Posted Date: 08/13/2020
Union Public Schools to start school year with in-person learning on Aug. 24
The Board of Education voted to start the 2020-2021 school year with in-person learning on August 24, in spite of guidance from public health officials and others that suggest distance learning is the safest option. Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler had recommended to the Board that the district switch to distance learning for the beginning of the school year; however, they voted down the measure 3-2 in favor of traditional school for those who selected the in-person option. Voting against the measure were board members Jeff Bennett, Lisa Ford and Ken Kinnear.
Approximately 35 percent of students districtwide are enrolled in virtual learning, which is a completely separate platform; distance learning is only intended to be an option for students in the event that in-person learning is interrupted due to Covid-19.
The superintendent’s proposal received support from the Union Classroom Teachers Association, which recently revealed the results of a survey of its teachers regarding the reopening of schools.
Association President Deena Churchill said the survey results showed that 69 percent of members do not feel safe returning to face-to-face learning on Aug. 24. That same percentage also supports starting through distance learning, she said. When asked about their level of anxiety about returning in person, 86 percent of the more than 300 respondents reported medium to high anxiety.
“As representatives of our members on the district re-entry task force, we received hundreds of emails from teachers who expressed fears about returning in person,” Churchill wrote on the group’s Facebook page Sunday. “While we realize we have members who support a return to in-person learning, it is our duty to support the majority of our members.”
“This has been an extremely difficult decision, as the safety of our students has always been our #1 goal,” said Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler. “However, our Board has examined the recommendations of the Tulsa Health Department and the protocols issued by the State Board of Education, and weighed them against the learning needs of our students and the desire of many parents to have children back in school. As a result, the children enrolled in in-person learning will start the school year in classrooms with teachers. While I still have concerns, I can assure you that Union Public Schools will do everything in its power to keep students and staff safe. We will proceed with in-person school as long as possible, and should it become necessary to take action, we will close school as needed. That is in our School Re-Entry Plan, and we will stick with the plan.”
In the event a school or district closure becomes necessary, distance learning would be activated and the affected students would work remotely from home using district-owned laptops or iPad devices.
According to the superintendent, Union has made significant improvements to distance learning since the spring implementation. “We literally had two weeks to put that plan in place. We have since had three months over the summer to develop a structured, more robust plan for distance learning based on parent and teacher feedback.”
Enhancements made to distance learning include:
In addition to guidance from the Tulsa Health Department and the State Board of Education, Hartzler had also cited guidance from the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (OKAAP) and the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians (OAFP) this week that said they “cannot support a statewide return to in-person school decision for Oklahoma in August.”
Hartzler said he has heard from a steady stream of teachers who have deep concerns about their personal safety in classrooms, and the possibility they may bring the virus home to loved ones who are more susceptible. Parents have also been vocal on both sides of the issue, with an overwhelming number expressing their concern for students returning to school.
Board Approves Committee Members to reconsider use of Redskins logo, mascot
The Board approved a list of names to serve on the new committee being asked to review the use of the Redskins logo and mascot.
“This list of proposed committee members represents a cross section of our district,” Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler said. “It includes student leaders, teachers, support personnel, administrators, parents, our Native American committee members, alumni and representatives from each of your board districts.”
Chief Communications Officer Chris Payne will serve as chairman of the committee. The committee is expected to begin deliberations before the next board meeting and will meet every month thereafter.
“The expectation is that the committee will bring to the Board a recommendation concerning the use of the mascot by the December 14 board meeting,” Hartzler said.
Board Approves Policy to Allow for Electronic Distribution of Report Cards & Progress Reports
Board members on second reading approved a revision to Board Policy 5035 to allow school sites to inform parents about student progress and report cards through electronic means rather than printed materials. The Board reviewed the proposal during a first reading in July.
Dr. Todd Nelson, senior executive director of Research, Design and Assessment, said the revision to the policy involves two changes in practice.
The first change allows elementary teachers to inform parents using a variety of ways (documented phone call, email, or paper) when a student’s performance is possibly failing or has declined significantly.
The second change in practice removes the requirement for secondary schools to print and send home or mail report cards.
All secondary students have portal accounts to access their own progress and are shown how to use the student portal at school. When parents or students need a printed report card, they may print either a report card or an unofficial transcript from the portal. School personnel are also able to print report cards for parents upon request at any time.
This change will save the district more than $6,000 per year in mailing expenses and six to 10 days of personnel costs that recently increased because elementary report cards were also mailed home for spring semester.
Dr. Renee Cowan named Assistant Principal for Ellen Ochoa Elementary
The Board of Education approved the appointment of Dr. Renee Cowan as assistant principal for Ellen Ochoa Elementary. In addition, the Board approved the appointments of assistant principal interns Lauren Stauffer at Union High School and Mary Murray at Grove Elementary.
Cowan comes to Union from Sand Springs Public Schools where she served as a building principal since 2015. In addition to administrative experience, Cowan also spent more 10 years serving as a classroom teacher, reading specialist and instructional coach.
Cowan earned her doctorate degree in educational leadership, as well as her administration certification from Oral Roberts University. She earned her master’s degree in literacy from Mount Saint Mary College. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and English from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Cowan is currently pursuing her superintendent’s certification from Northeastern State University.
Mary Murray grew up in northwest Pennsylvania and earned a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education from the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. After college, Murray moved to Oklahoma to begin her career as a classroom teacher. During her time in the classroom, Murray attended Oklahoma State University and earned her master's degree in Educational Leadership.
Murray began her teaching career at William Penn Elementary in 2014, teaching first grade. She then taught third grade the following year. In 2016, Murray landed a job at Union Public Schools, teaching first grade at McAuliffe Elementary School. In her second year at McAuliffe, she began teaching second grade.
A “Union Lifer,” Lauren Stauffer has more than 16 years of experience in education, serving as a teacher at Union Public Schools since 2007. She was also a Site Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014. She has taught biomedical science, human body systems and other biology-related fields; is involved with the Project Lead The Way curriculum; and she has supervised teachers in science instruction. She also has coached basketball and softball and served as the 9th and 10th Grade leadership advisor. Before Stauffer came to Union, she also taught school in school districts in Rockwall and Houston, Texas. She returned to Union because it is her hometown.
Stauffer is completing a master’s degree in education leadership studies from Oklahoma State University and has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from OSU.
In other action, Board members: