WAPS to explore student support services offerings with new study group

School Board Meeting Recap Sept. 3

Winona Area Public Schools is going to take a deep dive into its student support services. 

The Student Support Services Study Group, which was presented to the school board at Thursday night’s meeting by Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit, will analyze all facets of student support services and provide recommendations for action to the board.

The completion target date is for the Dec. 17, 2020 school board meeting. 

The board handed Freiheit with this task in June during a special board meeting to approve the 2020-21 budget. The special meeting happened just days after a rally in the high school parking lot called for change after several students of color said they experienced racism while students in WAPS. 

One of the key questions the group will seek to answer is whether or not the district equitably supports student needs. And if it doesn’t, what pragmatic actions can be taken in light of the district’s financial restraints?

The group will also seek to answer questions about the social-emotional needs of all students in the district and how the current support services available will meet those needs. 

The suggested members include the Superintendent and Director of Community Education in addition to other administrators, counselors, social workers, teachers, parents/guardians, student representatives and community members.

The group will meet every third Wednesday beginning Sept. 23. 

Among the list of the things the group will seek to accomplish is to develop a mission/purpose of student support services in alignment with the district’s organizational mission statement and strategic goals, explore the current status of programs and staffing, explore opportunities for community partnerships and identify the strengths and weaknesses of student support services in terms of equity.

Music study group: Freiheit also presented to the board her plan for a study group of the district’s music program, a direction the board tasked her with at the same special budget meeting.

The group will analyze the current music program in terms of who it serves in the WAPS student population, how the program compares to others in the nation, students’ attitudes and perceptions of the program and the actions that WAPS can take to enhance and improve the program in light of the district’s financial restraints. 

The group will consist of administrators, music teachers, parents, student representatives and community members. 

The group also plans to survey students and alumni of the music program to gather their thoughts.

District safety plan: The school board tabled a vote on a safety plan that would hire student safety coaches at the district’s three elementary schools. 

The hold was recommended by Freiheit, who expressed concerns about the district finances in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that Grades 7-12 will begin the school year in distance learning, which means the four current safety specialists can fulfill those duties in the elementary schools for the time being.

The current safety specialists will start to receive training in de-escalation strategies, trauma-informed practices and cultural proficiency/competency training, among others. Their job title will also change from safety specialists to student safety coaches to align with the plan.

The proposed job duties of a student safety coach include developing positive relationships with students and families, providing support to increase educational equity, promoting and reinforcing positive student behavior and providing active supervision in common areas. 

The plan was developed as part of a resolution by the board in terminating a contract with the City of Winona to provide a school resource officer.  

Committee reports: Angela McQuinn, chair of the Diversity and Equity Committee, presented a report from the committee’s last meeting on Aug. 5, 2020.

Included in the report was a recommendation for the district to hire a cultural liaison officer to work with all schools in the district. The board will discuss more about the position at its next meeting.

Winhawk Learning Plan update: Dr. Freiheit shared an update on the WAPS Safe Learning plan, which has been posted on the website at winonaschools.org/safe. Earlier in the week, after consulting with the Regional Support Team and the WAPS Incident Command Team, Freiheit made the decision to move to Winhawk Learning Model No. 4, which is a hybrid for Grades K-6 and distance learning only for Grades 7-12. With that change, athletics and activities have been postponed for at least two weeks starting Friday, Sept. 4. 

Freiheit said she is continuing to monitor the COVID-19 levels in the community to determine if further altering of the learning model is needed.

What else? When school board meetings will resume in person, they will take place at the high school. Director of Information Systems Kevin Flies told the board that the district has acquired the necessary technology to move forward with the plan. Meetings were previously held at City Hall. ... The board approved a list of goals for Freiheit in 2020-21. … Board member Michael Hanratty said interviews will begin soon for the junior student school board representative. … The board discussed the district’s Bullying Prohibition Policy and it will receive further discussion in the Board Operations Committee before coming back to the board. … Director of Finance Kristy Millering presented an enrollment update.