their family,” district spokesperson Jacob Martinez said in a statement to the Herald/Review.

“The parent would just need to contact the school to inform them that they would be ready to transition back to school,” the statement said. “The school would then let the family know the date they can resume. This flexible option would really work well for a child who is sick, has a surgery, or family just doesn’t feel ready to send them back to school due to COVID.”

Option 3: Online learning

The third option is a strictly online school year. Romo said they will use the SchoolPLP course, which is currently used by the high school. This will be a self-paced program for students and won’t have an option to transition to in-person learning.

Buena HighOption 1: Classroom learning

Due to the size of Buena High School and the age range of the students, SVUSD decided on a hybrid model for the upcoming school year. Students whose last name begins with A to Le will attend in-person instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays while the rest attends school in person on Thursdays and Fridays.

Parents may have their student attend all four days if they need a safe place to complete their online work. Wednesdays will be used for professional development training for high school teachers.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our teachers need this time to work towards improving our ability to provide remote learning opportunities for our students,” the district said in a comment to the Herald/Review.

According to the tentative plan, “in the event of health concerns, illness, or personal reasons, a student can transition to distance learning.”

Option 2: Online learning

The second option is a strictly online school year. This will be a self-paced program suitable for students who can work individually. Physical education, music and other electives are still available through this method. Students may transition to in-person learning in January after the first semester ends if they’d like.

Safety precautions

With face coverings now mandatory, Holmes said they will be added to the dress code and the change will be reflected in the student handbooks for the upcoming school year.

Extra custodians will be hired to specialize in sanitizing frequently touched surfaces to aid in providing a safe, clean environment for students and staff.

“SVUSD recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation and local, state, or national guidelines and/or restrictions may alter SVUSD’s Safety Protocol Plan at any given time,” the plan states.

Still in the works

While the district introduced the plan, it is not set. Romo said they are still working on figuring out how schedules will work, how AP classes will occur and what after school activities will look like.

A survey was released on the SVUSD Facebook page for parents to fill out about the different options.

Romo said Tuesday that it’s important for as many families as possible fill out the survey so they can ensure they have the proper staffing and support in place for the start of the year.

Grant supports Huachuca City Park Improvement projects

HUACHUCA CITY — Parks in Huachuca City will be undergoing major improvements, with a number of projects expected to start early next year.

Thanks to a $480,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), with funds from the Arizona Department of Housing Regional Account, the community’s six parks will be seeing some significant upgrades.

“Community Development Block Funds are used to help low-to-medium income persons and areas, alleviate slum and blight, or take care of urgent needs that have been identified in a community,” said Suzanne Harvey, director of Huachuca City’s community services.

“In late 2019, the town began the process of selecting a potential project for the CDBG funds by reaching out to the community for input,” she added.

Two public hearings, one in December 2019 and one in January, were held where residents provided suggestions for a wide range of projects. Some of those included a list of improvements to different community facilities, such as a new kitchen for the senior center, upgrades to the town’s water system, road repairs, an interconnecting walkway between upper and lower Huachuca City and park improvements.

After prioritizing the suggestions, town council members voted to use the funds for a Parks Improvement Project, a recommendation they felt would have the most impact on the quality of life for the majority of residents.

“After the council’s decision, we organized informal community feedback sessions about specific improvements folks would like to see at the different parks and then compiled the community’s input,” Harvey said.

“We talked to people of all ages, adults and kids. While holding a meeting at Hunt Park in lower Huachuca City, I approached a group of young boys who were playing basketball and asked them what kinds of improvements they would like to see for the park.”

“They said they wanted more water fountains, a new basketball court and bathroom repairs. We were thrilled to get their input and included their ideas on our list,” she said.

In another meeting at Leffingwell Park — located between the Town Hall complex and Huachuca City School — the community’s suggestions included adding more shaded areas, upgrading picnic tables and benches, covering the concrete pad in front of the bandstand for additional shade, providing exercise stations, bathroom renovations, additional picnic tables and benches, equipment for movies in the park and adding more water fountains.

Finding ways to get rid of those irritating “goatheads” — invasive plants that produce burrs — was a resounding theme that came up at nearly all the parks.

“I’m impressed with the community feedback and the quality of suggestions made by residents,” said City Manager Philip Cushman, who is fairly new to the area. “There has been excellent community involvement in this project, and I look forward to getting started on making these great ideas a reality.”

SouthEastern Arizona Governments Organization is administering the grant and the projects are expected to start in the spring, Cushman said.

“We made a document on how to spend the money, and now we’re creating the scope of work,” he added.

Cushman also praised town council members for their commitment in listening to the community when it comes to how they want the money used.

Councilmember Cynthia Butterworth said the upgrades are “way past due,” as they give the community places for gatherings and healthy outdoor activities.

“We’re so pleased to be receiving these funds because they benefit so many in our community,” she said. “We were very pleased by the response we got at the different meetings and the great input from the residents.”

Vice-mayor Donna Johnson shared those comments by noting that park improvements benefit the entire community, from babies to seniors.

“We all love our parks, and these upgrades will be enjoyed by all of us,” she said. “And our parks are in desperate need of repairs. We’re so fortunate to be receiving this grant money and will be doing our best to get the most out of the grant dollars.”

While glancing across Leffingwell Park during a Thursday interview, Jim Halterman, the town’s public works supervisor, said the park looks the same today as it did when he was a kid growing up in Huachuca City.

“It’s about time that we do this for our community,” he said. “When I heard about the grant money, I really wanted it used for the parks, so I’m really happy that this is what the community wanted.”

“Now that we know what improvements we’re going to be making, I’m anxious to get the project started.”