Monday, April 12, 2021

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Williams Unified working on plan to reopen high school

The Williams Unified School District Board of Trustees are close to reaching an agreement with teachers regarding a phased in reopening of the junior high and high school. 

District officials hope once Colusa County reaches and maintains the required tier for reopening schools in California, 7-12 grade students could return to classroom instruction. 

The district is looking at a hybrid model in which 15 or fewer students could resume in-person instruction, but only two days per week. The junior high and high school have remained in remote learning since the COVID-19 lockdown 11 months ago. 

Williams Jr./Sr. High School was the only school not to open when Colusa County was previously in the “red tier,” so it was not allowed to open when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in November that 28 counties were revert back into the “purple” tier, due in an increase in COVID-19 cases. 

“If we had opened back in October or November, we would be allowed to reopen now,” said Interim Superintendent Bill Cornelius. “But because we are in purple now, we are stuck with that delima.”

Colusa County’s Covid-19 cases have been trending downward, like the rest of the state, but will have to reach the red tier and then maintain that tier for five days before Williams can open classrooms for 7-12th graders. 

The district and teachers’ union have agreed on a phased-in hybrid model of instruction that includes protocols for COVID testing and tracing, and were still in negotiation last week for an increased salary and benefit package for certificated staff. 

The district on Feb. 18 approved negotiated increases with two other employee unions, which includes an additional $100 a month in health benefits for each member, a salary increase that is equitable to the minimum wage increase, an increase in paid personal leave from seven to 10 days, and an increase in paid “no-tell” leave from three days to five, in response to the reopening plan. 

While getting the schools open is critical to the physical and emotional health, as well as the education of students, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Williams officials will still be tasked with making up lost ground, more so than other local schools, who returned to in-person learning last fall.  

“In our Jr./Sr. High School, at the end of the first semester, we had 1,267 F’s,’” Cornelius said. “I about had a heart attack when I heard this.”

Cornelius said Williams Unified will have to come up with a plan that best meets the needs of their students, including looking at interventions, credit recovery, and possibly summer school. 

“We’re not the Lone Rangers in this,” he said. “I get that…but our numbers are really high for the number of kids that we have.” 

Cornelius said the district should focus on Investing LCAP money toward the greatest need, which include ESL, reading, and math programs in the lower grades. 

At the Jr/Sr/ High School, the district must look at student attendance as a critical reason for the high rate of failure, and make an effort to contact and maintain contact with parents, he said. 

Cornelius said he hopes to get the district restarted on a positive note before a new superintendent takes over on July 1. 

The Williams school board is actively searching for the right person for the job at the present time, officials said, and have engaged the community in the process. 

“Next year when you’re sitting here, we should see some drastic improvement,” Cornelius said. “It can be done, it just has to be structured right. We will get a lot of it done this spring.” 

Focused on English Language and Reading, and math by the end of the year.

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