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Bellefonte school board has first ‘virtual’ meeting

BELLEFONTE — For the Bellefonte school board, it was business as usual on at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Well, sort of.

The board held its first virtual meeting via Zoom. All board members, joined the meeting online with only a few people helping facilitate the meeting from the Bellefonte Area Middle School. As expected, much of the meeting centered around the current school closure throughout the Commonwealth due to the COVID-19 crisis. Schools are closed through at least until Monday, April 6.

Board president Jon Guizar announced that the board has identified several candidates for the superintendent position. Superintendent Dr. Michelle Saylor is retiring at the conclusion of the school year.

“The deadline, of course, has come and gone,” Guizar said. “Candidates have been selected for interview.”

Guizar asked board members if they wanted to continue the interview process during the shutdown. The interviews, he said, would likely have to be conducted remotely.

Board member Kimberly Weaver said that she doesn’t like the idea of remote interviews for such a big hire.

“I do not think that we should continue it remotely,” Weaver said. “First of all, if we are interviewing anyone who could be (working) in another district, they’re also dealing with a lot of stuff. If we are pulling them from there … I just think we owe it to the community to be doing this with them in the room. I don’t think doing it remotely would be a good choice.”

Board member Donna Smith asked Guizar about the interview process.

“Are you saying that we would not interview them in person?”

“I don’t know what I’m saying at this point,” Guizar quipped. “I guess I’m asking what the feeling of the board is.”

Guizar said that one of the options may be to meet in smaller groups or simply postpone interviews.

“We really don’t know what the future looks like. It’s basically on a week-by-week basis. We’re looking for guidance from PDE or the Governor’s office on what we’re to do,” Guizar said.

No decision on the interview process was reached on Tuesday night; Guizar said that a virtual executive session would be held during the next several days to determine how the board wants to proceed.

Saylor also addressed the board. She said that if the closure continues, the district will have to determine how to proceed. Going online, she said, isn’t an option.

“We are not a district where 100 percent of our students have access to the internet,” Saylor said.

Saylor, who resides in Zion, said internet access there is spotty.

“As you’re seeing tonight, I do not have a stable internet connection,” Saylor joked.

Saylor said that if the closure does, in fact, continue past the first full week of April, the district is ready to roll out a plan for administrators, teachers, students and parents.

“We’re creating plan that is very user-friendly. It’s designed to continue the education of our students but it’s also designed to be able to reach all of our students and have all our students access it,” Saylor said.

According to Saylor, one area of concern — if the closure continues — is Bellefonte’s Class of 2020.

“We do have plans in place where we may need to address our seniors a little bit differently from the remainder of our district. Teachers are meeting virtually this week with our instructional coaches and our department chair people. They’re developing a specific menu of options for our continuity of education plan and we anticipate rolling that out next week,” Saylor said.

Saylor said there are no plans to re-vamp the school calendar or graduation. The last day of school is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, June 9.

The board’s next public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7 at the Bellefonte Area Middle School cafeteria.

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