School board talks calendar, takes VR tour

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Spencer School Board members take a virtual reality tour using headsets during their January meeting.

Spencer School Board members take a virtual reality tour during their January meeting.

The Spencer School Board last month reviewed a 2019-2020 school year calendar option that administration is likely to propose and the board is expected to vote on later this month.

At the board’s January meeting, Spencer Schools Superintendent Terry Hemann said that, should the calendar be approved, one impact would be a district-wide school start time bump to 8:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Spencer Middle School already starts its day at 8:15 a.m., but this would be a change for the high school and elementary schools.

The district also won’t have 12:30 dismissals under the proposed calendar.

“The biggest change here is taking 12:30 dismissals and changing them to full days (of no school) is how I see it,” Hemann said. “We are adding 15 minutes to the day. I guess I see that as an opportunity, not necessarily as a roadblock.”

Hemann said the aim for the calendar was “to find a balance that will work for everyone.”

A change also would be made in the number of professional days for staff, during which school isn’t held. The proposed calendar option features nine professional development days throughout the school year.

Potential snow make-up days would be May 26-29.

Before the board votes on the calendar at its Feb. 26 meeting, the public will have an opportunity to chime in during a public hearing.

View the calendar most likely to be proposed.

Board tours Holocaust Museum with VR headsets

Technology Integrationist Jessica Bieber guided the school board through a tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., using virtual reality headsets and the Google Expeditions software.

Spencer schools has 80 total headsets, which are attached to phones. Viewers simply hold the headsets up to their eyes and can view 360-degree images of various locations made available through the software.

More than 1,000 locations are can be toured with Google Expeditions.

“It’s very, very popular in all of our school,”’ Bieber said during the meeting.

Forty of the headsets stay at Lincoln Elementary, the facility that was approved for the grant funds that helped purchase the equipment. The rest of the district shares another 40 headsets.

Teachers work off a tablet that provides information about what’s being shown on the headsets – and shows whether students are actually looking at what they’re supposed to be viewing.

“I think it’s just phenomenal for our district, I really do, and an asset to have you, Jessica, helping,” board member Marti Bomgaars said.

Technology Director Landon Allen said the district could look into purchasing more headsets once the demand rises, which he said is expected.

Allen also credited Bieber for the work she’s done in her position.

“She’s just done an amazing job,” he said. “I think she’s earned a lot of respect from a lot of teachers. She’s always in the building and working to bridge a gap that sometimes exists between tech and teachers.”

Dropout prevention funds application approved

The board also approved a modified supplemental amount for its dropout prevention and at-risk student application.

Through the program, which requires a 25 percent local match, the state offers funds for schools to help prevent students from dropping out and encourage them to complete high school

Spencer schools will request $659,444 in its application.

“We have a number of people who are funded by this,” Hemann said. “At all levels. For examples, the counselors, dean of students, assistant principal, attendance secretaries. We have some courses where we have teachers who are paid where part of their salary comes out of this.”

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