R-9 schools working to meet challenges

By Sheryl Stanley
When Paul Mensching, superintendent of the Harrisonville R-9 School District, joined other superintendents in the Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City consortium March 16 and announced Harrisonville schools would remain closed past spring break for another two weeks, from Monday, March 23 through Friday, April 3, he was still faced with the
need to ensure learning would continue, that the school could meet its responsibility to provide food for those who depended on such assistance and support staff would not be negatively impacted during
the closure.

Mensching met with the board of education in an open meeting March 18 to review his initial plans.

“Obviously, our plan is fluid day today,” Mensching said. “But this is our new reality so we want to do everything we can to help our students and staff during this time.”

To begin with, Mensching said the district, with the support of the USDA and Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Food and Nutrition Services, would provide “to-go” lunch and breakfast meals to all children, ages 0 to 18, free of charge through April 3 at the sites below:

• Walmart parking lot, 1700 N. Route 291
• Sutherlands parking lot, 2200 S. Commercial St.
• Harrisonville United Methodist Church parking lot, 2600 E. Mechanic St.• Harrisonville High School, 1504 E. Elm St.
• McEowen Elementary School, 1901 S. Halsey St.
• Harrisonville Elementary School, 101 Megan Drive

Food service workers in the kitchens at McEowen and HES are currently preparing the meals and Durham Bus Service personnel are delivering them to the various sites. Pickup is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

At the time of pickup, each child receives a packaged lunch for the day, as well as a breakfast for the following day.
To be eligible, parents must register their children’s names and ages with the school district and all children receiving meals must be present at the time of pickup.

Regarding instruction, Mensching said he is working with teachers to ensure the district’s learning standards are not sacrificed during the closure.

“Prior to spring break, we sent Chromebooks home with students who
indicated they did not have a device at home and we have now purchased 50 wi-fi hot spots to distribute to those in rural areas who do not have Internet access.”

“Our students will be OK during this time. We will provide resources, enrichment activities and meaningful learning experiences that will maintain our educational standards.”

Mensching does have some concerns about special groups of learners, however.

“We are working very hard to see tha the needs of our special learners are met and we can’t forget that a number of Cass Career Center students are anxious to receive the industry-recognized credentials for their courses of study when they finish. These require hours of hands-on experience. We’re working on that as well.”

Finally, Mensching wants to ensure the school’s support staff will not be
negatively impacted by the closure.

“Our revenues are set,” he assured the board. “We will not receive any more or any less funding because of the closure.

“I am putting the employees categorized as support staff on paid administrative leave and we will have them work at various tasks as needed.”

He added that some support staff already have duties during the unexpected break in classes. Food service workers are busy with the lunches, bus drivers with transportation, custodial staff with
deep cleaning of the facilities and maintenance workers with jobs as need-
ed and appropriate at this time.

He expects other staff to step in and assist where needed.

He also told the board he is not greatly concerned about the need to log the
1,044 instructional hours required by the state of Missouri before the end of
the school year and he does not see the school’s academic calendar being greatly affected.

“DESE has already indicated they will not penalize us if we don’t hit that goal.”

The state education department presented Harrisonville and other school districts with another boon March 19, calling off the annual MAP tests, the state assessment tests typically administered in May.

“There is a time and a place for statewide required assessments and now is not the time,” Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said.
“Effective immediately, Missouri will be cancelling statewide required assessments for this school year.”