Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Ithaca High School, photographed above, is one of the schools in the district that had to be shut down as COVID-19 struck Ithaca.

April 15, 2020

Ithaca City School District Updates on Online Classes, Budget

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As Ithaca schools meet online, so does their school board.

The Ithaca City School District met on Tuesday via Zoom, discussing online education, construction, budget adjustments and health department recommendations about recreational facilities.

Across the district, ICSD is using a variety of teaching strategies to support students’ social-emotional and academic development, said Lily Talcott, ICSD deputy superintendent, at the meeting.

By using synchronous and asynchronous meetings — where students can both meet at the same time and work on assignments their own — the school district hopes to make classes accessible to all students.

“We are working really hard to ensure equity in access to ChromeBooks and the internet,” Talcott said. ”As of [Monday] afternoon, we have only 14 families district-wide who are not yet set up.”

Talcott encouraged teachers to record their class sessions to allow access to students who cannot participate in real time. She also reassured families concerned about privacy that students can mute and turn off video.

Jordan Roehr and Kerry Glenn-Keough, who co-teach sixth grade math at DeWitt Middle School, also presented to the board their approaches to online teaching. They said that online learning presents novel opportunities for teaching.

“It feels more personal, in a way, which is weird because it’s virtual,” Roehr said. “We are able to have more conversations with kids back and forth, emailing back and forth. It could be questions they are too embarrassed to ask in class but have no problem asking in this format.”

To engage students, Roehr and Glenn-Keough are using the educational website IXL, Khan Academy, interactive slides, small group support sessions and offering virtual office hours.

“It’s not perfect, I still like being face-to-face with the kids, but it is better than I thought it would go,” Glenn-Keough said.

The school board also discussed the use of a revenue anticipation note, a type of municipal bond, as a potential short-term source of money if needed.

Amanda Verba, chief operations officer for ICSD, presented budget projections to the board, factoring in projected state aid, property taxes, federal aid and suggestions on cutting costs, such as increasing elementary school class sizes. Verba projected a total budget of $136,842,648, a 3.7 percent increase from last year.

Other topics discussed included encouraging social distancing in public spaces.

“Our health department is asking that we shut down our playgrounds and [basketball and tennis] courts and fields,” said Superintendent Luvelle Brown to the board. “That is happening all across our state.”

To address the unequal access to backyard space for recreation, the board talked about ways to keep kids active at home, such as publicizing an app created by physical education teachers.

Despite these concerns, the board eventually decided to act on the Tompkins County Health Department’s recommendations to close facilities with shared equipment.

Since there are planned construction projects, the decision to keep some recreational areas open may be a non-issue. The track and stadium will likely be closed for the rest of the summer, due to construction.