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Ashland schools reveal next in-person upgrade

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneConstruction crews work Monday on the Ashland Middle School remodel.

Ashland School District will become the last district in the Rogue Valley to return to full-day in-person learning four days a week when it makes the transition April 26, and about 75% to 80% of its roughly 2,800 students are expected to take advantage of the switch, Superintendent Sam Bogdanove said Monday.

The move means that students will have about eight weeks of in-person instruction before the last day of school June 18. That may not be a significant time block, but Bogdanove said it has become clear that Ashland families were ready for the change.

“Obviously, there are a lot of challenges, and the amount of change that families have had and all of those things were things that we considered,” he said.

“We really listened to students and families that we were aware of that were really struggling with the social isolation of COVID, struggling to engage and remain engaged in the distance learning options and really needing more opportunity to connect directly with people in order to learn the best. So in looking at those global needs of our kids, we really felt that it was critical to have more opportunity on campus for a large number of kids to really feel successful and to feel like they were really connected to school and connected to learning.”

Details about the planned increase in in-person instruction – currently, the number of hours the average Ashland student attends in-person amounts to about two days per week – was announced Friday and included slight variations from site to site.

The K-5 schools – Walker Elementary, Bellview Elementary and Helman Elementary – will open to full-day in-person every weekday but Wednesday, as will the two K-8 schools, Willow Wind Community Learning Center and John Muir Outdoor School.

Ashland High School will offer in-person instruction every weekday but Wednesday, with students attending three periods per day instead of the standard four.

The district is planning for four-day in-person weeks at Ashland Middle School, too, but an on-site construction project complicates matters, and the language of the update sent out to parents Friday left some wiggle room: “Ashland Middle School has some unique spacing challenges due to bond construction and the portable classrooms,” it read.

Bogdanove said Monday the district’s goal is to get AMS ready for the planned expansion, adding that he’s expecting about 80% of that school’s 550 students to choose the in-person option.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of rooms, but size and juggling kids and juggling campus,” Bogdanove said. “And just how much capacity we have in each room and how much furniture we have and how much furniture we can access while things are under construction. That presents some challenges. I’m hopeful that we’re going to have a space on campus for any student that wants to be there. That’s what we’re working toward.”

To accommodate students during the reconstruction, the district set up nine modular units on the AMS grounds, each with two 900-square-foot classrooms. Director of Operations Steve Mitzel said that’s enough space for the expected increase in students, but added that there are other issues the district must consider over the next two weeks.

“The biggest challenge to running a school next to an active construction zone is security, first and foremost,” Mitzel said in an email. “We have a well-established perimeter around the construction site with monitored and controlled access points with copious amounts of signage. The other challenge is ingress and egress to the school for student drop-off and pick-up.”

The district has worked with the general contractor, Adroit Construction, to make sure pathways are safe.

Wednesdays will be a Comprehensive Distance Learning day district-wide. Families can also choose a CDL-only model, which will differ by grade level. K-5 students, for instance, will be using an educational platform called Edgenuity, which Bogdanove called a significant change that offered a “robust curriculum.”

AMS students who choose to stick with CDL will continue to watch livestreams of classes, while details of the high school’s CDL option are still being worked out.

Regarding Edgenuity, Bogdanove said an Ashland teacher will be plugged into the system to help answer questions and facilitate.

“It is largely asynchronous,” he said, “so parents can schedule it at their own time. One of the things that we felt strongly about was that kids should still have connection to their regular classroom, so we’re going to broadcast school assemblies and there will be some classroom activities for social connection that will still be broadcast that families can join if it matches their schedule.”

Preparing classrooms for more students will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, Bogdanove added.

“It means moving in desks that have been moved into storage, re-taping floors, and then in cafeterias and gyms it means moving everything that’s been moved into those areas for classrooms back out to other places,” he said. “And then re-marking all the floors and all those things to show where physical distancing needs to occur.

“We’re all chipping in. That’s the hope. … So a lot of it is our classified staff – custodians, maintenance, education assistants. We’re hoping that teachers will be in there and administrators will be out there. Everybody’s going to be stepping in to make sure that sites are ready.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.