Education leaders discuss reopening plans during KASB `Lunch and Learn’

Three different districts with three different school reopening plans shared the same recipe for success — strong school boards, can-do staff and lots of community input.

“The community involvement in Hesston has just blown us away,” said Layne Frick, a member of the Hesston USD 460 board.

Frick, Hesston Superintendent Ben Proctor, Maize USD 266 Superintendent Chad Higgins and Emporia USD 253 Superintendent Kevin Case shared some of their experiences in reopening schools during KASB’s weekly “Lunch and Learn” zoom session on Wednesday.

Hesston, a district with about 820 students 35 miles north of Wichita, decided to bring as many students back to school as possible, even to the extent of having their seventh- and eighth-graders meeting in a conference center in order to main adequate social distancing. Despite the logistical challenges of moving students to another building, Proctor said, “Overall, it has worked really well.”

Maize, located outside Wichita and one of the fastest growing districts in Kansas with an enrollment of 7,800 students, implemented a hybrid model called Together for Tomorrow. Asked if his district has had any controversy in requiring students and staff wear masks in buildings, Higgins said, “Our board is very strong on masks.” He said without a mask mandate, school officials couldn’t say they were abiding by their motto that student safety is their No. 1 concern.

Emporia Superintendent Case said the school board moved cautiously with a hybrid plan because it wanted to “open once and do it right and do it well.” He said the district developed a list of students who had numerous at-risk indicators and is getting them into class. “We really felt our highest-need students need to be onsite every day,” Case said.

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