Le Monde Immersion Board Meeting Minutes
Atlas Immersion Academy Parking Lot, Portland OR
(Outdoor Meeting Due to Covid)
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Called to order 12:06pm
Board: Shouka Rezvani (non-voting), Ben Melix-Stanciu (via phone), Ali Garfinkle, Michal McCamman, Dory Hobbs, Jarod Hobbs, Mark Williams, and Karen Kitchen. Parents and teachers in attendance.
- The board approved consents resolutions approving Q2 2020 Financials, the decision to do comprehensive distance learning until after Spring Break, adoption of the All Students Belong Policy, approval of Form 990 for 2020, and same Officers to remain in same roles for 2021.
- Discussion Re Reopening Considerations and Public Comment
Shouka prefaced the conversation by saying she sees a lot of uniformity across districts and schools and so she feels like she has a strong sense of our general community needs. Combined with conversations she has had, she feels that our community likely follows the bell curve trend that is found across US schools where 67-70% or more express the desire for as much in-person learning as feasible. She used that as a premise in her thinking.
Starting with the premise that most families want to be in person to the maximum extent possible, she spoke with teachers individually, in grade bands, and as a groups to receive their recommendations for how best to proceed for the rest of the year.
Uniformly, K-3 teachers feel the best result given where we are in the year will come from continuing in distance learning through the end of this year, but adding in scheduled primarily social/emotional time onsite (2 hours per week for ½ class to have fun together and French practice). There is wide recognition that children need social interaction and this option creates an opportunity to have some social interaction onsite weekly. Shouka acknowledged that for some families distance learning is very difficult and even impossible, but the teachers note that most of the children in this age range are engaged, showing up for class, and participating.
4th and 5th grade staff expressed the desire to be in person to the extent feasible. Teachers are seeing a lot of disengagement from students, especially recently. Because these students often don’t have parent support, they are more likely to lose focus and disengage without parent knowledge, and teachers feel they would be more effective in person.
6th – 8th grade teachers (all but 2) feel that from an academic standpoint continuing in distance learning would be best for the majority of students. They report that most of the students are working well with distance learning. They feel that transitioning to in person instruction may negatively impact academics and will reduce what can be covered in the curriculum. It will likely also reduce fun things like electives to fit in-person instruction. While trying to prepare kids for high school, losing academic time does not feel like the best idea. That said, teachers acknowledge that parents/families have a strong desire to be in-person and might not hear their message. Teachers also acknowledge that some kids are really struggling. It is not unusual to have some emotional turmoil in this age group, and the pandemic situation is much more challenging. Transitions this late in the year are generally a bad idea (bad for teachers and kids). With that belief, they think it will be hard to convince parent community that remaining in distance is the best idea, so they are willing to return onsite and will work collaboratively to cover for those teachers not comfortable yet with in-person learning due to family safety concerns.
Given teacher recommendations, Shouka drafted a proposed letter outlining the suggested approach for this year that she disseminated for board consideration.
Shouka noted that as a charter, there are many additional challenges to consider in moving to a hybrid model as compared with district schools. For example Le Monde has no IT support, and due to the pandemic no easy access to qualified subs if teachers become ill. We have no facilities department, and Shouka has concerns about needed upgrades as the internet won’t support the load needed for all of the students and the electrical needs upgrading for the technology and the air purifiers. She is working with contractors to address these building issues, but it reflects some of the many additional layers that she must address to make sure that the school can be effective.
Amplifying on the draft proposal, the biggest concern at lower grade levels is around the tough transition and likely having to simulcast from classrooms. The reality is that little kids haven’t been in school all year, and these transitions will be simulcast during the learning curve. The teachers feel it will be more successful and equitable to start this transition at the beginning of the year next year, when an always rough start has the payoff of being for a full year, not just a few months.
Another challenge is that PPS has told the schools that Special Education services will remain in distance learning and will not come in-person.
To recap, this is the accurate recommendations of teachers – K-3 remain distanced with social time; 4-5 hybrid two days per week; 6-8 also distanced but open/willing to come back to school with acknowledgement that it will come with educational hit.
There are parents on both sides of the spectrum, some who want to remain in distance learnings, and some who simply can’t support distance learning and have disengaged, though most likely fall in the realm of wanting to return in person.
Shouka has researched and been implementing safety protocols since the start of the pandemic, with items such as upgraded HVAC, ionization purifier in air ducts, purchased PPE, and installing plexiglass barriers. The district has just given us access to their ability to bulk- purchase some of the required safety items, which previously were difficult to source. ODE just this week finally gave superintendents and principals access to a webinar by ventilation experts about viral spread. She feels that she has been provided more information now known such as where to put the air purifiers (a lot of mixed information out there). Cumulatively, Shouka feels that she has enough information to create a safer environment (not risk free). We have 395 students plus 35 staff – fitting everyone in the building will take time. She feels graduated re- entry of students is a safer approach (bringing groups gradually to make sure flow and logistics are working). We need to allow time to make mistakes and adjust paths before everyone is on site. Shouka recently learned how to use CO2 meters to have a real time measure of air quality with a room full of people in all the classrooms, which is supposed to directly correlate to potential viral spread.
She recognizes that reasonable minds can differ and some families still will have concerns about being in person, and she has concerns as well, but believes given guidance that if we follow protocols with fidelity we can transition in person relatively safely. Still, there are even more additional considerations in deciding a model, such as equitable considerations for working families to come onsite for only 2 hours per day, social emotional impacts, academic impacts; a lot is going into the decision-making. All of those considerations went into making the letter proposal as written, as Shouka believes based on teacher input that this is what we can do safely and with the support of the staff. Our staff has pushed themselves throughout this year, and also with these proposals. Online learning was not an easy pivot and we quickly implemented new technology when we previously had been a low tech school. There are financial considerations and unknowns, as to date the school has not received any ESSER funds. This time of year everyone is tired, and so staff feel the less transitions we do the better. Given that the teachers have invested a lot of time providing their proposal, if we don’t consider it we are not evidencing trust. K-3 recommends limiting time in person so that they can spend on more on instruction and small group support work; lose a lot of academic time by going in person. A lot of work that goes into teaching transitions and routines and processes is done in the beginning of the year.
Jarod would like to refine the question to be more about risk tolerance. Reviewing facilities upgrades, he recognizes that we are starting from a good place. Jarod wants to ask benefits/costs of diverging from guidelines about reopening k-3 and would like to only send scientific explanations directly from government agencies such as the CDC.
Dory worries about attrition to PPS and wondered if staff has considered it. Dory would like to see more in person options for K-3.
Board discussed various potential hybrid models. Can we do one class at home virtual and one class in person? No, due to space constraints, only one-half of each class can be in classrooms at a time. Instruction must be provided by a licensed or registered teacher, and the school must have at least half of teachers be licensed. We are at that max, and don’t easily find licensed French immersion teachers with visas to work in the US.
The 2-2-2 model (2 hours in person) with AM cohort, distance learner cohort, and PM cohort does not feel feasible or ideal for people who work full time. It is a lot of transition for limited additional academic time for the remaining two months.
Jarod wants to switch the question –what do we need to do to allow ½ of the classes to be in person? Staff is a limiting factor – double the staff or simulcasting. Speaking to the staffing question, Shouka has been advertising/publicizing assistant positions and job listings for teachers. It is very challenging to hire licensed teachers right now, French immersion or otherwise. She has also already applied to ODE for a waiver of the licensing requirement, but that is a process that takes time.
Parent in attendance at meeting says that a survey will go a long way. Shouka says she acknowledges that people want to be heard, but she feels the need to make sure that the survey is not misleading. The district asked for opinions while already declaring a model—what is the point of that? It feels like making people waste their time—we known that the supermajority of parents want to be onsite to the extent feasible.
One parent asks about contact tracing. Shouka says we will likely have to rely on the county which is overloaded. If someone in the cohort has a positive test the full cohort is sent home for two weeks.
Asking for more transparency; there is a lot of experience with grade levels on the board level.
Parent asked how is retention for next year with staff? Parent expresses concern that staff might be burned out. Parents want teachers to teach with joy. Shouka says staff are tired, but almost all have expressed that they plan to return next year.
Can parents contribute more financially to the school? Shouka says she has intentionally tried not to ask too much of families this year. School is tracking on budget because she applied for a PPP loan that was converted to a grant, and that will help free up budget to address the uncertainties we anticipate continuing into at least next year. That said, we will continue to always need money. We have offered small bonuses, and should give more in these times of stress, but we need to be financially prudent because new funding is unclear.
Suggestion is made that a town hall will allow parents heard, but we recognize we need to frame up do-able possibilities. For a survey, we hoped to hear from staff first as a starting point. For a town hall meeting or a survey, we can question by grade: do you want to stay distance or come to school, do you need masks or a computer? We can also ask an open ended question to ask more about families at who are struggling. This could help teachers and staff help families (not just technical and Covid questions).
Shouka recognizes this environment different and social/emotional needs are very important. She confirms that with teacher input recommending different approaches with different grades to meet varying needs. Individual needs will be different because where people are coming from is so different. She has had a hard time coming up with other than an open-ended survey, as she knows needs are so diverse. If we can do a thoughtful job of coming up with survey questions and not set unrealistic expectations, hearing the community will earn goodwill.
Does it make sense to break up K-3 to get K back in the classroom? We need to be consistent in following metrics across the board.
Ben likes the thorough discussion and thinks that the K-3 families will feel shock.
Karen feels frustrated that as a teacher she has not being able to receive the vaccine yet. She says that teachers and PPS district trying to appease the community, making it up day by day. She likes the idea of a survey, but that competes with urgency. Feels we should focus on the whole student: social emotional/academics/ physical/spiritual needs. What isn’t working and how can we tweak it instead of focusing on urgency? Even district is needing to upgrade buildings and technology for hybrid learning. Karen expresses admiration and respect for Shouka and the teachers for the kind of year teachers are enduring, still making school engaging while there is poverty and struggling children. Until we can assure parents we have all of the supports in place, we are putting a lot on the teachers. Too many unknowns. We also haven’t talked about the new Covid variants. She agrees that a survey needs to be useful so we don’t waste parents’ time.
Mark thanks all of the teachers and Shouka. He recognizes the many long hours put in this year and that it has been tough for parents too. Having a survey polling others could be good but we will not be able to please everyone. So many variables are out of our control. Mark doesn’t have a strong opinion and vacillates. He recognizes the high level of instruction—to him Le Monde feels more like a private school education in terms of being high quality. He feels very fortunate. Kids benefit from in-person but with only a few months left in school we are making things work, although it is a challenge.
A parent mentions that it would be helpful for any survey about whether to return in hybrid should include what school will not look like. What school will look like/won’t look like will impact decisions. Bullet points clearly writing out what things will not look like to frame up expectations. ODE provides so much detail and regulation, all out of our control, and the burden will fall on the staff.
Michal thinks the recommendation letter makes a lot of sense and reasons are well thought out, probably with so much thought and anguish. She hears that some would like more input earlier but recognizes that everyone has been working so hard.
One parent likes the compromise and wants to see a useful survey.
Teachers feel supported and heard by the board. They appreciate that we are listening and having conversations. They don’t see that staff wants to leave and overall they feel appreciated.
Jarod asked why all of grade K-3 is the same—don’t they have different considerations? Shouka mentions that she did approach each grade level separately. The teachers submitted a letter together because after independently thinking about it they came to the same approach.
Shouka reaffirms—this suggested approach isn’t about next year. Everyone hopes to be able to do more in person next year, and Shouka is feeling optimistic this will be the case, especially with broader vaccinations and possibly a reduction in the school distancing requirements.
Moving towards a Board decision, we do need to survey classes, especially lower grades. This needs to be framed for families because there is a finite realm of possibilities. Shouka can do a live webinar this week with a Q & A with staff/teacher representation. This format can help share what teachers are comfortable: here is where we are and what we are proposing and why. Boil down today’s conversation to an outline of presentation and thought process of re- opening, here are our challenges and reality and constraints.
Discussion about whether to send a letter first or just announce a webinar. Jarod feels that the tone in the letter needs to be changed and suggested his preferences. The letter can be revised to be shortened and only include government recommendations. Board approves sending an edited letter, sent out with a set webinar date option for families with Q & A, to be followed by a hopefully meaningful survey.
Other school news: There is a lot going in classes virtually, including Zoo encounters, science Bodyvox, OMSI labs, virtual plays with Oregon Children’s Theater. MAP testing is being completed. Shouka is conducting employee reviews but timing is slow with everything else going on. Almost all staff is planning to come back. Trying to obtain required visas for certain staff for next year. She held a virtual open house for next year’s enrollment with Aurelie, which had good attendance and was well received. Getting a lot of applications for a limited number of spots.
- Financial and Fundraising Update
Sent around financials to board, looking fine because of PPP grant. May be getting ESSER funds (might be $250,000) could pay ourselves back for all of our COVID expenditures and hire
additional staff; don’t know if that will come through, as nothing has come to date. Michal is organizing a virtual dance-a thon through Young Audiences, are getting business support contributions. Michal asking for teacher support, please talk about it with classes. This event will happen March 12th in afternoon. All students can participate even if they don’t have sponsors. Michal can Zoom classes to talk about it. Benefits the arts (which we can all use right now)!
- Status Update on Waiver Requests
Shouka submitted the waiver to change the licensing requirements which will help hire more diverse and qualified teachers. Hiring qualified French immersion teachers who have authorization to work in the US is a continuing challenge for our school. The waiver process includes a hearing with ODE and the district must give support to our petition. The district has indicated support down to a 25% for the licensing. Shouka will have a hearing with ODE to get approved. Also asked the district liaison whether they would support a waiver allowing a French assessment as a condition of enrollment to allow us to consider upper grades enrollments, but the district is unable to consider yet because of their workload but will consider for a future round if we submit a formal waiver request. ODE has implied that without district support they will not pass the waiver.
- Le Monde Parent Update
Jen Stack reports there was a slow start to the year but more events are starting up. Science Fair on April 21st. There are three team proposals and anyone can attend (and comment on the site, which will be helpful for the participants). OBOB taking place April 6 and 7th for Middle School. Virtual coffee dates planned for parents. Social organizers from each class putting together activities for each class, such as lego club, online drawing class, playdates and hikes (and possibly skiing!). Outreach with Blachett House to make sack lunches and Covid Care kits. Jen shared that Le Monde families are awesome about filling up volunteer spots! Great job community! Jen expresses appreciation to Shouka and teachers.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Group Update
DEI is a parent-run group, organized to promote diversity, equity and inclusivity. Parent Sue Bickerstaff shared about the new community of parents who are engaged, and the group has had a number of recent events. In December the group held a book sale. The first newsletter has been published by the committee, geared towards families and focused on French speaking countries. The next newsletter will come out in April and will focus on Senegal. The group hosted the BIPOC connection hour for families with children of color. February 28th is a recital for Black History Month (one hour kids performing and an art sale). Parent/Adult events “not a book club” first meeting will discuss a podcast on March 18. Virtual Story Time on March 14 highlights Habiba Haddo, a theater performer and dancer who will focus on West African stories on March 14 at 5pm. The next quarterly meeting will take place April 8th at 6pm. Folks can visit their website for more information about the group: https://lemondediversityequityinclusion.com/
Meeting adjourned at 2:44pm.