Northampton Press

Monday, July 6, 2020

End-of-year milestones on hold for NASD students

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in School

After two months of schools being shut down in the Northampton Area School District, mandated through the end of the 2019-20 school year by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, some questions have been resolved and some questions still remain for students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Milestone events in NASD, including the high school musical, senior prom and 2020 commencement, aren’t canceled but have been postponed.

With Wolf’s April 20 announcement of a color-coded, three-phase reopening plan starting May 8, here’s an update by topic of how NASD may be affected, based on an April 13 phone interview and an April 26 email interview with NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik, as well as an April 23 email and video by Kovalchik to secondary school parents and guardians and April 6 and 13 board of education meetings.

The NASD school board next meets 6:30 p.m. May 4, again by video conference, when it is expected to vote on the proposed 2020-21 NASD budget.

High school musical

One of the first milestone events affected by Wolf’s March 13 school shutdown mandate was the Northampton Area High School production of “Cinderella,” planned for March 19-22, an entrant in the now-canceled 18th annual Freddy Awards.

“Freddy Awards: A Television Special Celebrating the High School Musical Class of 2020” will be telecast on WFMZ-TV 6:30 p.m. May 21.

“At this time, the musical has not been canceled, just postponed,” Kovalchik stated in an April 26 email.

Senior prom

The 2020 senior prom is scheduled for 5-9 p.m. May 9 at Palace Center, Allentown.

“At this time, the prom has not been canceled. An announcement will be coming out in the coming days about the prom,” stated Kovalchik in the email.

Class of 2020 commencement

Northampton Area High School, Class of 2020, commencement exercises are set for June 6 at Stabler Arena, Lehigh University, Bethlehem.

“At this time, graduation has not been postponed. The governor announced his three-phase plan for Pennsylvania. We will follow that plan regarding social gatherings. An announcement about a specific graduation date will be made either later this week or next week (the week of April 26 or May 3),” Kovalchik stated.

In an April 24 update on its website, Lehigh University officials stated the campus is closed with hopes to reopen it in the fall for classes. Spring and summer coursework is online.

“I haven’t received official notification from Lehigh University at this time about [its] facilities being opened or closed,” Kovalchik said. “I’m extremely disappointed for our seniors.”

Yearbooks, academic awards and the recognition of the Top 30 students are up in the air because of the shutdown.

“I’m trying to figure out a plan to do everything in our power to recognize our seniors, but it’s really going to come back to what our governor is going to allow us to do in the coming weeks and months,” Kovalchik said. “I want our students to be recognized for their academic achievements as well as their curricular achievements.”

School course grading

Pennsylvania Department of Education is allowing grading and graduation decisions up to the local education authority, in this case the NASD Board of Education, which must approve a grading plan submitted for approval to the DEP.

Approximately 80 percent of the NASD third marking period was completed.

NASD Assistant Superintendent Robert Steckel and members of the administration worked on grading policies.

“We put out our expectations. Our teachers take attendance. We contact the parents of those kids who are not logging on,” Kovalchik explained to the board.

How the district’s closing affects the 300 NASD students attending Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School is also a concern.

In an April 23 video and email to parents and guardians of NASD secondary school students, Kovalchik outlined grading for the fourth marking period.

“If a student does 90 percent of the course work in the fourth marking period, they could receive five percentage points onto their final course average,” Kovalchik said.

As an example, Kovalchik said if a student is carrying an 80-percent average in a class over three marking periods, the five percentage points would be added to the final course average, and the total would be 85 percent.

Kovalchik said if a student completes 70 percent of the required course work, he or she would receive three percentage points. Based on an 80 percent average, the three percentage points would be added, and the total would be 83 percent.

If a student completes less than 70 percent, and based on the example of an 80-percent average in a class, then the average for the student would remain at 80 percent.

“As we try to navigate through this most difficult experience for learning for all of us, we’re just trying to provide that extra support and opportunity for success for our students,” Kovalchik said in the video.

For more information, visit nasdschools.org/Domain/8. Click on the link to the Parent-Student Update Regarding MP4 Student Work Completion and Final Course Grade Opportunity.

Retrieving personal items

Wolf’s three-phase plan for the state plays a critical role in all aspects of the district.

“We’re going to analyze that plan extensively to see when we can allow some of our parents and students to come in to pick their personal items up in the coming weeks,” Kovalchik said.

Kovalchik hopes to announce a plan of action and specific dates soon.

At the time of the school closings, students, teachers and administrators departed buildings, thinking classes might resume.

“They’re going to have to retrieve their materials,” Kovalchik said.

Counseling for students

In an email, Kovalchik outlined information about the NASD and St. Luke’s University Health Network partnership to provide therapy through the YESS! program at NAHS and Northampton Area Middle School.

Links are provided on the NASD website for information about the program and a YESS! brochure.

If a child is in need of support offered by the YESS! program, a school counselor at NAHS or NAMS is to be contacted for assistance. The counselors are designated according to a student’s last name.

Free lunch distribution

“Free bagged lunches continue to be distributed on Monday and Wednesday. Approximately 400 lunches are being distributed,” Kovalchik said.

Two lunches are distributed Monday and three lunches are distributed Wednesday at Col. John Siegfried Elementary School, Northampton, and George Wolf Elementary School, Bath.

Free lunches have been provided since March 16. The Monday through Friday schedule was changed to Mondays and Wednesdays as of the week of April 13.

“We’re trying to limit the exposure of the Aramark workers to the general public,” Kovalchik said.

Lehigh Elementary project

Construction of the new Lehigh Elementary School, Blue Mountain Drive, Lehigh Township, stopped March 20 after Wolf’s March 19 order to halt non-life-sustaining businesses in the commonwealth.

Following guidance from PDE March 27, phased construction resumed April 15 on the $35.7 million project.

In the April 26 email, Kovalchik stated work on the Lehigh Elementary project is being completed in the following areas:

• Door frames are being installed.

• Concrete is being poured.

• Brick is being set.

• Window frames are being installed.

• Roofers are laying shingles.

• Electrical conduit is being installed.

• PPL is completing line work.

“Next week, the steel for the cafeteria is scheduled to be installed,” Kovalchik said.

Long-distance learning

Chromebooks were issued to students March 13, the last day of in-person classes in NASD.

After two weeks of vacation, long-distance learning was initiated March 30, utilizing Schoology software and the Chromebooks.

“Ninety-eight percent of our students engaged in the learning process last week and the first week,” Kovalchik said regarding the first two weeks of remote learning.

Kovalchik was asked what impact the school closings has had on district staff development.

“Our lead teachers are collaborating with our administrative team on offering staff development sessions during the last quarter of our school year. That would have to be done virtually, of course,” he said.

The administration must complete 400 professional staff evaluations, based on new criteria issued by PDE.

“We have to evaluate all of our staff. That has to be done in a certain period of time, sooner rather than later,” Kovalchik said. “That takes a certain amount of time.”

The scheduling of Camp Invention, the student summer enrichment program, and summer school remediation courses are to be determined.

Another impact is kindergarten registration for fall 2020.

“They’re not sure how to register their kids because nobody’s coming in. Those numbers could change. That could affect the budget,” Kovalchik said.

The suspension of classes and activities has had a profound effect on the 5,500 students and 40,000 residents in the 98-square-mile school district.

“There’s going to be a huge impact on the learning process for next year,” Kovalchik said.