By nature, educators to want to plan ahead.
“And it’s impossible with COVID to do long-range planning,” Noblesville Schools Supt. Beth Niedermeyer said. “That’s something that drove us all absolutely bonkers.”
During Niedermeyer’s Oct. 7 State of the Schools address at the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Purgatory Golf Club, she shared how the school district has moved forward through the coronavirus pandemic.
“This COVID has affected every single part of our lives,” Niedermeyer said “The district leadership has really done all the behind-the-scenes things to really make this opening possible. I’m so honored to work with these folks. They do amazing work. They are dedicated. They are problem-solvers. They are critical thinkers.
“The work they do is inspiring to me.”
Niedermeyer said the school principals have done an excellent job keeping everything on track.
“Due to strong leadership we’ve had over the years from our technology department and our history of innovation of Noblesville Schools, we were prepared better than most to go to virtual better than most,” she said. “I give credit to our tech team and teachers for the amazing work to getting everyone ready.”
Niedermeyer said the team met with principals and district leaders from other counties to help formulate a plan.
“We also spent a lot of time on research and working with the State Dept. of Health and Hamilton County Health Dept. and reading everything we could get our hands on from the CDC,” she said.
Niedermeyer said there were 100-plus direct COVID-19 communications from the spring to September and a 32-page plan and online resource portal.
Niedermeyer said 90 percent of students chose to attend in-person classes. The district created six different online, in-person and hybrid instructional models, none of which the district had ever done before.
After school started, Niedermeyer said some parents became nervous and the number of virtual students increased from 10 percent to 13 percent. Some of the positions, such as media specialists, Title 1 learning specialists and instructional coaches, were shifted to teaching positions to help. The number of virtual-only students is now back to 10 percent.
As of Oct. 7, there were 53 positive cases of COVID-19 to date among the 11,700-plus students and staff.
“We found that students are safer in school than anywhere else because of our safety protocols,” Niedermeyer said. “We require masks and we spent a lot of time worrying how are we were going to mandate to enforce the masks, and it has not been an issue from the little ones, 5 years old all the way up to our seniors. It’s just become the new normal and we haven’t had trouble with it at all.”
Enrollment drops slightly
Noblesville Schools Supt. Beth Niedermeyer said the district has spent more than $1.8 million on COVID-19-related staffing and expenses while losing more than $800,000 in state funding due to lower than expected enrollment numbers.
The 2020-21 school enrollment is 10,370, down from 2019-20 enrollment of 10,446. The projection was 10,509.
The district also stands to lose almost $5.5 million if the state legislature does not fully fund students attending virtually in the February 2021 student count. Although the pandemic has strained the budget, Niedermeyer said finances overall are stable thanks in large part to the community’s passage of the 2018 operating referendum.
In other news, Niedermeyer said the new stadium behind Noblesville High School will be 50 percent larger than the current stadium and is expected to open for the 2022 football season.
The Noblesville Schools Community Center under construction next to the new stadium is on track to open in February 2021 and will house an alternative education program, adult education classes, community events and other activities.
The expansion of the district’s oldest and smallest school, North Elementary, will be complete in the summer of 2021 and will provide students with adequate room for lunch, physical education and music programming. Restrooms also will be renovated.
Niedermeyer said growth on Noblesville’s west side has increased enrollment at Noble Crossing Elementary, creating a need for additional classrooms and cafeteria space that will be completed by July 2021.