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Adams Central begins to loosen face mask policy
  • Updated

Adams Central Public Schools implemented a new policy April 12 as a step to transition away from face covering use in preparation for the upcoming school year.

The Adams Central Board of Education briefly discussed the change at its regular meeting April 12.

The committee formed to make decisions about the school’s response to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic has been regularly meeting and came up with the policy change.

Superintendent Shawn Scott explained that the change is a way to transition to next year when he and the board hope masks won’t be necessary.

In a letter dated April 7, Scott explained the new policy to parents in the district.

The new policy went into effect April 12 at both the Adams Central Junior/Senior High School and the Adams Central Elementary School.

Scott said the committee made the change after considering the number of virus cases in the school.

During the first semester of the school year, there were times when the school had 5-15% of its students and staff out for COVID-19 reasons.

During the second semester, the school has kept its number of absences under 2%. For much of that time, the total was below 0.5% in any given building at any given time.

“Our numbers are so low, and students and staff have been doing a good job,” he said.

Under the new policy, masks are optional before and after school time and during passing periods or transitional times for students. Large gatherings or meetings of students will need to be masked where social distancing isn’t possible. Masks still are encouraged and recommended, just not required.

Masks continue to be required while in classrooms with exceptions made, at the teacher’s discretion, when 6 feet of social distancing can be maintained in the classroom. If students are up and moving around in the classroom, they are expected to be appropriately masked.

Scott said the committee felt it was the right time to make the transition, but they are prepared to make additional changes as needed.

“If our COVID numbers continue to stay low, and Directed Health Measures change at the end of April, we will look to transitioning further with masks,” Scott wrote. “If our COVID numbers turn for the worse, we may need to retract some of these adjustments. We do appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we keep working towards our goal: Keeping kids in school, in person, all year long.”

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a contract with Aub Boucher as a teacher for the 2021-22 school year as an alternative education teacher and assistant activities director.
  • Approved a contract with Carter Pratt as a teacher for the 2021-22 school year. He will be a new second-grade teacher and will have the opportunity to move with that class as it transitions to the next grade level each year.

The next regular meeting will be May 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Watson teacher named educator of the year
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J ade Bartunek makes each of her students feel special, recognizing them where they are and for how they understand the world.

Bartunek, who is a kindergarten teacher at Watson Elementary, recently was named Hastings Public Schools Educator of the Year.

“My biggest goal every day is to make those connections with my kids even before we start the curriculum,” she said. “It is, ‘How was your day?’ Every day we meet and I ask, ‘How was your night?’ If there’s some stories we need to talk about in depth later on, I’ll tell them we’ll talk together. First and foremost is just making sure that kids are ready to learn. They are not going to buy what you are selling if you have not put in the work in the foundation. Connections are the biggest key to being successful with your kids.”

Bartunek and Young Educator of the Year Karen Valdes, who is a seventh-grade reading teacher at Hastings Middle School, were introduced during the HPS Foundation Virtual Festival on March 31, a fundraiser produced by the Hastings Public Schools Foundation for the benefit of the school system.

They were among 19 nominees for either Educator of the Year or Young Educator of the Year for 2021.

This was the fifth time Bartunek had been nominated to be Educator of the Year.

“As teachers we never do it for the recognition or the honor, but it is nice they are seeing what we’re doing in the schools,” she said. “Just to be recognized by somebody else shows that you’re putting your heart and your soul into it.”

Bartunek has always wanted to teach.

“There’s never been another career that I wanted,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always tried to pick up on what makes teachers successful wherever I’m at. So classroom management is huge. That is the key to success. That’s also why teachers get burnt out, when they don’t have it.”

That is accomplished through good transitions between subjects, patience and clear expectations.

Bartunek has taught for HPS since 2008, initially as a preschool teacher and now for a decade at the kindergarten level.

She taught kindergarten at Morton Elementary for five years before Morton was closed in 2016 as part of an overhaul of HPS’ elementary facilities and organization. She then transferred to Watson along with Principal Jason Cafferty and many other Morton teachers.

Cafferty, who now has worked with Bartunek in both the Morton and Watson school settings, said she is loved by her young students and appreciated by their families.

“Jade’s been an excellent teacher for many years in the district,” he said during a previous Tribune interview. “She is just so consistent and caring with the kids. She holds them accountable, but she has a soft side, too. You just never hear a parent walking away with their kid having a negative experience with Jade Bartunek.”

Bartunek said her expectations for her kids are high.

“I always want them to strive to meet (high expectations),” she said. “I don’t want them to fail. We work on it. We’ll do whatever we need to, but I want them to be successful individuals.”

Working with parents is big, too.

“They have their child’s best interest at heart, too,” she said. “I feel like I have to work with parents to make sure we are doing the same thing, we’re consistent. I’m always reaching out to parents, always trying to make connections so their child knows we’re a team. We want you to be successful.”

Bartunek and her husband, John, have three sons: Maison, Kayden and Harrison.

She is from Rushville, in western Nebraska.

Hastings Public Schools adds seven new positions
  • Updated

Hastings Public Schools is adding to each building a new staff member who will address learning loss.

Members of the Hastings Board of Education voted 9-0 at their regular meeting april 12 to approve seven new certified positions.

“This is something I never thought I’d be sitting in front of you proposing, because I didn’t think we’d have the resources to do it,” Superintendent Jeff Schneider said, discussing the item during the board’s work session on April 8. The positions are intended to give each building flexibility, being used for different purposes based on building needs. Some assignments may include but aren’t limited to subbing, responding to student behavior needs, coordinating interventions for students in need, and coordinating assessments.

“These teachers will be on special assignment and it may look very different from building to building, but I would tell you at the end of the day they have the same purpose and that purpose is to deal with learning loss that many of our kids have suffered over the last year and a half because all of the disruptions and specifically to provide support for many of our students who are at risk,” Schneider said. “It may look different because of existing programs at buildings.”

The estimated annual cost is $80,000 per position for a total of $560,000, with those funds coming from ESSER II Funds. That is the second round of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund made possible through the CARES Act.

The law making ESSER II Funds possible passed in late 2020.

Grant applications opened April 1. Applications are due April 30.

The district has to spend the funds by the end of the 2022-23 school year.

“This is not a new idea,” Schneider said. “We’ve been talking about this for years. We just thought it was something we couldn’t ever obtain.”

Schneider joined a Hastings group that visited the ICU program at York High School addressing at-risk students. ICU stands for intensive care unit, just like in a hospital.

“I think that’s the idea Dr. (Tom) Slzanda (Hastings High School principal) has for this particular position,” Schneider said. “That will look very differently at Alcott Elementary that doesn’t have a behavior program. They’re probably looking at more of a behavior response, so the people that are assigned to focus on instruction can focus on instruction.”

The seven positions may be used seven different ways based on what the programs are in each building.

“The whole idea here is to provide support in each building to free up staff members’ time to focus on instruction,” he said. “The most important thing we can do for our students, especially the 62% who are coming from poverty, is to give them a good, solid education so they can get out of that situation. In order to do that you’ve got to have some things in place.”

Schneider said one question surrounding these hires is whether they are sustainable.

Through ESSER II, the district has funding for the positions for two years.

Schneider believes they can be sustained for at least five years.

“I believe the way we’ve structured it, it is sustainable,” he said. “Some of these funds will cover our existing expenses, which helps us sustain other funds.”

He expects to be talking soon about ESSER III funds, which passed within the last month.

In other business, board members:

  • Unanimously approved an HPS Foundation Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Unanimously approved summer activity camps.
  • Unanimously approved student foreign travel preparation.
  • Unanimously approved lunch prices, ticket prices and student fees for 2021-22 school year. Breakfast and lunch prices would go up by 10 cents and extra milk by 5 cents. Fees would go up by $5, except laptop and activity fees, which would remain the same.
  • Unanimously approved a proposal for asbestos removal at Morton building.
  • Unanimously approved classified staff pay increases for the 2021-22 school year including a 3.41% or $1 per hour increase, whichever is higher.
  • Unanimously approved a revised Classified Salary Schedule/Appendix A.
  • Unanimously approved the addition of a full-time Hastings Middle School technology paraeducator position. The middle school is the only building in district that doesn’t have the position.
  • Unanimously approved administrative pay increases at 3.41%
  • .
  • Unanimously approved the superintendent’s contract with a 3.41% increase. The base pay is $197,750, with a total of $240,623 including benefits.
  • Unanimously approved increasing the substitute teaching rate for 2021-22 from $145 to $150.

Late reports bring additional COVID-19 cases, deaths into South Heartland tallies
  • Updated

After months of delay related to recordkeeping and information flow, the South Heartland District Health Department on Monday was able to belatedly confirm 153 previously unreported positive cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and 20 additional deaths related to the disease in the four-county health district.

In a news release Monday night, the health department reported completing COVID-19 data updates over the weekend as a result of recently receiving 153 positive laboratory report results for individuals tested between September 2020 and January 2021.

Although the reporting of these results to the local health department was delayed, South Heartland Executive Director Michele Bever said the positive cases now are included in the cumulative totals of cases for the district and the department incorporated them into its online statistical dashboard based on the dates the testing was conducted.

Bever said the cases aren’t current cases and weren’t included in last week’s positivity calculations.

The department also identified and removed 25 duplicate lab result records after completing a data accuracy review. The result was a net total increase of 128 cases for South Heartland’s jurisdiction, which includes Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

“SHDHD strives for high data accuracy and regularly reviews the lab results data, making corrections if lab-confirmation status, county of residence, duplicates or other reporting issues are identified,” Bever said in the news release. “To date, COVID-19 case corrections have totaled to less than one-half of one percent of the total confirmed cases in South Heartland health district.”

Bever said that reporting of positive labs from months past has allowed pending COVID-19 death confirmations to be processed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“For a death to be confirmed as a COVID-related death, the death certificate needs to state COVID-19 as a cause of death AND there needs to be a positive lab result,” Bever said.

“We are sad to report 20 additional deaths of South Heartland residents that occurred October 2020 through January 2021 and have finally been confirmed to be COVID-19-related deaths,” Bever said. “This includes six deaths in Adams County, 11 in Nuckolls County and three in Webster County, bringing our overall COVID-19 deaths to 88 and increasing the case fatality rate to 1.8% for South Heartland.”

South Heartland has been tallying new cases, deaths and other COVID-19 statistics since the first positive case in the district was reported on March 18, 2020.

Updating current cases of the disease, Bever said the health department also received 12 lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 results for Friday through Monday, including eight in Adams County, two in Clay County and two in Nuckolls County.

These newly confirmed cases, along with the belatedly reported labs and data corrections, brings the cumulative number of cases in the four-county health district to 4,761.

By county, the cumulative totals since March 18, 2020, are 3,057 cases in Adams, 753 cases in Clay County, 548 cases in Nuckolls County, and 403 cases in Webster County.

Bever also reported on the overall test positivity rate (the number of positive tests divided by the number of tests conducted) in the health district for the week of April 4-10, which increased to 3.1% compared to 2.9% for March 28-April 4.

“If we look only at community testing, the positivity is 9.4%, up from 7.3% the previous week,” Bever said.

“Community testing” is as opposed to long-term care facility testing, which is tracked separately, and where employees and residents are tested more frequently.

Also on Monday, the Nebraska Public Health Lab confirmed the first variant (B.1.1.7) of COVID-19 virus in the South Heartland health district. So far, more than 180 cases of this variant have been found across Nebraska.

Bever said this variant was first detected in the United Kingdom, and has been named by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “variant of concern” in the United States.

“Viruses can change due to mutations, which sets them apart from other variants of the original virus strain. Variants are classified as ‘variants of concern’ if there is evidence that the virus is more easily transmissible person to person, causes more severe disease leading to increased hospitalizations or deaths, or there is reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines,” she said.

According to the CDC, the B.1.1.7 variant is able to spread more easily (it’s about 50% more transmissible), it leads to increased illness severity, and some of the current treatments and vaccines are less effective with it.

“What this means for South Heartland District is that we cannot let down our guard,” Bever said. “If you have any symptoms consistent with COVID-19, please stay home from work, school and activities and get tested for COVID-19. We need to continue to avoid the three Cs: avoid crowded places, close contact, and confined spaces. Wear a mask in public, keep distanced from others you do not live with, and get your COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is offered and appropriate for you.”

For more South Heartland COVID-19 and vaccine statistics, visit www.southheartlandhealth.org.