Hoopeston Area School District administrators had a positive outlook while reporting on the first day of the school year at last week’s board of education meeting.

Superintendent Robert Richardson said the school year got off to a good start, though it was a somewhat exhausting day for him.

“I’m going to sleep well tonight,” he said. “I was running all day and I would tell you what, I saw kids who were excited to be back in school.”

Richardson could only recall one instance during the day when a teacher had to ask a student to pull up their mask, which he considers a testament to the great work of district administrators, teachers and staff.

“I was impressed,” he said. “It goes back to the people we have in this district. They are great people. They go above and beyond. It makes my job a whole lot easier.

Richardson outlined the school district’s registration numbers for the first day.

A total of 1,062 students had registered to attend school in the district with 792 students attending in-person instruction and 270 choosing remote learning. An additional 15 students are choosing to be homeschooled.

The individual building numbers are as follows:

Maple:

In-Person-187

Remote-67

Homeschool-9

John Greer:

In-Person-163

Remote-65

Middle School:

In-Person-193

Remote-66

Homeschool-6

High School:

In-Person-249

Remote-72

Richardson said there was an unexplained drop of approximately 200 students from last year’s enrollment numbers.

He said it’s possible some people are on vacation still or simply haven’t registered yet.

From his observations on Thursday Richardson said he saw teachers and students who were being very attentive and eager.

“This tells me that the kids were ready to come back to school,” he said. “It was awesome to see.”

Richardson also addressed the tents that have been put up near district buildings.

“No, the circus has not come to town,” he said. “We do have tents up at every building. The purpose of that is to utilize outside classrooms. Give those students the opportunity to spread out and take their masks off.”

Richardson said water fountains had been closed-off since they tend to be gathering places. He said they have provided water in coolers for students instead.

He said the district did start the shuttle service on Thursday as a way to bring students from other buildings in the district to the middle school/high school for the after-school programs.

Richardson said there were some hiccups and he will be working with administrators to find the best way to make the service more efficient.

District Transportation Director Mason Layden said the first day went pretty smooth in terms of bus service.

He said buses are being sanitized when they return after their morning routes and again when they return from the evening routes.

Layden said buses are sanitized using a spray that is applied to seats, allowed to sit for a few minutes and the wiped down.

Building and Grounds Director Tim Walsh outlined some of the steps the buildings and grounds crew has taken to get buildings ready for students.

He said personal protective equipment (PPE) has been provided for each of the schools including 20,000 masks.

Walsh said buildings have also been stocked with the sanitizing spray Layden mentioned for sanitizing classroom areas.

He said they’re also provided sanitizing wipes for each classroom to be used to wipe down desks.

Walsh said they have also purchased 160 gallons of hand-sanitizer that has been distributed in containers in every classroom in the district.

John Greer Principal Dan Walder was pleased with the first day of school in his building.

“Our first day went really well,” he said.

Maple Principal Suzi Root said Maple’s first day, which only featured the first and second grade students, also went well with only one student in tears during the day.

“We only had one student in tears today, so that’s a win for me,” she said.

Root said students seemed eager to return to school and she hoped they would continue to handle the transition well as the school year progresses.

She said kindergarten students and their families came in for appointments with their teachers instead of the usual process of splitting the kindergarten classes into boys and girls and having them come in separately in the morning and afternoon.

Root thanked her staff for their efforts in preparing for the school year.

“They have gone above and beyond getting things ready,” she said. “I can’t believe how smooth it went. Maple’s been turned upside down in a way.”

Root was referring to the changes that have been implemented at the elementary level where students are now largely confined to a specific classroom each day save for a couple recess breaks or mask breaks.

This includes eating lunch in the classrooms, Root said while praising the efforts of Maple’s lunch staff.

“They just rocked it,” she said.

Root said she had been somewhat concerned about how the young students at Maple would handle wearing masks all day.

“With my little ones, I was little bit worried about the masks,” she said. “But very few of them had any mask issues,” she said. “Overall, I think it was a great day. This is all because of our staff.”

Root also praised Maple’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and local businesses that donated more than $5,000 to buy school supplies for students at Maple.

Middle School Principal Michelle White also praised staff members for their work at the middle school.

She said they have a lot of new staff members this year who have jumped in and gotten to work to prepare for students.

“It’s really, really wonderful to see and the kids seemed to have a great day,” she said.

White said the logistics for the day went relatively smoothly with a few traffic jam issues around lunch and getting students dismissed.

Hoopeston Area High School Principal John Klaber also praised his staff for working diligently this summer to prepare the school for students.

Klaber felt that the first day of school went well.

“It was a great day to be a Cornjerker and to be back in school after a long, long hiatus,” he said.

While Hoopeston Education Association President Dylan Swank said district teachers and staff shared the enthusiasm about seeing their students and working with them again, he did raise some concerns HEA members had raised about returning to school during the pandemic.

“No one wants to be back in the classroom with students more than people who work at schools every day,” he said. “As you know, though, there are still HEA members across the district who are still deeply concerned about elements of being in the buildings.”

To that end, Swank said the HEA submitted the district’s reopening plan to a panel of doctors from the Illinois Chapter of the American Association of Pediatrics.

He said the panel identified some concerns with the plan and a review plan featuring their concerns had been sent to Richardson and Board President Dave McFadden.

“We hope to work together to alleviate some of those concerns over the course of the next few weeks,” Swank said.

Swank also briefly discussed the collective bargaining agreement between the HEA and the school district.

He said both parties had expected to have the CBA ready by this point but there have been a few snags.

Swank said he thinks both parties feel they can come to some sort of agreeable compromise and he looked forward to continuing discussions in the following week.

“It seems like something we’ve already been able to reach a consensus and agreement on before and so we’re hopeful we’re able to do so again in the near future,” he said.

Swank also took the opportunity to praise the work of building principals in the district for working hand-in-hand with teachers and staff to establish the best practices they can hope for in welcoming students back into the buildings.

The board approved the following personnel matters:

- Action to accept the resignation of Amanda Lugo as Personal Aide at Hoopeston Area High School effective August 7, 2020.

- Action to employ Kevin Heiser as 7th Grade Science Long Term Substitute at Hoopeston Area Middle School with an effective date of August 17, 2020.

- Action to employ Carolyn Eyrich-Mastin as Special Education Long Term Substitute at John Greer Elementary with an effective date of August 17, 2020.

- Action to employ Carrie Birch as Part-Time Secretary at Maple Elementary School with an effective date of August 20, 2020.

- Action to employ Suzanne Boyer as Assistant Volleyball Coach at Hoopeston Area High School for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to employ Brock Baker as Assistant Girls Basketball Coach at Hoopeston Area High School for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to employ Aaron Fell as 5th Grade Girls Basketball Coach for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to employ Lisa Mann as Part Time District Special Education Administrator as a stipend position for the 2020-2021 school year with an effective date of August 21, 2020.

- Action to employ Gretchen Brown as the M.S’/H.S. Special Education Coordinator as a stipend position for the 2020-2021 school year with an effective date of August 21, 2020.

- Action to employ Glenn Brewer as a bus driver for the 2020-2021 school year with an effective date of August 21, 2020.

- Action to employ Kristie Terrell as a District custodian for the 2020-2021 school year with an effective date of August 21, 2020.

- Action to employ Charlie Strawser as a District custodian for the 2020-2021 school year with an effective date of August 21, 2020.

The board also approved the following matters:

- Action to approve requisition to McGraw-Hill materials ALEKS for supplemental math assistance remote learning students for $19980 through ESSERGrant funds.

- Action to approve requisition to Kajeet for WiFi cOlmectivity for remote learning students for $29,429.20 through ESSERGrant funds.

- Action to approve requisition to Hapara for Instructional Management Suite Service for District learners for $17,493.00 through ESSERGrant funds.

- Action to approve the second reading of policy updates and 5 year policy review as presented.

- Action(s) to accept bids for Demolition of Honeywell School as presented.

- Action to approve the tentative FY21 Budget as presented.

- Action to set the public hearing date for the FY21 Budget as Thursday, September 17 at 6 p.m. in the Hoopeston Area High School Library.

- Action to approve the employment of Russell Leigh and Associates for the FY21 District Audit at a cost not to exceed $7,300.