UPDATES & INFO: FROM JOE GRATA, BOARD PRESIDENT
Aug. 24 -- Teachers returned to school today, starting five “in-service” days of training instead of the usual three days, to be well prepared for the resumption of in-person and on-line classes for students beginning next week.
Not only has planning continued over summer, but the administration, support staff and the Belle Vernon Area Board of Education have been working extra hard to deal with the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s a partial list of the more significant projects and changes, some of which continue to be a work in progress:
Preparing comprehensive health, safety and alternative plans for the resumption of classes, using a “hybrid model” that will provide in-person classes for two days a week until such time as the district is able to return to traditional full-time operations.
Synchronous learning will be in effect on those days when students are not physically present, including Wednesday, a day set aside for deep cleaning of all facilities.
Unfortunately, like other school districts, BVA must deal with sometimes unclear rules, regulations and policies from state and federal governments, all while trying to develop consist plans for social distancing, masks, sanitization, computer access and other issues.
Because the needs of our younger students differ from those of older students, the task has been made difficult. Because some parents are not sending their children back to school by opting for all-virtual instruction, the difficulty is compounded.
We ask that parents and guardians be patient and understanding, and to regularly check our website, www.bvasd.net, and our other communications resources, including registering for Peach Jar announcements via the internet, in order to keep up to date.
While you can find a Student Enrollment Form at our website, it really should have been completed by now. We encourage you to read the 32-page Health and Safety Plan, learn about the BVA eAcademy that the district offers, watch the staff-produced video, “We Can’t Wait to See You BVA,” and familiarize youself with the wealth of information that’s available, including a Q.-and A.
Meanwhile, a Sapphire Community Parent Portal that the board approved before COVID-19 struck has been implemented. The improved service, replacing eSchools, will provide critical, up-to-date information about attendance, grades, homerooms, class schedules and bus routes.
Also this week, the administration will be distributing devices to students who have indicated on their enrollment forms that they do not have one. The board has been in the process of securing about 500 IPads/Chromebooks. Some of those devices are being obtained through generous donations from the community.
Be assured that staff – from administrators and teachers to custodial workers and bus-van drivers – is doing everything possible to protect health and safety while allowing us to continue meaningful education and offer all possible extracurricular activities.
Adopting a 2020-21 operating budget that did not raise property taxes, partly as a result of prudent cost-savings decisions and partly out of consideration of financial challenges faced by wage earners and local businesses.
The board and administration are being diligent about controlling spending, but not at the expense of putting staff or students at risk during these uncertain time. Unfortunately, more parents have enrolled their children in charter/cyber schools, placing an extra burden on the budget and, thereby, taxpayers.
Upgrading buildings and grounds, including paving, sidewalks, security cameras and public address systems; creating a new entrance to the Marion/BVAMS Campus; signage; adding a long-needed elevator at Belle Vernon Area Middle School and a standby generator at the Administration Building; replacing worn old windows with energy-efficient windows.
The district is the midst of remodeling and re-purposing the former Rostraver Middle School, not only for athletics but for multiple uses including a meeting room and up to four classrooms if we need to accommodate future growth or reconfiguration.
The projects are part of a proactive, ongoing capital improvements program that began several years ago. They will extend the life of buildings by a generation and modernize facilities for students, staff and community.
Past work fortuitously included upgrading HVAC systems to exchange and introduce fresh air into classrooms as recommended by health experts to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Securing approximately $600,000 under the federal CARES Act to cover extraordinary expenses associated with the pandemic and to further provide for health and safety.
Here’s how the money is being spent:
Purchase of 169 IPads (Others are being secured through lease-purchase agreements). Bottle fillers instead of water fountains. Personal protection equipment such as masks, face shields and gloves. Special cleaning supplies and equipment to sanitize buses, classrooms and common areas. Temperature scanners; plexiglass dividers; signage. Extra art supplies to limit sharing. Tutoring to remediate learning deficits from spring after classes were suspended. Technology upgrades. Extra funding in order to provide subs for nurses and custodians.
So much has happened, and so much is happening, but the situation can change from one day to the next. The “blended” return-to-school strategy that we developed early and have stood by has enabled us to do consistent planning and preparations. The strategy is one now adopted by a majority of the state’s 500 public school systems.
Admittedly, and regretfully, everybody is being inconvenienced. Everybody will need to be patient while the district tweaks things, while we “settle in” and make the transition. BVA needs your support and cooperation.
Be assured that the BVA “school family,” from the board of directors to support personnel, is doing everything possible to provide a safe, effective, secure reopening of our schools.
Everyone is anxious to get back to five days of in-person classes as soon as possible.
Our “blended” model does provide for two days of in-person classes while establishing accountability and flexibility. Because our classrooms can hold only between 15 and 18 students with safe distancing, we could not start with five days of in-person classes without violating law and without putting students and staff at risk. In addition, we have had to consider transportation, cafeteria and hallway crowding issues.
In the event we are forced to go to “all-virtual” instruction, we will be ready.
In the event we are able to return to “in-person” instruction, we will be ready.
Thank you. We hope and pray for a quick, safe and secure return to normalcy.
June 25, 2020 – The sky was dark and thunder rumbled in the distance, but bright sun bathed James Weir Stadium last night as the BVA Class of 2020 was honored with a traditional albeit modified commencement ceremony.Students born in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy received their diplomas in the middle of yet another nationally historic disaster, the Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in cancellation of in-school spring semester classes, athletics, other activities and normal graduation events.Attendance was limited to ticket holders, who were required to wear masks, sign waivers and take a temperature test. Compliance with rules was impressive among spectators anxious to witness this milestone in the education of 173 seniors.The board of education always wanted what the students wanted: A traditional, in-person graduation. With the help of parents, students and staff, everyone found a way to make it happen, albeit with the restrictions.The BVA Class of 2020 adopted a timely, appropriate motto: “United in distance, forged in uncertainty, strengthened by adversity, remembered in history.”Several students have already reported for military duty, but most of them can now begin work, careers, technical training and high education.The board of education congratulates all graduates and gives a special shout-out to those who have earned honors, high honors, highest honors, departmental awards, scholarships and other special recognition.The board of education also extends a big “thank you” to administration, staff, parents, students, security personnel, volunteers and all others who made last night’s event possible in the most challenging of times.