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HPS school board to decide future of e-learning
  • Updated

When members of the Hastings Board of Education meet in November, they will determine the future of e-learning in the district.

Superintendent Jeff Schneider spoke about the district’s experiences with e-learning so far at the school board’s work session on Thursday.

“We’re going to present data to you and make a recommendation and see what route you want us to go second semester,” he said.

Schneider thanked the e-learning teachers.

“We’ve got a lot of people doing things they’ve never done before,” he said. “I’m telling you they’ve worked extremely hard to make this work. It’s not easy.”

Schools have tried to accommodate families where they are in this current situation.

“We’re not 100% sure we’re seeing great results from our e-learning,” he said. “What I mean by that, I think, is not a shock to anybody. We believe very strongly that the best place for a student is in school.”

A lot of factors are out the of the teachers’ hands when it comes to e-learning.

“I think especially for some of youngest learners this is a very difficult situation,” Schneider said

Deciding in November what form e-learning will take in the spring semester would allow schools to adequately address staffing needs.

“If we were seeing perfect results across the board, I probably wouldn’t be bringing this up tonight, but that’s not what we’re seeing,” he said.

If the district would decide not to allow e-learning in second semester, the district would have to adjust staffing for e-learning.

Schneider said there are two first-grade e-learning teachers.

“If we don’t offer that second semester, one of them is going back to kindergarten,” Schneider said. “That’s what she was originally hired to do. There’s things like that you can’t tell them the week before the semester starts they are going to switch. There’s more to it than that.”

No other schools in Educational Service Unit No. 9 are offering e-learning to the extent of Hastings Public Schools; Grand Island Public Schools offers e-learning, but Kearney doesn’t, he said.

Schneider said the district should be less willing to allow students to switch.

“We cannot deal with all the changes we are getting,” he said.

Hastings Public Schools would always accommodate a medical situation, however.

Schneider said it might be possible to have a hybrid situation, allowing e-learning for high school students but not at the elementary level.

The district will have more data available by the November board meeting to make a decision.

The school year began with about 12% of the student body enrolled in e-learning. Schneider said that number is slightly less now.

He said 36 elementary students came back to in-person schooling for the second quarter. Schneider said the middle school numbers were less than that.

There are more requests at the high school level for e-learning.

“We have a few, after visiting with Dr. (HHS Principal Tom) Slzanda today, who we know are excelling in this role,” Schneider said.

The district has learned to be flexible, creating learning options for students. However, Schneider said HPS staff will have to be more rigid in not allowing students to switch in mid-term.

Grant to help area students launch school-based business
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FAIRFIELD — A grant from the Nebraska Department of Education will be used to develop a student-run business at Sandy Creek High School near here.

The reVISION Action Grant obtained by South Central Nebraska Unified School District No. 5 will provide $85,362 to help get the business up and running, and thereby enhance the Career and Technical Education programs offered to Sandy Creek and Lawrence-Nelson students.

South Central Unified operates the school system for both the Sandy Creek and Lawrence-Nelson local school districts, with high school campuses at Sandy Creek and in Nelson.

The reVISION program, established in 2012, is coordinated by the Department of Education to help schools analyze and improve their current CTE offerings, with the goal of addressing the workforce needs of industries trying to compete in the ever-changing economy.

The reVISION grant for South Central Unified will be used to establish a business capable of creating NCN laser engraving, T-shirt design, vinyl signage, graphic design and video production, said Stan Essink, associate principal at Sandy Creek and director of the Nebraska Center for Advanced Professional Studies, which is housed on the Sandy Creek campus east of Fairfield.

The business, tentatively named 74 Creative, is modeled on a successful, long-running enterprise called School House Graphics at Arnold Public School, Essink said. It will pull together collaborators from the school industrial technology, business and digital media programs.

The concept is that the business will sell an array of standard products through an online store, plus provide the wider community with custom designs and services, he said.

The business will be organized in a way that places students in management roles similar to those found in a business setting.

Action Grant dollars will be used to purchase industrial laser engraving machines and high-tech video equipment.

Essink predicted the community will be impressed with what the students are able to produce, and noted that three companies already have expressed interest in using the services that will be available.

“We were recognized by the state as the outstanding CTE program in 2019, and this grant will add another level of opportunity for students throughout the district,” he said. “The quality of service and products our students will be able to provide is going to be astounding.”

Federal dollars for Career and Technical Education in schools are provided through Perkins Funding. The current Perkins legislation, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018, is known as the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, or Perkins V for short.

Under the terms of Perkins V, South Central USD and other school systems were required to conduct a local needs assessment earlier this year, with an eye to determining where CTE programs could be improved.

The schools’ findings became part of a regional assessment that now forms the basis for Action Grants to individual school systems.

One of the primary goals of the reVISION process is to bolster opportunities and exposure to CTE careers in rural regions, Essink said.

He acknowledged school staff members Jeremy Borer, Spencer Schoof and Nanette Shackelford and high school seniors Noah Shackelford and Derek Story, all of whom worked with him in preparing the grant application.

“I was really proud of the students who helped make this possible,” Essink said. “They showed the type of leadership and professional skills we strive to instill through our NCAPS programs.”

Health district records 56 new COVID-19 cases
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Fifty-six additional residents of the South Heartland Health District have been confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus since Tuesday, the district health department announced Thursday night.

The 56 new patients include 28 from Adams County, 11 from Clay County, 13 from Nuckolls County and two from Webster County.

Since March 18, a running total of 838 cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, have been diagnosed among district residents based on laboratory testing results. The disease is caused by infection with the new virus, which is on the move throughout the four-county area.

Running case tallies by county to date include 659 in Adams, 115 in Clay, 39 in Nuckolls and 25 in Webster.

Individuals testing positive for the virus may have no symptoms, or may have anything from mild symptoms to a severe case of the disease. To date, 14 health district residents have died in connection with COVID-19.

Three of the 56 newly diagnosed patients for Tuesday through Thursday have required hospital care.

To date, a total of 43 district residents have spent time in a hospital in connection with COVID-19.

Michele Bever, health department executive director, used her regular Thursday night update news release to encourage vigilance among district residents in protecting themselves and others from illness wherever they go.

“Respiratory viruses, like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, spread from person to person mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks,” Bever said. “There is not yet a vaccine to protect against COVID-19, so the best way to protect yourself is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes it.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others, wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth when around others, staying home with any symptoms, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

“If you have symptoms, stay home from work, school and other activities, call your medical provider and get tested,” Bever said. “TestNebraska is available in our health district at Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior, at Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, and at Hastings Convenient Care. To schedule a COVID-19 test, go online to testnebraska.com to complete a few questions and choose a date and location to be tested.”

The last several weeks have seen increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the health district and increasing risk for further spread of the virus in area communities.

“Together, we can turn the trends around by reducing opportunities for the virus to spread from person to person,” Bever said. “The ‘I’ll protect you, you protect me’ approach can help keep our schools, worksites, and events safer for everyone.”

For more health district statistics and information visit www.southheartlandhealth.org.

Fisher Fountain to undergo major renovation
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Much-needed improvements to the Jacob Fisher Rainbow Fountain planned for next spring are anticipated to delay the start of the fountain’s 2021 operating season.

Derek Pfeifer, a mechanical engineer for Hastings Utilities, spoke about the planned fountain renovations at the Hastings Utility Board meeting on Thursday.

The iconic lighted fountain stands near Hastings Utilities headquarters at 12th Street and Denver Avenue.

E.R. Howard, Hastings Water and Light Department commissioner, supervised the construction of the fountain for the Adams County Fair of 1932. More than $2,200 was spent in labor on the project.

The fountain underwent a renovation in May 1983 for the 50th anniversary of its formal dedication.

Early on July 7, 1984, the fountain was ripped open by explosives tossed into the structure.

Contributions for restoration quickly poured in, eventually totaling $61,327.

The fountain was rededicated, following renovations, in May 1985.

However, Pfeifer described what has become a cramped, dank workspace underneath the fountain where parts continue to malfunction.

To address the access and confined space issues, operation equipment will be moved to a nearby expanded mechanical building.

The fountain has to be drained and cleaned weekly.

The fountain’s pumping system is deteriorating and was shut down almost toward the end of the 2020 season.

“At the beginning of September, our goal was to run it until the end of September,” Pfeifer said. “They just couldn’t keep it going.”

There is often standing water in the access area, underneath the fountain.

The crews who work there have placed cinder blocks on the floor to avoid standing water.

The electrical system also will be replaced.

To rehabilitate the lid, which includes the lights and fountain features, the plan is to fix the bonding and attach new fittings, Pfeifer said.

LED lights would be installed there, replacing 18,200-watt incandescent lighting with 952W LED, resulting in $567 savings per year.

“It’s a huge amount of savings for the same lumen,” he said.

Pfeifer said LED lights also would improve upon the color spectrum of lights there now.

The fountain contains 15 underwater floodlights, and its 85 nozzles can shoot water up to 60 feet high.

The fountain floor is cracked. There was an effort a few years ago to address that and cover the floor with an inch or two of concrete as well as a sealant.

Pfeifer said that effort isn’t working.

That will be replaced with a new sealant that is flexible, repairable, patchable and made for cracks. This sealant is used in the infinity pools for the World Trade Center.

The fence is sprayed with hard water. Overspray leaves a soggy area surrounding the fountain.

The fountain has one speed.

“As the wind comes up there’s no smart way to dial that back,” Pfeifer said

As a result, the area surrounding the fountain can get swampy.

Wind control and new nozzles for the fountain are included in renovations.

To address the draining and cleaning, there will be constant filtration system. Pfeifer anticipated that would save about 23,000 gallons of water per week, which equates to about $1,200 per year, plus labor. This also is anticipated to reduce mold.

Replacing the current fence also is planned.

“The fence is very old and has a lot of coats of paint on it,” Pfeifer said. “It’s in pretty rough condition.

“It’s old and has a lot of paint hanging off of it.”

Every spring, the city’s maintenance department applies another coat of black paint.

“Within about a month or so, it will be white tinged (due to the hard water),” he said.

Pfeifer is looking at a powder-coated aluminum fence. He suggested using a color lighter than the traditional black.

“Just from the nature of hard water and all that, it’s going to get a white tinge to it, anyway,” he said.

He is looking at moving the fence back 10 feet, which will give more room and better access for maintenance and room for new junction boxes for electrical and plumbing.

Improved cameras also would be installed to help prevent vandalism.

Pfeifer said the plan is to put out the project for bid Oct. 13, open bids Nov. 3 and award the contract Nov. 23.

Construction would start in March, finishing concrete on May 14, with the pool coating done June 14, and the fountain open to the public June 25.

The timeline for many of those improvements is weather-dependent. Pfeifer said it’s possible the fountain could open earlier than anticipated.

Hastings Utilities budgeted $450,000 for the work. Pfeifer estimated the project would cost $444,790.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, board members received updates on several ongoing utility projects.

Board members also voted 3-0 to postpone board officer appointments until November, when more board members are present.