In-person a success — the first week of school 2020-2021

Day 1 of the 2020-2021 school year for 3rd grader Bella and Sophia DK.

By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
After 170 days, most Oxford area students went back to school in-person last week.
“It’s exciting to be able to say we are no longer in early planning, we are now living the plan. We opened our doors and we did it. So, I think there’s some cause for great celebration on that front,” said Jill Lemond, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Safety Operations for Oxford Community Schools.
Over the summer, Lemond has worked meticulously on the COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan to ensure a safe and effective return to school in-person. She observed several elementary schools last week where she “watched our little ones just soar.”
She added, “They were thrilled to be there. . . I had really positive vibes.”
For the first two weeks, the schools are running at 50 percent capacity, with students attending every other day according to last name.
“It’s allowed us to work through some small kinks. It might have been bigger had we had a larger population in the building,” Lemond told the School Board at its Sept. 1 meeting. “I think we really did ourselves a favor being able to work through it like this.”
Anita Qonja, Executive Director of Elementary Instruction, said several teachers told her they had been nervous and anxious about all the unknowns, but “they felt like the plans were very supportive and they feel a lot better now knowing how things are going.”
Ken Weaver, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, observed the middle school and high school.

Ken Weaver, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction

“Their operation with many more students, a little more complicated in many ways,” he said. “But the high school and middle school administration has done a great job with addressing all of the issues, pinch points and problem areas and they still continue to work through things and make sure that everything’s followed, but they have done a fantastic job.
“I would say staff, overall very encouraging, very positive. You know, still concerned, but still overall very positive.
“Students, I think they are extremely happy to be back. They are happy to be back interacting with their fellow classmates, with the teachers. They’re happy to be talking to somebody besides their parents or besides their siblings. At the same time, I would say it’s new. It’s all new, it’s very cautious, but it all points to a lot of success.”
School Board Secretary Heather Shafer said, as a parent, “Taking my kids to school today was awesome!”
Shafer described how happy all the kids looked. “I do know that there’s still a lot of anxiety and worry – and I am too. Genuinely. But there was a lot of smiles today. Smiles on a lot of kids’ faces, even with, you know they were all working getting their masks on right before they went into the building and getting out of their cars and off their bikes, and it was good to see. I think we’re heading in the right direction, I really do.”
Superintendent Tim Throne said the first few days were “just tremendous across the board, couldn’t have wished for anything more.”
He reported receiving comments from students and parents thankful they had options whether to return to school virtually or in-person.
“I’m just really appreciative of our team and all the tons of time and hours they’ve put in in order to get ready for the last two days. And we’ll keep pounding away and make this a great year,” he said.
Oxford is an outlier in Oakland County, where most districts decided not to begin the school year in-person. Of Oakland County’s 28 school districts, at least 20 are beginning the school year fully remote with no in-person or hybrid option.
However, Oxford has the luxury of Oxford Virtual Academy (OVA), a public K-12 online school that was established 10 years ago. Families were given the option of returning to school fully in-person or transferring to OVA. Roughly 1,500 seated Oxford students made the transfer. That leaves about 70 percent of Oxford students returning to school in-person, according to Ken Weaver.
The latest fall enrollment estimate for the district is 7,475 students, up from last year’s 6,861 official count. The estimated 7,475 will likely be higher since they have not finished processing all new enrollments.
The School Board ended Schools of Choice enrollment earlier than planned this year because of state legislation that unevenly split funding for Schools of Choice students. Michigan House Bill 5913 allocated that 75% of per-pupil funding would go to the student’s home district while only 25% would go to the district the student actually attends.
This will impact Oxford Schools tremendously since Oxford has many more non-resident students than Oxford residents who attend school elsewhere.
“If these (enrollment) numbers hold true, Oxford stands to lose almost $5.5 million in revenue this year alone and we are still required to provide and pay for the education of these students! This amount equates to approximately 50% of our fund balance and we would have to start taking out a loan in order to make payroll,” Communications Director Matt Johnson wrote in an email.
Oxford Schools began the fiscal year July 1 with a healthy $11.667 million fund balance. The original budget for the 2020-2021 school year was $68 million, with an estimated $2.5 million of excess expenditures over revenues.
In addition to the Schools of Choice issue, the student foundation allowance from the state is anticipated to be significantly lower this year due to a loss of state revenues because of the economic conditions caused by the coronavirus.
In addition to the Schools of Choice issue, the student foundation allowance from the state is anticipated to be significantly lower this year due to a loss of state revenues because of the economic conditions caused by the coronavirus.

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