MVUSD staff outlines virtual start of school year

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Patrick Kelley, superintendent of Murrieta Valley Unified School District, awards the 2020 Superintendent’s Circle of Excellence awards to Mike Ruiz and Jason Seipp of Vista Murrieta High School during the Thursday, Aug. 13, meeting of the MVUSD Board of Education. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Mary Walters, assistant superintendent of educational services for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, gave the board of education members and the community a rundown of the start of the 2020-2021 school year during the board’s Thursday, Aug. 13, virtual meeting.

MVUSD schools all began the school year with distanced learning Friday, Aug. 14.

“Our task forces have been busy preparing for the beginning of school like Mr. Kelley alluded to, our teachers, administrators, classified staff, district departments, and our ed services team have been working tirelessly to prepare for school reopening tomorrow,” Walters said. “We will be utilizing our new learning management system, Canvas, to house teacher and course content, provide a platform for discussions, announcements, assignments, assessments and grading.

“There is a huge difference between what we did in the spring to what we are going to offer our students tomorrow. The key expectations of virtual learning are that our students need device and internet connectivity, that there will be daily live instruction, that there will be rigorous standards equal to in-person instruction, that we will be utilizing Canvas, Microsoft teams or Zoom on a daily basis. There will be graded assignments, regular progress reports and report cards. Daily attendance will be taken and there will be teacher virtual office hours for academic and other support,” she said.

A screen shot shows the part of the 45-day budget revision presentation from Bill Olien, deputy superintendent of MVUSD. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Walters said she was confident that the new educational format will help teachers improve their craft and said a quality education will be given.

“We have provided our students and their families with written communications, with expectations, their schedules, technology, information, nutrition services and social-emotional, and mental health supports,” Walters said. “We have continued to post frequently asked questions to provide more information for our families. And lastly, our executive directors of elementary and secondary education have created informational videos.”

Next, each district director went through the plan for the elementary, middle school and high school start of school. Walters said those information videos were available to view on the district’s website.

Faythe Mutchnick, executive director of elementary instruction for MVUSD, presented and explained the planned virtual model for elementary schools.

“One of the biggest changes you will see is our use of live virtual instruction,” she said. “This will allow for a much greater level of interaction and connectedness.

“Overall, we want you to know that we are committed to delivering quality instruction and to positively impact student learning. We are in a learning process ourselves, but this is our key goal as we transition into the virtual learning model,” Mutchnick said.

Jennifer Schriver, executive director of secondary education at MVUSD, also gave a report.

“I think you’re going to like what you see,” she said. “There is even an app for parents, and there are instructions on how to download and use it. Once you are familiar with Canvas, you will be able to monitor each of your students’ classes and assignments. Canvas is our key connection, our virtual learning environment.

“We have a few suggestions to support your student in virtual learning. Create a space in your home that is suitable for learning. Make sure your student has a place work that is free from distractions that can happen around the house. It’s important to have a place that allows them to focus on the work. Make sure their materials and technology are organized in this space so that the student may readily access anything as needed. Netiquette is etiquette or the expectations of online engagement. Teachers will review expectations, please encourage these behaviors as well. This is an excellent opportunity to teach our students 21st-century skills that are also expected in the workplace,” Schriver said.

Earlier in the evening, during employee organizations communication, Kimberly Binning Chevlin, president of Murrieta Educators Association, gave an update on how the teachers were adapting and preparing for the upcoming start to school.

“There’s bound to be very stressed out teachers in our district,” Binning Chevlin said. “No matter, MEA members will be there for our students tomorrow and for the remainder. MVUSD does have outstanding educators and as such, they are dedicated to making the best of this pandemic situation. MVUSD students will be delivered rigorous lessons and they will learn.”

Anna Leos, president of CSEA Murrieta Valley Chapter 223, updated the board on the classified employees’ preparations and a recent memorandum of understanding agreed upon by the district and the union.

“In my past six-plus years on the negotiation team, I have never felt so scared to make the wrong decision for the members,” Leos said. “We weren’t only negotiating the normal contractual topics, we were now negotiating health check and safety of all the classified employees.

“During this time of uncertainty communication between the administrators and classified has been very lacking. This is a time of the unknown, and communication and transparency are vital. Our hope in moving forward is that classified members will feel respected and valued,” she said.

Superintendent Patrick Kelley also gave a report on the first day of school.

“In my 30-plus years in education, I’ve never experienced a first day of school like this,” he said. “I want to acknowledge the tremendous effort that our employees are going through and the word ‘stress’ has been used. And that is an accurate word. It’s something that is being shared and shouldered throughout the community, whether it’s employees of the district or parents or students, this is a very different year and certainly not the ideal way that any of us would want to see a school year start. Nevertheless, I’m confident that the professionals have invested so much time and energy to do that.

“There certainly will be bumps, but they will continue to get better and better and better each day. I’m confident that we’ll have a good start,” he said.

Kelley also awarded the 2020 Superintendent’s Circle of Excellence awards to Mike Ruiz and Jason Seipp of Vista Murrieta High School, who helped the district transition into virtual learning at the end of the past school year.

“These two gentlemen, the words cannot express how valuable they are not to just the students at Vista Murrieta High School, but to the students throughout Murrieta Valley Unified School District,” Kelley said.

The board also unanimously approved the consent calendar; the personnel report of new hires; the memorandum of understanding agreement between MVUSD and MEA outlining the negotiable impacts due to the mandated virtual learning model and the reopening of the MVUSD Child Development Center at Avaxat Elementary School.

Bill Olien, deputy superintendent at MVUSD, presented the board with the last big action item on the agenda, requesting approval of the 45-day budget revision for the upcoming school year.

“This is usually a very routine item and the purpose of that 45-day budget revision is to have any budget adjustments between the state adopted budget and the board adopted budget,” Olien said. “As you know, the board adopts the budget by law before the end of June, and usually the state adopts the budget after that. During this particular time, there was so many changes as we illustrated during the budget adoption process that the board approved, and the number of changes were significant. There were big, significant differences between the legislature and the governor in terms of what the priorities were. The budget was passed and we are required, of course, to come back to you with those changes.”

According to Olien, the state did not cut the budget, but there isn’t new money coming in either.

“When the budget was passed by the state the cost of living adjustment was adjusted down from 2.312%,” he said. “They did eliminate that correction factor, so they didn’t store those cuts. That kind of resulted in approximately $16 million above the adopted budget.”

Olien talked about the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding that the district would receive and how they would spend it.

“Most of this has to be spent by December of this year,” he said. “There are some additional portions of some other funds that will extend into the year as well. So that’s why it is showing that all the money’s been expended. Again, it is supporting learning loss mitigation. The kinds of things that we’re looking at supporting with this is staff development, devices and connectivity purchases, instructional supports.”

Olien also announced that the planned cuts for career technical education programs won’t need to happen after all.

“Fortunately, those funds were restored, so there is no cut and is approximately $744,000 above adopted budget, which again is not necessarily new money, but it’s just not the cut. We were fortunate to be spare a cut in career technical education as well,” he said.

Olien emphasized that the future is uncertain as well regarding the budget and how the district will be impacted by COVID-19 going forward.

“I think there is good news in this, in the sense that we are able to meet our finished fiscal obligations for the next couple of fiscal years,” he said. “There are some considerations and concerns we need to be watching. No one here is going to have a crystal ball to know where they’re going to go. And I think these are impacts that are just nationwide. What continued impacts are we going to have for COVID-19 for continued school closure or virtual learning? What are those kinds of additional costs that we haven’t anticipated that we’re gonna need to be available to support? (Personal protective equipment) and being able to support a safe environment in the school. And again, there may be additional considerations that we haven’t thought of that we need to continue to support.”

The board approved the revision unanimously.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.