By Jamie Wiggan
The Sto-Rox school board recently approved a complete return to the classroom for the first time since the pandemic took hold in March 2020.
Students will accordingly resume class Aug. 19 for full-day in-person learning.
A state-mandated health and safety plan approved during the same July 22 meeting still includes several protocols for reducing coronavirus transmissions and places the question of mask-wearing requirements under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as state and local agencies.
The CDC, which in May loosened its mask-wearing guidelines for vaccinated individuals, again tightened those recommendations in the face of mounting concern about virus variants July 27.
Contacted after the announcement, Superintendent Frank Dalmas said the district is monitoring the evolving agency guidelines and said it’s too early to say whether masks would be required when school starts up mid-August.
Buildings and facilities will continue to undergo regular sanitization, while students will still be required to wash their hands regularly and practice social distancing. The six-foot social distancing limit in play last year has now been reduced to three feet, however, according to Dalmas.
The plan also includes contingencies for pivoting back to hybrid or fully remote models if virus cases return to dangerous levels at any point throughout the year.
A full-time virtual option – Virtual Viking Academy – remains open to all students on an opt-in basis.
The district has created a new email account for responding to questions about the upcoming school year. Parents, guardians and students are encouraged to send inquiries to email@example.com.
Also during the meeting, the board approved an agreement with the Pittsburgh-based STEM Coding Lab to establish coding programming for elementary students.
Dalmas said many Sto-Rox students are not coming into contact with coding and programming until the high school level, at which point they’re already at a disadvantage. This program, set to begin during the 2021-22 school year and involve students in grades 3-6, is designed to begin that introduction much earlier.
“What we want to be able to do is introduce that at the elementary level,” Dalmas said.
“…Maybe they’ll learn how to operate a robot or create their own simple video game.”
The program will be funded using a $55,000 grant from the Grable Foundation and a $5,000 donation from local manufacturing company, Standard Forged Products.
Following music teacher Suellen Engelhard’s recent resignation as band director, officials say they’re working to hire a replacement.
In the wake of Engelhard’s resignation – which hasn’t been recorded or formally approved by the board during a public meeting – school leadership had discussed leaving the band as a student-led program. However, Athletic Director LaRoi Johnson assured the board July 22 that was not the plan.
“It’s in the works,” he said. “We’re definitely trying to get to the right person… there are a few potential candidates.”
The board also approved an internal hiring and pay raises for several administrators during the meeting.
In a lateral transfer, former primary school principal Bill Schleicher was approved as the district’s curriculum director, following the resignation of Michael Amick.
Directors Samantha Levitzki-Wright, Antonio Bonnetty, Cameron Culliver, Alice Cooper and Adrienne Roberts approved the motion. Directors Lucille Young and Ken Hohman opposed, while Director Michelina Cersosimo was absent.
Schleicher joined the district as the primary school principal in July 2019 and previously served as an assistant principal at Propel Schools.
The district has not yet filled his former position.
Directors also approved raises for five administrators in accordance with Act 93 performance assessments. Raises were approved for Director of Pupil Services Dayna Sikorab, Upper Elementary Principal Heather Johnston, Curriculum Director William Schleicher and Assistant High School Principals Sam Weaver and Chris Captline.
All directors approved the raises, except for Lucille Young, who expressed concern for doing so given the state of the district’s finances.
“I’m not saying no to raises they rightly deserve,” she said. “But we’re in a position now where we can’t afford it.”