The Watertown school district said a reluctant goodbye to its past and entered an uncertain future Monday evening.
A total of 283 years of educational experience was lost and honored while Watertown Unified School District officials admitted their minds are fraught with doubt as the COVID-19 summer, and school year of 2020-21, approaches.
District superintendent Cassandra Schug gave glowing tributes at Monday’s meeting of the Watertown school board to retiring district staff members Bruce Foley, Dana Habermann, Jolene Goeden-Massuch, Susan Moldenhauer, Donna Neeman, Debra Pritchard, Todd Putz, Amy Robertson, Linda Ruesink, Diane Schultz, Paula Stooksbury, David Ulm and Chrysa Wescott.
Schug presented a litany of compliments to the staffers and went into detail on what made them valued individuals in the district. She also said family, friends and colleagues will get to celebrate the educational accomplishments of the retirees when the COVID-19 virus subsides.
The board of the Watertown Unified School District confronted its future in the COVID-19 virus threat. Watertown School Board President Tony Arnett urged the district to push boldly into the future, but admitted that nobody even knows what that future is.
Schug said schools and playgrounds will remain closed through June 30 and the district will work directly with the Watertown Health Department on reopening strategies for summer school, which will be open for virtual credit recovery beginning June 8.
The district facilities will be open for limited, face-to-face instruction beginning July 6 on an invite-only basis, for academic support.
“We will also be offering a slate of enrichment options, virtually, and possibly a limited selection of enrichment in-person classes,” Schug said.
Graduation will be held Aug. 14, in-person with a virtual option, in case the district is not able to have an in-person event working with the Watertown Health Department.
A prom date is to be determined, possibly offering a junior/senior prom next school year, Schug said.
Schug said the district’s relationship with Watertown Health Department Director Carol Quest has been a great experience.
“She has been super, super helpful,” Schug said, adding the local health department is “steering the ship” when it comes to how the district is operating in such an uncertain time.
Addressing the strategic planning process, the board and administration agreed with Arnett’s suggestion that its members let the summer play out in order to see what the fall may hold.
Arnett said he has heard significant concerns about what the next school year might look like.
“Will we even be open? Will there be a second COVID-19 wave?,” he asked, adding the district has doubts as to what the state budget might look like. “There are a lot of concerns here ... It would be very challenging to go out into the community (with a survey).”
Arnett recommended the district spend the bulk of the summer doing what he termed, “scenario-based planning,” that would allow the schools to measure the coronavirus pandemic and make decisions based on where the disease is at its respective points.
“I don’t know if some parents will even be willing (to let their children come to school),” Arnett said. “It would be very challenging to go out into the community with a survey.”
The board agreed spending a good part of the summer doing scenario-based planning on what might happen in many different areas of the schools would make sense.
“I don’t know if some parents will even be willing to return next fall,” he said. “We may end up thinking about education and our delivery model significantly differently than we did even 2 months ago ... So let’s spend the next few months on scenarios and return in August on the strategic planning process in an informed manner.”
Board members said they thought that a more solid foundation for the strategic planning process would come with Arnett’s suggestion of delaying it for about three months. They said strategic planning is difficult when environments, such as the current one, change so rapidly.
Schug said the administration of the district will develop a timeline for the strategic planning process based on board members’ feedback from Monday’s meeting.
A draft survey is in the making for district plans and, after much discussion by board members, appears to be slowed to allow for a development of ideas over the summer.
The administration and board concurred it will take the summer to fully realize just what the coming school year might offer and any strategic planning should be geared to such a timeline.
Approval of the document could come in August or as late as October.