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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Fort Thomas School District Lays Out Plan for End of School Year

By Robin Gee

Following Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s announcement that schools in the state would not resume in-person classes this year, the Fort Thomas Independent Schools District announced its plan for the end of the school year.

Officials and educators had been working since the start of the stay-at-home orders on adjusting school schedules and business in light of a possible shut down or changes in health and safety guidelines.

The Fort Thomas School Board has been meeting online to work on plans and held its April school board meeting online April 20. Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jamee Flaherty shared details of the proposed revised 2019-2020 school calendar with board members.

The last day for students will be May 21, a day earlier than initially planned, and the closing day for teachers will be May 22. Flaherty noted that AP testing will proceed as planned in May, and the new end date will not affect those schedules.

Snapshot of proposed revision of 2019-2020 school year. With the news that the school year would end without in-person learning, the Fort Thomas Independent Schools District has adjusted the school year schedule.

The new school calendar also builds in four off-days for students in May — Friday, May 1; Monday, May 4; Friday, May 15 and Monday, May 18, giving students four-day weeks. Teachers will work on those days, which will allow them days to review and work on learning plans.

Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser explained: "Teachers would still have their contract days even though students would have fewer days in the calendar. We wanted to make sure that we had some days to do some personalized planning for students. We recognize our teachers have worked very very diligently, very hard. We may have some students that have some specific skills that they need to work on in May or some enrichment activities, so this gives our teachers some think about what students might need to work on specific skills and then that way they can start those plans in May."

The extra planning time would allow for teachers to consult with their colleagues on different grade levels to ensure the students were well-prepared for their next school year. " that we can be all caught up and very aligned and planned before we get to next school year," she said.

The proposed calendar was approved by the board.

Praise for students, teachers, staff and families

Dr. Cheser took the opportunity to thank and praise all for their cooperation and hard work during such a difficult and uncertain period.

"We cannot say enough about the way our teachers, our staff, our students, our leaders, community and families rallied around. We went from Friday in school buildings to Monday not in school buildings, and no one missed a beat. It was absolutely phenomenal...I can’t imagine anyone doing better than our teachers and our kids and our families."

She noted that, thanks to the foresight of educators and the board that made an investment in providing students with devices, focusing on school platforms such as Schoolology and making sure students have all the resources they need, the transition from traditional to nontraditional instruction was "seamless."

The superintendent also noted somewhat unexpected positive highlights of the switch. "I had a meeting with my Student Advisory Council, and they talked about all the positives that were happening. They said they felt super connected to their teachers. They could ask a question and get an answer right back."

The students told her that that normally some students are shy and might not ask questions in front of others in their classroom, but the one-on-one communication available through the online platforms has allowed some new opportunities and ways to communicate with their teachers and even to get to know other classmates they might not have known very well otherwise.

While the situation is not optimal, Dr. Cheser said, educators and students may be able to use the situation as a learning experience and find out ways to carry over some of the positive things they’ve discovered into classrooms in the future.

Dr. Cheser also had praise for school staff noting that custodial staff has been busy cleaning all the buildings, food service workers have been cleaning and preparing thousands of meals that bus drivers and monitors have been delivering to 200 students each day. She thanked office and support staff for finding new ways to do their work from home, and she thanked instructional assistants for remaining in contact with students throughout.

Looking ahead for alternative ways to celebrate and honor graduates

Discussion with the school board members turned to graduation and end-of-the-year student events that will not happen as they normally would. Dr. Cheser said the high school is continuing to explore ideas for celebrating seniors and all students. Highlands High School Principal Matthew Bertasso and staff are working on the issue and will announce plans soon.

Board Chair Karen Allen said, "I hope we can find a way. My heart does break for those seniors, their parents. Those things that are part of senior experiences will not happen, but I hope we can find creative ways to allow those students a moment."

Dr. Cheser said the schools are looking at ways to allow graduating seniors some closure. This may include bringing them back for special recognition and events next fall.

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