Students at McMurray Middle School (McM) and Vashon High School (VHS) are finally starting to head back into classrooms in large numbers this week, after more than a year of learning remotely.
In-person learning at VHS and McM will take place four days a week, with the students at each school divided into two separate groups that will each attend school two days a week. All students will learn remotely on Fridays.
This plan means that approximately 135 students per day will fill McMurray’s building four days a week. At VHS, the number will be higher, with approximately 200 students in the building on in-person learning days.
The long-awaited return to school for these students immediately follows the district’s spring break vacation last week.
In an email prior to the break, Superintendent Slade McSheehy urged district families and staff to avoid high-risk situations for COVID-19 transmission during the break, such as multi-family gatherings, large crowds and airline travel. He asked those who couldn’t avoid those activities to consider quarantining and testing recommendations from the CDC.
Parents of more than 80% of VHS and McM students have opted into the hybrid learning plan, with 40% of those taking bus transportation to and from school. The remaining 20% of students have chosen to stay in fully remote learning.
A new video system, described by McM principal Greg Allison and VHS Principal Danny Rock at a recent Zoom Q and A for parents, has been devised to provide a more cohesive classroom environment for all students, regardless of whether they are attending remotely or in-person on any given day.
Students at home will now connect to a live video stream beamed from their teachers’ classrooms — meaning they will be able to see their classroom as well as speak up in class and have their voices heard by their in-person classmates.
Of course, COVID-era protocols are also in place inside both schools, including strict mask-wearing and social distancing for all.
Crowded lunchrooms are also a thing of the past.
Lunchtime will be streamlined into a grab-and-go service, with tables replaced by assigned seating in carefully spaced chairs. Students will also have opportunities to go outside at lunchtime.
Three different lunchtimes will be offered at McM, serving 40 to 50 students each; at VHS, there will be two lunchtimes for groups of about 100 students each.
The issue of safety was discussed in detail during the Q and A, with Rock saying policies and practices regarding dealing with possible exposures to students have recently been strengthened at VISD.
The changes — which came about earlier this month in the wake of the district’s handling of new cases among students that potentially exposed other students attending sports practices — include a more clear chain of command in terms of decision-making. Now, Public Health Seattle King County has sole responsibility to determine what actions should be taken by the district in future cases.
Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps will also play a stronger and more clearly defined role in the district that includes conducting contact tracing and investigations of incidents.
Classes officially started at VHS on Wednesday; at McM, classes will officially begin on Monday, April 19. This week, grade-by-grade orientations have been scheduled at the middle school; 8th-graders attend their orientation first, on Tuesday.
The goal of welcoming 8th-graders back first, Allison said, was to instill a sense of leadership and responsibility in the oldest students.
And at both VHS and McM, there have also been tours of the buildings for the youngest grades, who have already spent almost an entire school year as middle-schoolers or high-schoolers without ever actually stepping into their new school buildings.
Some extracurriculars are also being cautiously planned, said the principals, including club meetings, ultimate Frisbee and robotics. A limited in-person experience for theater students may be offered at VHS as well, and currently, both schools are finalizing extensive safety protocols for band.
Notably, an expanded summer school program is also in the planning stages; teachers were recently invited to submit proposals for enrichment programs for all as well as intervention programs for those who may have fallen behind in the past year, Rock said.
Superintendent requests raises for himself and others
At a March 25 school board meeting, Superintendent McSheehy presented a proposal for pay raises for classified administrative posts in the district, including the directors for business and operation, finances, food service, human resources, facilities, technology and alternative education.
Currently, the seven employees serving in these positions all receive salaries in the high five-figure or low six-figure range.
Their compensation is now up for review, McSheehy said, according to a matrix developed by the district created to spread out pay raises for different employment groups on a rolling, three-year basis.
The salary increases proposed for this small group of employees would come at a total cost of $51,000 for the district, and bring salaries more in line with what people in similar positions are paid in the Bainbridge, Coupeville, Granite Falls, Riverview and University Place school districts, he said.
The hikes would include a 15% salary increase for the director of food services, a 10% increase for the director of alternative education, and 7% increases each for the directors of facilities, technology, human resources and business and operations. The position of finance director for the district would receive a raise of only 2.7%.
Four of the staffers in these administrative posts also received salary increases of either 7% or 10% in 2018-19; two of these also received increases of almost 10% in 2017-18.
In the course of his district leadership, McSheehy said, his goal has been to make VISD’s salaries in all staff categories more closely align with those offered in comparable districts. He said all the salary increases for administrative positions in this and recent years were in keeping with that goal.
Going forward, he added, the need for repeated large increases would be eliminated as parity was achieved.
The proposal for the raises — which will be voted on at the next board meeting — seems certain to pass, as several board members took the opportunity to voice high praise for the work done by the group of administrators.
McSheehy also presented a draft of an addendum to his own employment contract that would raise his base annual salary from $175,000 to $180,000, as well as increase an additional percentage of that salary paid to him to invest in a retirement fund. That payment, in the proposed addendum, would now total $5,400. Additionally, McSheehy is also asking for his contract to be extended by one year. McSheehy took a pay cut of $2.7% in 2020-21; the new addendum to his contract would essentially restore that.
This measure, too, will be voted on at the next board meeting.