Jeremy Gugel was named the next president of the Mid-Prairie Board of Education and Denise Chittick was named vice president. Both were immediately sworn in prior to the business portion of the school board meeting on Nov. 9.
Board member Jeremy Pickard praised outgoing president Marianne Schlabach for her leadership during a difficult and memorable 2020 school year.
“It’s a hard thing to do, what you had to do, to manage the meetings that you had to manage,” Pickard said to Schlabach. “I know how much time you put in and the seriousness of the office… I truly appreciate all the work you put in as the board president this past year.”
The board approved a motion to make Mid-Prairie Esports an official school activity. Eports Coordinator Kurtis Broeg said there are currently 35 students interested in participating in esports, all male.
Broeg said the digital cooperative games the team will play, such as League of Legends and Rocket League, help the students develop teamwork and communication skills and give them experience working within an established structure with rules of etiquette.
The board approved funds for 10 new computers totaling $31,777. The computers will be used for business and computer science curriculum and independent studies during the school day in addition to esports after school.
“I’m very much in favor of giving our students, who maybe aren’t athletic or aren’t in the performing arts, giving them the chance to shine, giving them the opportunity to put their talents to use,” said board member Gabrielle Frederick. “It’s great that they’re proud of themselves and are showing other people that.”
Program Director Rachel Kerns presented the board with an update regarding the Home School Assistance Program. There are currently 536 students enrolled in the home school program — 204 from the Mid-Prairie district, 242 open-enrolled and 90 from the 28E sharing agreements with Williamsburg, Clear Creek Amana, English Valleys and Keota.
“Our job is to provide assistance and support resources to parents, who are the primary educators, in their endeavors to achieve quality home education,” Kerns said. “We do things with kids and we do things with parents, but ultimately, our job is to empower parents to be their child’s best teacher.”
On enrollment day at the end of February, 272 students were enrolled in the home school assistance program and between February and March an additional 78 students enrolled. Then, after the pandemic closed schools, the home school assistance program added 135 more students between April and August. In September an additional 53 students joined the program and three students have left the program in the past few weeks, Kerns said.
The board approved a 28E sharing agreement with Hillcrest Academy for girls basketball to allow at least two Hillcrest students to play on the Mid-Prairie team. Hillcrest will provide an additional coach, bringing the total to four coaches. Activities Director Tyler Hotz said the fourth coach will make it easier to field a freshman/sophomore team for some games.
While the board discussed COVID-19 concerns with bringing in additional students and staff from a different school, it was decided that the risk was no higher than that of competing against other schools.
Mid-Prairie also shares wrestling and soccer with Hillcrest.
“We live in a small community,” Frederick said. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t reach out a helping hand in hopes that the favor would be returned if ever needed.”
The motion passed unanimously.
Finally, the board and administrators engaged in a discussion regarding the current COVID-19 situation in the district. On Nov. 9, 26.5 teachers and paraprofessionals were absent due to circumstances beyond their control, including positive COVID tests and quarantine. Fifteen of these teachers were from West Elementary alone. These absences account for 10% of teachers and 32% of paraprofessionals.
On Nov. 9, 16 students were absent due to positive COVID-19 tests and 146 were absent due to quarantine. Including students who were absent for other reasons, 14.4% of district students were absent.
“There’s no doubt that our numbers are surging,” superintendent Mark Schneider said. “They’ve gone down with staff a little bit today, but obviously they’re going up with the students.”
Administrators said their staff has been flexible and helpful with covering absences, shuffling staff between buildings, which is sometimes “like a puzzle,” said West Elementary principal Bill Poock.
Superintendent Schneider has the authority to close school for two days, but any closure or move to online learning longer than two days would need approval from the governor.
“Somehow we are making it work every day,” said Poock. “Staff say, ‘Yes, we’re OK today and we’re making it work and people are stepping up. But how long can we sustain this?’”