Earlier this month, the Nye County School District Board of Trustees approved the district’s COVID-19 re-entry plan, which laid out three models for returning students and staff to school safely.
The three options included 100 percent in-person instruction where students can return to class full time, with appropriate safety cautions, or a ‘hybrid program’ where students return to class two days a week and participate in distance learning three days a week.
The third option called for students to participate in full-time distance learning.
Nye County School District Superintendent Dr. Warren Shillingburg, said the district chose the second option for Pahrump students.
“At this point, it looks like in Pahrump, our kindergarten through high school is going to do a hybrid model, where they will come to school two days a week, with online instruction three days a week,” he said. “Our northern schools are going to go four days a week. They will have enough space to social distance, and the parents also have the choice of being 100 percent online. We presented the three models to the board, and our teachers are going to synchronize all of those models. Everyone will be teaching the same lesson, so that whether we have to do it in person, or online, the lessons and instruction will be the same so that we have the flexibility to move among those models, without causing any problems for our students’ instruction.”
Federal funding assistance
Regarding resources for distance learning, Shillingburg said the district was fortunate to be able to provide Chromebooks to students.
“We didn’t need to purchase any more Chromebooks,” he said. “The only thing we are looking at now is the fact that some of our students don’t have internet access. The state is helping us to provide hotspots, so that the students who don’t have access now can have access to connect with our online curriculum. The CARES Act funding provided by the federal government will pay for the hotspots, and it’s also helping to pay for the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that we will be using, which includes the face shields, sanitizers, and cleaning materials. All of that is being purchased with those funds.”
Shillingburg also spoke about retaining teachers throughout the district in the wake of the pandemic.
“As far as the retention of teachers within the school district, it’s been pretty good,” he noted. “We have had a couple of teachers who have chosen to retire out of their concerns about the virus, but it hasn’t been dramatic. We are still reaching out to our staff and parents to see who was interested in coming back to class, or who would rather have 100 percent home instruction online. The original survey we did, revealed that 44 percent of our teachers and 44 percent of our parents wanted to go back to classes in person.”
Additionally, Shillingburg said roughly 20 percent of teachers, and 24 percent of parents, wanted instruction 100 percent online.
“We are hoping to work with those numbers where we can have enough students online, so that when we have students in class, we can social distance appropriately, and provide a safe environment.”
District budget cuts were yet another topic of discussion for Shillingburg.
“It looks to me, at least with the meetings I’ve had with the state, they work with the school district superintendents to make cuts that would do the least harm to the district,” he said. “I don’t think the cuts will have any drastic effect on us, because the state did try to keep those cuts as far away from the students as possible and I think we have enough grant funding that we can make up the difference for what the state is not providing.”
Following the retirement of former Superintendent Dale Norton, Shillingburg noted that the school board has big expectations after he accepted the position last month.
“The board has given me the goal for Nye County to be the No. 1 school district in the state, and I am excited by that,” he said. “I love those big dreams and big goals. Right now, our immediate goal is to get through the COVID-19 virus, so we have to do what we can to make sure our students and teachers are prepared to do online instruction, and move between those to make sure our students are being supported as best as possible with this COVID-19 issue. Once we get through that, we are really going to focus strong and hard on how we can really help students improve and grow, and achieve at a level that’s going to help us be a top state-level district.”
As far as mental health funding, Shillingburg said the district already has in place a social, emotional learning program for students.
“We have social workers and counselors, and we are reaching out to them to help us with any needs we have with students, and with our faculty,” he said. “So any issue that we have, we are working to set up at least groups where students can talk together and teachers can talk together, so if they need support, or are having some issues, we have that support for them.”
District transportation safety
The issue of practicing social distancing on school buses was another issue that Shillingburg addressed.
“We will manage that the best way that we can,” he noted. “When you only have half the students coming to school, it’s easier to spread them out on the bus. “I believe the state guideline for buses has moved to three feet for social distancing, as opposed to six feet.
We are going to follow the American Association of Pediatricians guidelines, so that will make it easier to manage.”
After taking the reins as superintendent on July 1, Shillingburg said his time in Pahrump has been “fantastic.”
“I am so happy to be here and I am excited for the potential in this school district,” he said. “I spent most of my time going around visiting the schools, meeting the principals and it has all been wonderful. I have been really impressed at the leadership we have here in the district, who have been here for over 20 years, and it tells me it’s a good place to work and a good place to be, so I am excited by that. I can’t wait until I meet more of the teachers, and I am really excited to actually see students because that’s what makes this job worth doing. Having empty buildings is not as exciting to go to as it is when students are there. I really look forward to working with the community and the staff to help Nye County be the No. 1 school district in the state.”
In a July 15 school district letter to parents, classes are set to begin Monday, August 24, with pre-K and kindergarten classes beginning Thursday, August 27.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at email@example.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes