SAD 41 continues with remote learning

Stuart Hedstrom, Piscataquis Observer • May 1, 2020

MILO — Like their peers across the state amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, SAD 41 students have been receiving classroom instruction remotely for the last month and a half and will continue with this method through the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. Teachers and administrators have been adjusting along the way with the changes being incorporated into what is now known as an emergency learning plan. The approval and name change was formally OKed by the school board during an April 29 meeting conducted via Zoom.

“We are looking at the plan closely over the next month or so,” Superintendent Michael Wright said, saying district officials will continue to learn from what SAD 41 is doing should remote learning still need to be in place once classes resume after summer vacation.

“Our future direction for the fall, we will be told rather than have a choice,” he said with the Maine Department of Education likely to inform school districts of the method of instruction to be used then. 

“I think we need to be as prepared as possible and hope something’s around the corner to change this,” Wright said.

“It has been an interesting month or so to say the least, I was back in the school on April 15 to help staff start packing up their student’s belongings and workbooks to send home to continue their leaming,” Brownville Elementary School Principal Carol Smith wrote in her report. “It felt surreal like you were walking into a scene that was frozen in time. The students’ belongings were still in their desks and decorations for St Patrick’s Day were still up on the walls. Hard to put into words the feelings that go through you as you see cach student’s name on their belongings and picture their faces. Feels like they were ripped from us, as I’m sure it does for all educators in the country.”

“One of the challenges we are facing along with everyone else ,not just in this district, are students who are hard to reach,” she said. Smith said for pupils without internet access, hot spots have been set up for them with devices provided by the MDOE and/or paper packets of schoolwork have gone to their homes, with similar measures in place for other SAD 41 schools.

Milo Elementary Principal Angie Kelley said she wanted to take the opportunity to thank all of the school staff for their work under the challenging circumstances — a stance shared by all the administrators. 

“This couldn’t be possible without how hard they are working and how much they care,” Penquis Valley Middle School Principal Tina Dumond said. 

Penquis Valley High School Principal Michael Rollins said he and others are working on developing plans for an alternative to the traditional graduation ceremony. He said he has been checking on what other schools are doing and is formulating a plan that will be announced if the recognition he has in mind for the Class of 2020 meets all legal guidelines.

“We are cognizant of the need to recognize these seniors,” Wright said.

“When we met a few weeks ago we wanted to make sure whatever we did, it wasn’t virtual,” he added.

“These students deserve the best, even during these times and we at Penquis Valley want to make sure they get just that,” Rollins wrote in this report.

Shifting to the 2020-21 school year, Wright said he would be getting in touch with board members on scheduling budget workshops. The superintendent said he believed there would be a shortfall in education funding as a result of the pandemic, with Maine perhaps to be among the worst-hit states due to the high dependence of the economy on the tourism industry.

Board member Gary Chapman wondered if the SAD 41 budget referendum could be held on July 14, the new date for the state primary.

“That’s what we’ll shoot for, yes,” Wright responded. 

He said he and others across the state will wait and see if federal monies will help offset expected shortfalls in the state budget for education as individual district spending plans are developed. “It’s still very much up in the air but we move forward with our plan and our wants and our needs,” the superintendent said.