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LOA set to open next week

July 31, 2020 - 00:00
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    Lake Oconee Academy will begin classes on Thursday, Aug. 6 with many plans in place for social distancing and other measures. Photo courtesy Free-Photos via Pixabay

Lake Oconee Academy will kick off the 2020-21 school year next Thursday, Aug. 6, with a blend of in-person and distance learning.

Dr. Otho Tucker, LOA’s CEO, said in a special called meeting of the LOA Board of Governors on Monday, July 27, that around 75 percent of the student population will be on campus and the other 25 percent or so will use virtual learning methods. That determination was made based on data collected from parent surveys, which showed a majority preference to on-campus instruction.

Monday’s meeting essentially served as a Q&A between the BOG, LOA’s executive team and the school’s Foundation board. Numerous administrators and staff members gave an overview of how things will function at LOA beginning on the first day of school next week.

School stats

  • School start date: Thursday, Aug. 6
  • Percent of students on campus: 75%
  • Percent of students using virtual learning: 25%

Tucker said the process of preparing for the upcoming semester was a “very fluid” ordeal. At the heart of every consideration, though, was the desire to bring students back to campus.

“Lake Oconee Academy was never designed to be an online school,” Tucker said. “Even though we’ve been working the last couple of years to bring technology into our program, it doesn’t mean that we ever meant to be strictly an online school.”

Tucker then added that the goal is to bring all students back to the school’s premises “as soon as we possibly can.”

The meeting continued with Cheryl Lenenski, the school’s college and career counselor, addressing those involved.

Lenenski said she is working to find the best ways of helping students prepare for their post-LOA plans. She said this will bring challenges due to the fluid testing situation across the country, plus potential changes to college admissions.

LOA academic advisor Amanda Etheridge discussed the school’s plans to spread out students who physically return to school. She noted they will be spread out within their classrooms. The upper grades will have around 20 students in each grouping.

Etheridge also said the school is working to find the best lunch schedules to ensure that students can space out from one another.

Testing coordinator Ashley Funderburke talked about the school’s plan for standardized testing this school year. The state of Georgia applied for a waiver to exempt students from mandated tests this year, but LOA plans to use its own individual testing process to measure students’ development.

The school will use MAP testing to measure students’ baseline numbers in August. Toward the end of the year, students will take the test again to determine their level of improvement.

In that same vein, Jay Cawley, LOA’s director of technology, was the next speaker and he said LOA is using increased technology, including the implementation of a new learning management system called Canvas.

Considering there will still be many students learning away from campus, Cawley said one of his primary objectives all summer was making sure the school had the resources to help those students. He said he focused on “equity and access” in order to ensure each student can continue learning.

Athletic director Chris Ingle discussed the re-implementation of sports, which began earlier this summer when the Georgia High School Association allowed student-athletes back on campuses. Ingle said every LOA student-athlete enters and exits the same door, gets their temperatures checked each day and that doors remain open for any indoor practices.

Natasha Cannon, who directs the school’s pre-K program, said pre-K students will be divided into small groups. They could also have their schedules altered to allow for other measures to be in place. Cannon said the pre-K will run as planned for the first nine week of school.

Jennifer Harper addressed teacher support and training regarding new resources being implemented this year. Harper brought up the Canvas system again and said it will allow a more personalized approach for each student. She said that would have been implemented even without the COVID-19 concerns.

School nurse Salli Fedelem addressed the school’s plans for ensuring the student’s health and safety. Fedelem noted that the school closely monitors all updated information regarding the coronavirus.

She said there will be kiosks and handheld devices used to monitor the temperatures of students and staff members. There will also be directional signs in the hallways. Fedelem assured that LOA is following all guidelines to try and keep its staff members and students safe.

LOA COO Dr. Chris Harth told the Foundation board members that he and the other school administrators are thinking “creatively and practically” about how to apply guidelines to best serve students. Harth said the school will stay on top of changing guidelines.

After those presentations, the Foundation board members were asked whether they had any questions.

One question centered on the viability of sports on campus.

Ingle said GHSA received only 300 reports of positive COVID-19 cases earlier this summer. In total, the GHSA oversees about 450,000 students, although many of them are not currently practicing because their sports are not in season.

Ingle argued that most kids contracting the virus are doing so away from their schools and sports teams.

“Churches and indoor gatherings have been where it comes from, and then they spend time together socially outside of school and that’s how it’s spreading,” Ingle said. “Because of the measures that we do at school, it’s not spreading here. That’s why we feel the way we do about the classrooms and the courts and the fields. If you socially distance, you wear a mask and you wash your hands multiple times a day, you’re gonna be OK.”

Tucker added that the school believes returning students to schedules and routines will help slow the spread of the virus.

Another question from the Foundation board was about how well the teachers have embraced the changes.

The administrators responded by saying there were some challenges but, for the teachers who committed to training, they have seen success in learning new systems. The administration uses various means to help teachers learn how to use their new resources.

The next question was about how the spread-out learning will look on campus.

Some high school students will be in classrooms while others are elsewhere watching via a live video stream. For the younger students, such as kindergarteners, teachers could work solely with one group for a period of time and then focus on the other through online means as well.

The final question from the Foundation members was about the conflicting data that gets reported by some news outlets. The administrators assured that the school’s decision-makers are only making their decisions based on reliable, vetted sources.

Before the end of Monday’s meeting, the BOG voted in favor of one action item.

The school will make a purchase for ionization units to go in its buildings. According to Tucker, the Greene County School System will cover the cost for the units in LOA’s original buildings via ESPLOST funds but, for those controlled by the Foundation, the cost will come out of LOA’s funds.

The BOG approved to buy the units at a total cost of $89,000.

Tucker said the units will last a long time and, in addition to helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, they will also help stop the spread of the flu and other viruses.