Gilpin County Schools celebrate blended learning

While In-Person Attendance Increases

By Curt Halsted

On January 19th at 7:03 pm, the first meeting Gilpin County School Board in 2021 was called to order amid a pandemic which has affected education in the last year in ways no one ever fathomed. The school district has gone from remote teaching, to a blended combination of remote and in-person learning. As one may expect, in-person learning has happened with many changes in how the school functions.

School Board Meetings Live-Streamed and Recorded

One adaptation was in how to run the school board meeting. While early on in the pandemic the meetings were livestreamed, the board recently went to in-person meetings with social distancing. Now the district is offering the best of both options. Gilpin County School Superintendent Dr. David MacKenzie explained how the meeting is being live-streamed on YouTube. To find the YouTube channel, simply search “GCSD Board Meeting” on YouTube. Remote audience members may participate during the Public Participation segment by sending an email to the Board Secretary, Joni Schmidt; with the comment or input. Dr. Mackenzie also shared that he is looking forward to getting better equipment to better facilitate the live streaming process.

School Board Members Recognized

To start things off, on behalf of the students and staff of the Gilpin County School District, Dr. MacKenzie acknowledged that January is School Board Recognition Month. He shared: “Our school board members have spent countless volunteer hours of unpaid time, working on the provision of the best possible education for our students during the most complicated school year in history. I’ll take a moment to say thank you to our board members for their extraordinary service children through these very extraordinary times.”

Vaccination of Gilpin School Staff and Policy Approvals

Dr. MacKenzie explained that the school was hopeful that staff would be vaccinated in the past week but due to limited vaccines, Governor Polis pushed that date back to March 1st. Dr. MacKenzie commented that “we are hopeful that we can get to it sooner.” The board approved changes in policies pertaining to Staff Leave of Absence, Donation Leave Guidelines, and Staff Bereavement. They also passed the cost analysis funds that will pay for research on the viability of the school connecting to the Black Hawk Central City Sanitation District.

Gilpin School District Avoids Spread of COVID-19

Dr. MacKenzie shared that the school district survived 14 calendar days after New Year’s Day without incidence of Covid-19 in the school. This highlighted a decision to attend school in-person after the increased risk from holiday travels. While there no public health order mandating districts go to remote learning during this time, there was a recommendation from the state that those days be remote. Gilpin School continues to avoid an outbreak, due in part to the safety measures enacted by the administration and sustained by the students and staff.

Principal’s Report, Increased In-Person Enrollment, and Student Engagement

Both Middle and High School Principal Alexis Donaldson and Heather Huntoon are hoping students will be on track with their learning despite the problems presented by the pandemic.  Ms. Donaldson announced that the MS/HS student count was 196 choosing in-person learning, 31 remote, and 18 online using the CDLS or PLATO programs. In the Elementary School, Ms. Huntoon reported that 142 students were choosing in-person learning, 42 remote, and 10 students online using CDLS.

Ms. Huntoon celebrated the high level of student engagement. She believes our students are staying on track. “Kids want to be there, and I think we are a little bit ahead of other schools because we have been doing in-person learning longer than other districts.” This also was attributed to the blended learning environment fostered by teachers. Blended learning is also called synchronous learning. Remote students participate “live” with in-person students at the same time via their computer interface. Students at home manage to feel they are still part of their class. They participate in whole class and small group learning activities, celebrations, and projects. Huntoon also celebrated the hiring of Beverly Schlager as an “Interventionist” to support kindergarten through third grade reading and math with funding from the READ Act.

Donaldson celebrated the start of the Winter Sports season with both girls and boys basketball teams and the cheer squad planning to participate in an amended schedule. She also announced there will be a virtual Science Bowl competition this year. Finally she shared the names of this year’s Valedictorian Damian Sonsino, and Salutatorian Blake Boulter.

Declining Enrollment, Financial Celebrations, and Concerns

Dr. MacKenzie celebrated that the district received $98,000 from the CARES Act (The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) and $150,000 from the passage of Colorado Proposition EE, Tobacco and E-Cigarette Tax Increase for Health and Education. The CARES Act funds can be spread out over three years, while the Prop EE dollars will go in the general fund. Dr. MacKenzie commented that this funding will more than likely allow the district to retain all staff for the 2021/2022 school year.

He also was concerned that revenue is down due to declining enrollment, and that he is concerned about the possibility of the per pupil amount the district receives from the state going down. He stated that “this depends on the legislature.” He also informed the School District that his contract is up for auto-renewal and that they may or may not want to do a formal evaluation.

At 7:31 pm the Gilpin County School Board Meeting was called to a close.

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