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Area districts plan for possible hybrid return-to-school model

Area schools districts learned July 30 the recommended back-to-school models they should adopt when Gov. Tim Walz announced classifications on determining how districts should plan for the fall.

The Minnesota Department of Health took a look at the two-week infection rate for counties across the state and then examined the county level rates per 10,000. Waseca County’s rate sat at 20.2 per 10,000 for the two-week period ending on July 28. The recommendation for counties with case rates between 20-29 per 10,000 is hybrid learning, a mix of in-person and distance learning.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva school districts cross county lines and data from those counties must be considered. For instance, JWP include parts of Blue Earth County, which has a rate of 25.3 per 10,000. Districts must work with the most restrictive rate, so if Waseca County had a rate less than 20 per 10,000, JWP would still have to work with the Blue Earth rate if it remained higher.

As the rate per 10,000 changes, districts will have to make adjustments as that occurs.

Waseca Public Schools will likely begin the school year in a hybrid model. The School Board discussed what that model will look like at its workshop Thursday. The initial model would require distance learning for all grades on Mondays. Grades kindergarten and first will attend school in person Tuesdays through Fridays.

Second through 12th grade will attend school in an A or B group. The A group would attend school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and have distance learning on Thursdays and Fridays. The B group would have distance learning on Tuesdays and Wednesday while it would attend school on Thursdays and Fridays. Families with multiple students would have their students be in the same groups.

The Monday distance learning days would still allow teachers to connect with students through office hours and regular check-ins.

Waseca Public Schools surveyed the community and found 70 percent of 1,348 respondents favored the hybrid model.

Waseca Superintendent Eric Hudspith and JWP Superintendent Kurt Stumpf liked that the governor allowed localized control for the decision on returning to school. JWP will likely adopt a similar model to Waseca’s, with one group of students coming in two days and another group coming in the other two days.

Waseca Public Schools developed a color-coded status level for flexible learning. The green level means all students return to school, the blue level means in-person learning for elementary students in grades kindergarten through six, students in grades seven through 12 would have two days in school and three of distance learning. The yellow status level means students in kindergarten and first grade have four days in school and one day of distance learning. Students in grades two through 12 have two days in school and three of distance learning. The orange level has all students in grades seven through 12 participating in distance learning. The red status level places all students in distance learning.

Students with special needs

The hybrid model presented to the Waseca School Board Thursday didn’t specifically outline how the model will work for students with special needs, though the district has spent time considering options, Hudspith said.

“One of our proposed hybrid models is having our kindergartners and first-graders coming to school four days a week,” he said. “Then potentially our students with disabilities or our students with higher learning needs would come in more than half the time.”

The district could lean on paraprofessionals for additional help with students who have higher learning needs.

“We will obviously try to prioritize students with higher needs to be in school more often but when they can’t be, we’re still going to be more strategic in our staffing so that we make sure those students get the connection they need when they’re not in school,” Hudspith said.

Transportation

Guidelines for school transportation suggest that buses operate at 50 percent capacity. Waseca Schools typically runs busses at 50-60 percent capacity during a regular school year, Hudspith said. The district likely won’t need additional buses in a hybrid model, but should the rates per 10,000 decrease and the district decides to have more in-person learning, then things could change.

As far as bus transportation, the survey found that 43.5 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t use busing for their children. Just 32.6 percent said they would use busing.

Screening

Waseca Schools continues to develop screening practices. The district has used a self-symptom check for parents and children during summer school.

With just half of the students in the buildings in a hybrid model, the district won’t have to worry as much about airflow within buildings. The airflow will operate as usual, which would serve as an increase with a half-full building.

The Waseca School Board meets Aug. 20 to make a final decision on which model to adopt.


News
spotlight
Two Rivers Habitat for Humanity welcomes Powell family home

Stacey Powell couldn’t be more proud or happy to finally have a home to call her own thanks to Two Rivers Habitat for Humanity.

A house in New Richland was recently renovated for Powell and her family with the help of volunteers, family, friends and Habitat for Humanity.

“Oh my God, I was blessed to get picked,” Powell said. “I was so happy when they reached out to me. I was really, really happy to be picked for Habitat for Humanity.”

In 2018, Powell and her family became homeless after a fire destroyed her mother’s house where they were living in Owatonna at the time.

It took about four months to find the first home to stay after the fire, making the family homeless in the meantime and living in hotels. Bouncing from hotel and house-to-house is how Powell and her family lived for almost two years until Habitat for Humanity approved her application for a home through the organization.

On Aug. 27 she will sign the closing papers and move into her home with her family.

“It just pulls on my heart strings knowing this organization is doing God’s work and it’s all about families first,” Two Rivers Habitat for Humanity marketing and communications Ken Quattrin said. “Once these families get their home they’re in a community and they grow roots and it’s so important.”

This house is more than a home for Powell.

“It (the home) means stability, it means shelter, it means home, it’s a place we can call home and it’s ours,” Powell said. “We decorate how we want to, put us in there. It’s comfortable, it’s a home, not just a house.”

Powell hesitated to apply for a Habitat for Humanity home because she didn’t believe she’d be chosen, making the process a waste of her time. Elizabeth Morsching, an Owatonna Alternative Learning Center social worker, thought differently and encouraged Powell to apply.

One of the requirements of the family receiving a home from Habitat for Humanity is putting in sweat equity. Each recipient is required to spend at least 200 hours volunteering on a Habitat for Humanity home.

“We don’t do a hand out, Quattrin said. “We do a hand up.”

While putting in her sweat equity Powell made connections with the volunteers and employees of Habitat for Humanity. She said these are friendships that she will keep up after moving into her home and she hopes to keep volunteering with the organization.

The home Powell is moving into from Habitat for Humanity is a home that the organization received from the city of New Richland for renovation and recycling through the program.

Habitat for Humanity renovated the home with green and recycled materials to keep costs down.

The home received new paint, an additional bedroom, new windows, new landscaping and numerous additional upgrades for the family.

“What Habitat for Humanity has done for me is put me in a position to own a home,” Powell said. “They gave me the resources to be an owner.”

To continue making homes for families in need, Two Rivers Habitat for Humanity relies on charitable donations and loans. COVID-19 has affected the amount of donations that the organization receives, but the state Paycheck Protection Program loan helped the organization with funding during the pandemic.

“Charitable donations are down with the virus and the uncertainty of people’s jobs, but we as an organization are going to keep pushing forward to do God’s work,” Quattrin said.

The work that is done by Habitat for Humanity is important to those in need who have not had the chance to own a home or do not have a place to live. Through this organization people can put down roots and be a part of a community.

“I appreciate everyone there (Two Rivers) who worked with me and the volunteers and the communication,” Powell said. “I’ll tell anybody about them (Two Rivers) and they’re wonderful people and they care and they care about you and they want you to get into your home and will do anything to get you into your home.”

Powell said she likes that New Richland is a small community and is excited to be in her new home. Her kids and grandkids will be able to come over and spend family time together now.

She said that it has been a lot of dedication and work to get to this point.

“It’s been a long journey,” Powell said of becoming a homeowner. “I’m happy my kids are happy.”

Two Rivers Habitat for Humanity held a home dedication ceremony for Powell and her family to see the final house and recognize the work that was done. Present at the ceremony were Habitat for Humanity employees, volunteers, family and friends.

“The organization is extremely excited and happy for Stacey’s family to have the dream home they always wanted,” Quattrin said. “We’re very grateful for the volunteers and the City of New Richland to bless us with this opportunity to help this family in need. …”


Jackie Krause right, was able to attend a Minnesota Gophers Volleyball match with friends Kari Priebe (left) and Cindy Ruedy (middle). (Photo courtesy of Cindy Ruedy)


WEM/JWP’s Lauren Dimler competes in a meet from a previous season. Dimler and the Grizzlies will compete in seven meets this season. (Photo courtesy of Richard Rohlfing)


News
Waseca County election races take shape as filing period ends

The candidate filing period ended Tuesday and within the city of Waseca there is a race for the council seat for Ward 2 with John Mansfield challenging longtime Councilor Les Tlougan.

Ward 1 will have a special election for one of the two seats. Jeremy Conrath is running unopposed in the special election for Larry Johnson’s seat. Conrath, who currently holds one of the two Ward 1 seats, opted to file for the two-year term Johnson now fills instead of the full four-year term. Johnson was appointed to the council in 2019 after now Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce President Ann Fitch resigned. His term has two years remaining.

Theodore Conrath is running unopposed for the other Ward 1 seat for the four-year team.

The Waseca school board has three open seats. Incumbents Julie Anderson and Edita Mansfield have filed, along with Robert Dickerson and Grant Scheffert.

Janesville mayor Mike Santo did not file for re-election. Council member Russ Wiebold will face Andrew P. Arnoldt in the mayoral race. Andy Ahlman and James Mulcahey have filed for two available city council spots.

In New Richland, Mayor Mike Shurson did not file for re-election. Christina Petsinger and Gail Schmidt will compete for the mayor position.

Incumbent council members Chad Neitzel and Jenna Pederson face a challenge from Pat Pat Darcy, David Hedin, Patrick Petsinger, Joyce Wobbrock and Jody Wynnemer for their seats.

The general election will take place Nov. 3

Waseca County

County Commissioner District 1

Doug Christopherson (Incumbent)

County Commissioner District 2

Brian Harguth (Incumbent)

Soil and Water Supervisor District 1

Wayne Cords (Incumbent)

Soil and Water Supervisor District 5

Keith Morgan (Incumbent)

Waseca

Mayor

Roy Srp (Incumbent)

Council Member Ward 1

Theodore Conrath

Special Election for Council Member Ward 1

Jeremy Conrath (Incumbent)

Council Member Ward 2

John Mansfield

Les Tlougan (Incumbent)

Council Member Ward 3

Mark A. Christiansen (Incumbent)

Woodville Township

Town Supervisor Seat 1

Dale DeRaad (Incumbent)

Town Treasurer

Judy Hoffman (Incumbent)

Waldorf

Mayor

Rob Wilkening (Incumbent)

Council Member (Two spots available)

Charles Barnes

Howard Cordes (Incumbent)

Kevin Lines (Incumbent)

Jay Longeneker

New Richland

Mayor

Christina Petsinger

Gail Schmidt

Council Member (Two spots available)

Pat Darcy

David Hedin

Chad Neitzel (Incumbent)

Jenna Pederson (Incumbent)

Patrick Petsinger

Joyce Wobbrock

Jody Wynnemer

Janesville

Mayor

Andrew P. Arnoldt

Russ Wiebold

Council Member (Two spots available)

Andy Ahlman

James Mulcahey

Elysian

Mayor

Tom McBroom Sr.

Council Member (Two spots available)

Bobby Houlihan (Incumbent)

Pat Nusbaum

Derek Westby

School board

Waseca (Three spots available)

Julie Anderson (Incumbent)

Robert Dickerson

Edita Mansfield (Incumbent)

Grant Scheffert

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton (Three spots available)

Scott Kaminski

Tim Oelke (Incumbent)

Laura Seys (Incumbent)

NRHEG (Three spots available)

Terri Engel

Karen Flatness (Incumbent)

JoAnn Hagen Maloney (Incumbent)

Jennifer Johnson

Nancy Lageson

Dan Schmidt (Incumbent)

Loren Schoenrock

Tami L. Tufte-LaCanne

Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (Three spots available)

Jay Schneider (Incumbent)

Jeffrey M. Stangler (Incumbent)