Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Drive Thru Graduation, Uncertain Fall

It's Memorial Day,  Monday May 25th.  The sad spring term is just about over.  This year, along with the soldiers who gave their lives for our country, we remember all the people taken by this awful virus.

We also mourn the loss of our former way of life.  Ball games, concerts, lectures, rallies, bars, restaurants, schools, parties -- it's all going to be different going forward. Even if we manage to get a treatment or vaccine relatively quickly, this feels like it will linger for a long time.

My daughter is eighteen, a graduating senior.  The bookends of her childhood are September 11, 2001 and Corona Spring 2020.

Drive Thru Graduation 

Graduation Plan - click to enlarge
I'm sorry this year's seniors didn't really get that magical spring term. Once college plans are all set for the fall there's no longer any particular reason to stress about classes or grades. I remember it was a new feeling for me.  It's a chance to think about what you want to do instead of what you have to do.

At least they still graduate on June 12.  This year's seniors are getting a drive thru graduation in the high school parking lot.  Each family drives up to the stage, gets out, and the student walks onto the stage and gets their diploma while family takes pictures. The stage includes, I kid you not, life-size cardboard cutouts of the usual district luminaries.

That's the current plan anyway, subject to change.  Each senior is given a time to arrive, grouped by advisory.  There is one vehicle per household allowed; load your family members in.  (I think the per household thing allows for two cars for students with divorced parents; seems wise.)  During the prestaging everyone stays in their cars; no cross car hugging.  Once ready the cars proceed one at a time to the stage in front of the ORHS multipurpose room.  It's expected that each car takes 90 to 120 seconds.

The plan is to start at 8:30 am.  Two hundred cars at 90 seconds a pop makes a five hour event; almost seven hours if we average the full two minutes.

The silver lining is we don't all have to sit around baking while the names are read.  The plan is for prerecorded performances and speeches to be posted graduation morning. The stage ceremony will be live-streamed, sure to be scintillating television.

For social distancing reasons the stage won't have too many actual people.  It's expected that the superintendent and school board chair will be on stage all day (and perhaps the principal and other ORHS administration, I didn't see anything about that). Other board members may come and go during the day.  A few appropriately distanced faculty members will line the route.  To make the event a bit more fun students are encouraged to decorate their caps and their cars.

On June 2 each senior will receive a bag containing their graduation invitation, their cap and gown, a Project Graduation gift and some other swag.  The bag includes a ceramic tile and markers; I think the plan is the student personalizes the tile and turns it in on graduation day. The school will use them to make a mural memorializing this novel term.  Keep your eye out for the administrators, faculty and counselors who will be personally delivering these bags to all seniors.

If large gatherings are allowed the district hopes to have a cookout this summer so everyone can be together one last time before they disperse to pursue their lives.

ORHS Grades Forms Due This Friday, May 29

The grading policy ended up pretty much as I outlined in the last post, pass/fail by default with an option for grades.  The one thing that was different was the principal decided that the forms are due this Friday.  The board had discussed allowing the students to wait until all their grades were posted to decide.  There's still another week of school after this one (last day June 5) but I think no new work will be assigned in the last week.

Please click to enlarge the May 12 email sent to students and the form a student fills out for each class that they request a grade.


Meals Program Continues

The federally funded program providing school breakfast and lunches to all students who request it will continue through the end of June. As usual, you need to submit the order form in the previous week.  The last two weeks of June there won't be any bus service, so folks will have to pick up their meals at ORHS, where they will be no-contact loading set up.

A similar program will exist in the summer from July 13 to August 14.   Unlike what we've been experiencing during the spring (and the past few summers) the district will charge for these meals.  (I think those whose qualify will get their free or reduced price meals.)  Pickup is required.

Future Uncertain

There are currently some big open questions.  What will school look like in the fall and beyond?  Will people be able to pay their property tax bill?  Will state and federal aid increase or decrease?  What happens if the district can't raise the money it appropriated on election day?  Are layoffs and increased class sizes tenable solutions?

The district is planning for five fall possibilities:

1) Full restore -- remote learning over
2) Restore then resurgence of COVID-19 and resumption of remote learning
3) 100% remote learning
4) Hybrid model, some students in school, some remote
5) Home option, where some families choose not to send some students to school

Apparently there have been conversations with the Portsmouth School District about partnering to provide some of these educational options.

As for the other questions, the board has formed a finance committee to plan. The first meeting was largely organizational. Their second meeting is tomorrow, Wednesday 6pm (stream), and in general they meet second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Tune in for some frank talk about possible harrowing futures.

I think all three towns have semiannual property taxes due July 1. July tax bills are always half the previous year's tax. Board Member Howland said Durham estimates that 60% of the homes have mortgages whose payments include property tax, and those are likely funded.  That to me means a small problem with July collections may indicate a big problem in December and beyond.

Oyster River Wins More Awards

USA Today in association with 24/7 Wall Street named Oyster River as the school district from which students are most likely to succeed in NH.

ORHS French teacher Barbara Milliken was a finalist for 2020 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year.  They gave the award to a teacher whose students are in prison, probably not quite as pleasant to teach as our own darlings.  Congratulations Ms. Milliken.

The superintendent announced that ORMS teacher Valerie Wolfson was named NH Social Studies Teacher of the Year.  Congratulations Ms. Wolfson.  Sorry, I couldn't find a link.

New Middle School Progresses

End of the world or not, the new middle school is proceeding apace.  There was an interior design presentation that was excellent.  I especially liked the Oyster River flowing through the open first floor, the current depositing students at the library, metaphorically.

There's a live feed so you may watch the work in progress.

Other News

The debate about the Superintendent trying to give some of his raise to the assistant superintendent moved out of sight into non-public session at the 5/6 board meeting, too bad.  We'll have to remember to look up how it finally turned out.  [Board Member Day says that the vote was to give each a 3% raise.  That was the original budget, so the board apparently rejected the superintendent's request to transfer 1.5% from him to the assistant superintendent. Honoring the superintendent's request would have saved the district around $700 (1.5% of the salary difference).]

The district is executing its one-to-one plan to get a laptop to every middle and high school student, grades five through twelve, next year.  Currently the middle schoolers and ninth grade are covered.   

That's about it; I'm going now to encourage my kids to finish all their assignments and wrap up this dismal term.