ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
USD 480 took the next steps toward another partnership with Seward County Community College at its most recent meeting Monday evening.
Monday, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Ruben Cano gave a short presentation to the school board regarding the creation of an Early College Academy (ECA) program with SCCC.
“When you look at the opportunities we offer to the students of USD 480, we have some great partnerships within the community,” Cano said. “And through our existing partnership with SCCC, what we’ve been in discussion about is looking at those existing partnerships, taking the solid foundation that’s already there, and how we can continue to capitalize on all of that. The partnership between USD 480 and SCCC provides postsecondary educational options for high school students, and studies show access to college courses improve students’ high school performance and increases their attainment of postsecondary credentials. Also, the college courses provide rigorous coursework opportunities for all students.”
So far, Cano said, the work has been going well.
“We have a committee comprised of representatives from SCCC and Liberal High School and the Central Office, and we’ve been meeting to look at existing models of an Early College Academy and what that could look like in Liberal with USD 480,” Cano said. “We will continue those conversations, we’re actually taking a delegation to Council Bluffs, Iowa to visit an ECA in partnership between the Council Bluffs school district and Iowa Western Community College in order to see what that program looks like and how we can use that in our committee to help us study the different possibilities. Our hope is to have a plan to report back to the board in January. The ECAs provide a structure degree pathway, and students would earn a diploma and an associate’s degree (Associate of Arts, Associate of Applied Science, or Associate of Science), and students would still be able to participate in extracurricular activities at LHS. Advising and mentoring would be provided by an ECA coordinator.”
After Cano’s report, the board moved on to the agenda’s new business, beginning with the purchase of an additional copier for Sunflower Elementary School.
“Sunflower Elementary School has a need for an additional copier for the teacher's workroom in the northwest wing of the school. Currently, teachers from this area have to use the office copier and when there are meetings, such as IEP meetings, that require confidentiality, they have to go to the far southeast wing, which is basically on the other side of the school,” Director of Business Nila Newton said. “So there were definitely some issues in that regard that necessitated this purchase. Southern Office Supply has provided a quote for a Sharp digital copier with external finisher that prints 75 pages per minute using Sourcewell Contract.”
Ultimately, the board approved the purchase of the additional copier for Sunflower Elementary School in the amount of $12,580.
After that discussion, the board also briefly discussed the Employee Handbook, which was also approved.
“The District Leadership Team collaborated to prepare a new employee handbook that reflects the latest policies and procedures of the USD 480 school district,” Newton said. “This handbook is intended to provide general information and guidance to all employees, and we will update the handbook for changes to board policy and district procedures as needed, and that also includes payroll and other similar matters. The new handbook complies with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations that affect the employment relationship. Like everything else, these laws and regulations may change from time to time and the handbook will be updated accordingly, because I do get sent those notifications on what those updates will be. It will be available to view online, and we will make sure every teacher knows where to find it.”
After also approving the ClearTouch PD from KCAV in the amount of $13,500 for professional development, Director of Technology Rusty Tuman talked to the board about a couple aspects of GoGuardian.
“GoGuardian Admins allows us to track and GPS locate thr Chromebooks. We use these features when a Chromebook is lost or not turned in, and we can also remotely lock the Chromebook and render it useless,” Tuman said. “Additional features include added student traffic tracking and content filtering. GoGuardian Teacher was implemented for the teachers at Seymour Rogers Middle School, Eisenhower Middle School and in the Focus/Credit Recovery classes. GoGuardian also allows teachers to view their students’ Chromebook screens and control many aspects of the device. Teachers are able to monitor the Chromebooks of students in their class utilizing tools like locking screens and closing tabs. We’ve been able to recover 268 Chromebooks, we’re currently tracking 20, and of those 20, five have pinged. It’s a very good program to use and it’s been extremely helpful.”
The board ultimately voted to renew GoGuardian for $33,470.40 before moving on to discussion of GoGuardian Beacon.
“Beacon is a machine-learning solution that notifies pre-determined school staff of instances where students may be at risk of suicide, self-harm, or potential harm to others. Beacon was designed to help school staff proactively identify at-risk students and quickly facilitate a response,” Tuman said. “Beacon is a multi-class classifier machine learning model built to identify students’ online behaviors that could be indicative of suicide or self-harm by analyzing their browsing across all student conten, and that includes search engines, social media, email, web apps, and more. Beacon also shows a holistic view of the student's online behavior, and it gives context. Based on search content, Beacon can also alert staff to potential student safety threats or violence. The main purpose of this is to help with student safety, that’s the main priority, just like everything else. We’ve had a free trial for the past year, and now we have to decide whether or not to continue using it and paying for it.”
Board member Alan Brown shared a concern regarding the program.
“I’m 100 percent on board with using this, but I have a concern as far as liability,” Brown said. “Part of the statement guarantees a quick response, but how quick are we talking, who’s doing the responding, and what happens if there’s a situation and it’s the weekend? I’m concerned about a liability because if there is a situation that happens, and we’re discovered to have had the information prior, how much legal risk are we at? We don’t have any direct policy or anything like that with something like this. Without having something firm in place, I have trouble approving this because of the potential liability and risk. I don’t feel like we’re fully set up to have this while paying for it.”
After Tuman explained the district’s current procedure, fellow board member Nick Hatcher shared his thoughts.
“I think we should go for this regardless of if we have a specific policy or not for it,” Hatcher said. “I feel like it would be a bigger liability for us to wait, have our legal counsel look at it and then get back to us instead of just going ahead and approving it. We’ve got a current procedure that seems to be working, and I feel like we can make tweaks and changes as we need to. I would be more concerned with THAT liability compared to not having anything at all. The most important thing is the students’ safety and their lives.”
Ultimately, the board voted to purchase GoGuardian Beacon in the amount of $23,690.