Questions, answers at Othello School Board meeting Monday

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OTHELLO — Adjusting for a new elementary school layout, communication, school security and cybersecurity were among the topics discussed at an Othello School Board question-and-answer session Monday evening.

Board chair Rob Simmons said the Q&A grew out of the public comment session at regular school board meetings. District patrons had questions, he said, but the public comment session really isn’t set up to answer them, at least not during the meeting. The Q&A was designed to give board members and school officials time to provide answers.

The district’s impending move to a kindergarten- through-eighth-grade model was the subject of a lot of questions. District patrons asked about reconfiguring the buildings, how the middle school-age kids would be separated from the primary grades, and how much it would cost.

District superintendent Chris Hurst and assistant superintendent Pete Perez said some details are still being worked out. The grade schools are being assessed to see what changes are necessary (counter heights in some classrooms, for example), and Simmons said the board has asked for a list of the changes. In answer to a question about the cost and its effect on taxes, Simmons said the only way property taxes could be increased is through a levy or a bond, either of which would have to be approved by voters.

In answer to a question about separating kids in different grades, Hurst said that is a concern for parents, and there are ways to address that. Some K-8 schools have a staggered start, where kindergarten through second grade classes start earlier than third through fifth grade (or sixth through eighth grade) classes. Different grades can be housed in different parts of the building, and some schools assign staff to keep kids from mixing, among other things, he said.

District officials have started committees to work on different parts of the transition, and community members are invited to join those, Hurst said.

In answer to a question from Sheila Simmons about security, and a possible follow-up to the community meeting on security in March, board member Ken Johnson said the board has discussed a second town meeting. District employees are looking at a lot of school security options and initiatives, Johnson said, and “we want to make sure that they’re prepared to answer all those questions (from the community).” In addition, a group is being founded to help identify kids who might be at risk or in crisis, Johnson said.

Second-grade teacher Robin Cluff asked about cybersecurity. She’s had to change practices in her classroom to ensure kids don’t end up on unsuitable websites, she said. She asked what district officials are doing to enhance security. Perez explained the district is adding new technology, which up until now has been focused on middle school and high school. Currently there’s discussion about counselor training and other options at the grade school level, he said. The key, however, is for school officials and classroom teachers to work with parents, Perez said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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