The Jackson R-2 School District announced a decline in illnesses in the district during its regular school board meeting on Feb. 8. The district had to close school buildings on Jan. 21 and Jan. 24 due to a rise in student and staff member illnesses, including COVID-19, the flu and strep throat.
Associate Superintendent Jessica Maxwell reported that the surge in COVID-19 number, as well as other illnesses, had declined rapidly since the closures.
“At that point in time, we had 500 students affected – whether that be ‘masking and monitor’ or actually testing positive,” Maxwell said. “Now we only have 75 students affected, which is a huge and drastic difference.”
During the same period, staff member cases have also gone down, starting with 46 staff members affected during the closure and 24 staff members were affected at the time of the meeting.
The school board held a special Zoom meeting on Jan. 25, eliminating COVID-19 contact tracing within the schools. Smith said the change was needed due to the high number of cases and the inability for the contact tracers to effectively contact trace in that scenario.
Maxwell said during the Feb. 8 meeting that there have been no signs of a negative impact in the schools since contact tracing was eliminated.
In other action:
• The district has started the process to add a sixth student resource officer (SRO) from the Jackson Police Department for the upcoming school year.
Associate Superintendent Keenan Kinder said the district has already met with the police department about the desire to add an additional SRO, and the city has already approved adding the position.
“It is a joint effort, so it can’t just be on our end,” Kinder said. Jackson R-2 pays a portion of the SRO’s salary and benefits based on the percentage of time utilized by the school district.
Kinder said there have been police officers who have shown interest in taking the position, with a screening and interviewing process scheduled for this spring.
“Hopefully by the beginning of school in August, we will have a sixth SRO in place,” Kinder said. “The five we already have do a great job.”
• The district’s strategic planning process is now underway, with meetings beginning with district staff. Superintendent Scott Smith said they have already had five strategic planning meetings with district staff members over the past few weeks and future meetings with staff members are scheduled through the first part of March.
“From that point, we plan to start going out into the community and having some community meetings as well as meetings with parent groups to get their input,” Smith said. “We are slated to form a larger group at the middle or end of April, where we will bring around 50 representatives in to hone in on what we’ve heard to develop the actual goals.”
Smith said the district is still on track to present goals and action items formed through the strategic planning process to the board by August. The district is completing the strategic planning process internally, with a third-party consultant assisting in the development of the final goals.
• The district has purchased a bag-packaging machine from Co-Op Service Center in Jackson to help bag salt for future winter weather events. Kinder said the machine, which could also be used for bulk seed bagging, will help the district buy salt in bulk.
“We have found a good distributor, and we are going to bag it at the warehouse and put it in different buildings,” Kinder said. “The product that we are buying is better than what you can buy pre-bagged.”
Kinder estimated that around 4,000 pounds of salt was purchased for the recent winter weather at the beginning of the month. The district also used around 3,000 pounds of gravel put down by the district.
The district dismissed early on Feb. 2 due to the incoming weather and school buildings were closed from Feb. 3 through Feb. 7 due to hazardous road conditions. Students were taught virtually during the school closure.
“Everybody wanted to get back in school on Monday [Feb. 7], but we couldn’t make it happen,” Kinder said. “The maintenance guys worked really hard all day Saturday and Sunday. The campus was ready, but the roads just wouldn’t allow us to open.”
In addition, bus drivers drove their routes on Feb. 7 to see if the roads would be safe for their bus. Kinder said families were called if the bus was unable to pick up students at their regular stop due to road conditions when the school buildings reopened on Feb. 8. “We got back in school today and it was no small feat,” Kinder said.
• Assistant Superintendent Matt Lacy reported that the district’s launch of its new substitute teacher scheduling system ReadySub has successfully led to more substitute teacher requests being filled.
“By all accounts, I think its been going very well,” Lacy said. “It gives some more ownership for teachers to be able to select substitutes and set preferences, and it allows substitutes to accept assignment that they feel they are best suited for.”
The district began using ReadySub at the beginning of the spring semester on Jan. 4. Lacy said the system helped determine the need to close the schools due to illness for two days in January, as district administration could see how many substitute teacher requests were not filled for those days.
“With any new program, there are bumps and bruises during implementation, but I think we are working out the kinks,” Lacy said. “It’s been a valuable addition to our school and it’s helped the faculty.”
• The district is currently working on renewing its health insurance for the upcoming school year, with renewal rates from insurance companies due by Feb. 22.
“We are still hopeful for a favorable renewal. We are waiting on some insurance companies to get back to us, but our trend has been very positive this year – much more positive than what it has been the past few years.”