The audience was larger than in recent sessions when the Baker School Board met Thursday night, but rather than gathering at City Hall as in pre-COVID-19 days, the crowd appeared by video from their homes, offices, schools and other locations.

Director Kevin Cassidy even made an appearance via Zoom video from Wallowa Lake where he and his family were gathered for a pre-graduation celebration for his son, Kale.

The Board presented glass bowls as tokens of appreciation (to be presented later) to retiring staff members including Betty Palmer, who has served 27 years in the District; Debra Stuchlik, 28 years; David Frazey, 29; Michael Morgan, 5; Cynthia Johansen, 31; Ramona Helgerson, 26; Connie Robinson, 26; Tally Newman, 20; and Alita Arendell, 7.

Board Chair Chris Hawkins assured the retirees that their efforts over the years have been appreciated, even though the coronavirus pandemic required the absence of the usual hugs and in-person congratulations.

“It doesn’t diminish our respect and appreciation for everything you have done,” he told the group from their various remote locations.

The Board next honored Aiden Rosales, a Brooklyn Primary School student, and Beka Shaw, recently elected BHS student body treasurer, as the “Promise Students of the Month.” Mugs and certificates recognizing them as outstanding students also will be presented later.

BHS Principal Greg Mitchell, after first honoring Beka, next recognized one of his teachers, Maggie Banta, who has received an “Inspirational Teacher Award” from Eastern Oregon University. She was nominated by Corrina Stadler, an EOU freshman and 2019 BHS graduate. In her nomination, Stadler credited Banta, who teaches social studies, with inspiring her to pursue a career in education.

Students and staff from Keating Elementary also spoke enthusiastically about their participation in a project with NASA during the year.

Principal and head teacher Amanda Wilde introduced the student presenters: fifth-graders Hayden Churchfield and Jain Elsner and first-graders Baylee and Blaine Myers.

Wilde and teacher Toni Myers led the students through the presentation to introduce the Board to the NASA RADIOS program.

NASA, of course, is the well-known acronym for the National Aeronautics Space Administration. RADIOS, on the other hand, is a lesser known acronym for Remote and Distance Interactive Online Sessions.

The Keating School, with an enrollment of about 25 students in Grade K-6 this year, was among 14 Oregon schools chosen to participate in NASA RADIOS this year.

“We already were preparing for what was coming,” Wilde said of the experience with remote learning brought to Keating School via livestreaming from Space Center Houston prior to the shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Students talked about their lessons about the International Space Station, a virtual tour of the Space Center and a study of Mars. To show their appreciation, the Board and school administrators will receive a special thank-you card that includes a Milky Way candy bar and the message “Your Support is Out of This World.”

“Thank you to the School Board and all of the administrators who make all of the magic happen at this school,” Wilde added from her remote site.

Next, Baker Middle School principal Skye Flanagan was joined by technology staff member Lynde Roberts and teachers Sarah Villarreal, Baker Middle School language arts teacher; Nicole Sullivan, BHS science teacher; and Andrea Belding, a first-grade teacher at Haines for a presentation titled “Technology Upgrade to Meet and Exceed the Challenge of COVID-19.”

Flanagan said the technology team has found during the District’s distance learning experience required by the coronavirus pandemic, that improvements are needed.

“We really weren’t set up tech-wise for something like this to happen,” Sullivan told the Board. “Our systems don’t sync well.”

That should be remedied by next school year, Flanagan and Roberts told the Board. A new system soon to be in place throughout the District will put Baker schools at the forefront of technological advancement, the two men said.

The District will move to the Schoology learning management system, which provides flexibility for staff and students regardless of whether in-person classes meet in the fall or if distance learning will continue to be required. It also will help provide instruction to students who cannot attend school because of illness or because they are uncomfortable in a larger classroom setting or because their family is away on a vacation, team members said.

Geno Bates, South Baker Intermediate School principal, added his enthusiasm to the new technology system coming to the District.

“It’s exciting for my teachers,” Bates said. “I think this is going to enhance our teaching. It’s at the forefront of education.”

Superintendent Mark Witty said Friday that the technological improvements are “a strong, decisive investment primarily paid for through CARES money (federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act).”

The District will spend $600,000 in 96 classrooms to upgrade systems, add new laptop computers and ensure that all students have access to high quality devices such as Chromebooks for older children and iPads for the younger ones, Witty said.

Teacher training on the new system will begin as soon as possible and will be a focus of the fall in-service training as well, he said.

“This system will really integrate technology,” Witty said. “It will be easier for staff to provide high-quality lessons.

“We’ve never had this level of integration,” he added. “I don’t know of a district in Oregon that has.”

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