Pandemic influencing race for Shawnee Heights school board

Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 6:49 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The effects of remote learning during the pandemic is influencing the race for the Shawnee Heights School Board.

“During the pandemic, the first 60 days, we had somebody crying and upset every single day,” recalled Tim Watts.

Watts said the challenges his two children faced with remote learning motivated him to start attending school board meetings.

“It was something that we all had to experience and go through. Um, and so learning loss is something that I think is a big thing that I was, you know, sitting here going, okay, we’re pulling kids out of school. If this was the most effective way to do it, we would have done it before.”

Watts was concerned with numbers showing more students on the District’s Academic Warning List.

According to the school district, the list is only used by the high school.

Its function is to track student grad3es and identify those that need support.

A student must have two or more failing grades at the time the list is published to qualify.

Data from USD 450 shows almost 15 percent of high school students made the list while remote learning was in use during the 2020-2021 school year.

That figure fell to just under eight percent when students returned to classrooms.

Watts said more options for families for learning could have helped the problem.

“Time after time going to the board meetings, bringing ideas, asking questions, it just felt like, that wasn’t being heard,” he said.

“I don’t really remember a whole lot of school board members saying, ' what is this impact to our kids?’ at least from my opinion, they said some of that stuff was going on behind closed doors.”

Watts’ opponent, incumbent Erica Price said the board did their best with the options they had at the time.

“I feel like we weren’t always giving, given a lot of options either considering are the sizes of our classrooms, the number of students per building,” she said.

“We really took time to evaluate each situation regarding our students and whether we were in a remote hybrid or, all-in situation.”

Price said her children were also challenged in remote learning but now the issue is how the district moves forward.

“We need to make sure and acknowledge that we have some loss on some academic loss and we’re going to address that,” she said.

“You already are addressing that with a summer school. We have one of our biggest summer school programs this year.”

The candidates said they have plans for how they can bring academic recovery to the Shawnee Heights District.

“We have to consider what’s going on inside of schools the school board this year, almost every single meeting discuss what was going on outside of schools and what I want to bring, what I want to make sure we focus on is what’s going on inside of schools when we’re considering all of these other factors, but we’re not considering what, the mental impact it is for our kids but what about what it does for our teachers,” said Watts.

“I can bring that unifying voice. I like to hear both sides. I’d like to meet in the middle and collaborate. I think that’s very, very, very important when it comes to trying to heal and move forward,” said Price.

The District’s Interim Superintendent Matt Hirsch told 13 NEWS the district is offering high school students credit recovery classes this summer and more catch-up options next year.

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