ENTERPRISE — Wallowa County schools were ready and rarin’ to go to this week to get back in class for the 2020-21 school year. Schools opened Tuesday, Sept. 8, in Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa.
Superintendents at all three districts have overseen the new realities of educating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced schools to close early for the year in March.
“I’m ecstatic to have the 2020-21 school year start,” said Erika Pinkerton, superintendent of the Enterprise School District. “The staff have worked diligently for both online learning and on-site learning to take place to provide a high-quality education in a safe environment.”
“We feel like we are ready,” Lance Homan, superintendent of Joseph Charter School said Thursday, Sept. 3. “There’s things we have to tweak, but we feel like we’re ready to go.”
“We are more than ready,” said Tammy Jones, superintendent of the Wallowa School District.
In fact, she said, they’ve been doing some early gatherings ahead of the regular start of school.
“This week has been one-on-one conferences with families and teachers about what school will be like,” Jones said. On Thursday morning, “We had a soft-opening where all the kids ... got bags with things they could use in (a) photo booth and parents took pictures.”
They also had “a kind of celebration outside,” she said, with a “get-to-know-you time.”
The schools all will maintain state guidelines for gatherings particularly at schools. Among those are face masks in most situations — including during sports play, a limit of one student per 35 square feet of space and organizing students into “cohorts” of no more than 50. The cohort restriction applies to students, teachers and staff. Plexiglas barriers will be set up in some areas.
“During the day, I can interact with no more than 50 people,” Jones said.
Homan said that as expected, there are changes.
“They’re lot more spread out than normal,” he said, adding that will be something for teachers and staff to enforce. “We know kids will probably be closer at times.”
He said the schools must undertake cleaning measures “more intense and more often.”
One such area will be during lunchtime in the cafeteria. He said students will be allowed in one cohort at a time and the cafeteria thoroughly cleaned before the next cohort arrives.
Jones said kids have been taught basics about social distancing.
“Hold out your arms and if you’re touching someone, you’re too close,” she said.
Changes in enrollment numbers vary among the three schools, as some are seeing increases with new people moving to the county and there are some decreases as parents opt for online or home-schooling.
Pinkerton couldn’t yet be sure about the enrollment at Enterprise school
“We will have a better feel for the actual numbers at the end of the first week,” she said. “We are down in enrollment compared to last year.”
She said some are opting for online school.
“We have 54 students enrolled with the Enterprise Online Virtual Academy K-12,” she said.
Homan said numbers appear about the same as last year, though they’re up a little. He said that while some students are opting for online or home school, JCS has gained a few who have moved into the area. He said they are not necessarily from larger metro areas and more likely from elsewhere in Eastern Oregon.
Jones said Wallowa’s enrollment is about two students higher than where the school ended last year. She said they’ve had some new students register and others have chosen to do comprehensive distance learning. She described the latter:
“It’s not like everything’s online, but it’s tied to the classroom so kids can interact with kids in class,” she said.
There seems to be little change in the courses the schools will be offering, the superintendents said.
Pinkerton said no courses have been eliminated in Enterprise schools, while Homan agreed but said there are changes.
“There’s definitely things we’ll not be able to offer at this time, but we haven’t eliminated anything,” he said.
Jones said the changes from the pandemic have altered the way things are taught and even expanded opportunities.
“We’ve been working on expanding the offerings for the kids,” she said.
She said there will be some different ways of teaching career and technical courses that are taught virtually and the school has found an opportunity to get instruction for advanced Spanish and math courses that might not otherwise be available.
As for sports, four sports seasons have been planned with a limited, 5-on-5 touch football season and a volleyball season planned for fall. Other sports are planned for the second, third and fourth seasons.
As Homan said, after a summer of uncertainty, all three districts are eager to get going for the year.
“We’re just excited to get the kids back and get moving this year,” he said.