School board will decide if students return to classroom after Thanksgiving break


Getting through a workload of business amidst a weary COVID-19 pandemic crisis that is spiking in West Liberty and Muscatine County, the West Liberty Community School Board of Education will be looking at the situation closely through the Thanksgiving holiday before making a decision to continue a temporary all-virtual education platform for students throughout the district.

School board president Emily Geertz said she didn’t want to send students back to school for one day on Monday, Nov. 30 and then “turn around and have them return home” on Tuesday, Dec. 1, pointing out the board may have to make a decision as late as Sunday, Nov. 29 in a special meeting to decide whether students can return to the classroom.

Following a special work session meeting on Nov. 16, the board looked to be leaning toward asking the state board of education for an extension to their two-week virtual learning change that started Nov. 10 through the Thanksgiving holiday.

Superintendent Dr. Diego Giraldo said it’s unfortunate the board and administration will not be able to make a decision on extending virtual education until we get closer to the end of our current period of virtual learning.

“Since this is an ever-changing situation, we will assess where we are as far as student and staff cases and quarantines as well as the percent positivity rate (past 14-day average) for the counties that our school district covers,” he said. He said school administrators, directors and nurses will continue to meet regularly to discuss where we are as far as “case counts” through Thanksgiving after making the adjustment from in-classroom (pre-K to kindergarten) and hybrid learning (first graders through high school) to all-virtual learning, of which many students and families had started at the beginning of the new school year because of the virus.

The superintendent said his team will continue to update the school board of education on the information in hopes of making the “best decision” for the district.

“While we would like to be able to return to face-to-face learning, if it is not possible or if it comes at a cost to the health of our students, staff, and families we will choose to err on the side of caution,” Dr. Giraldo said after the meeting.

Name officers, committees

In other business, the district board reorganized, setting committees, meeting times of the first and third Mondays beginning at 5 p.m. with no meetings on Labor Day, Jan 4 or July 4.

The West Liberty Index was named the school’s official newspaper for legal notices and West Liberty State Bank was given a $13 million depository resolution while MidwestOne Bank in West Liberty was awarded deposits up to $1.95 million and ISJIP, an associate of the Iowa Association of School Boards in Des Moines, could get deposits up to $1.5 million.

Emily Geertz was re-elected as president of the board while Stephanie Dengler was named vice-president and Abby Ortiz was given the role of secretary/treasurer.

Board appointed committees included: Emily Geertz and Jeff Laughlin appointed to Buildings and Grounds while Carla Shields and Jake Burroughs were assigned to Transportation. Negotiations would be headed by Stephanie Dengler and Burroughs while the West Liberty Foundation committee would include Dengler and Laughlin with Shield and Geertz appointed to the Wellness committee.

Geertz also decided to be on the Muscatine County Conference Board while Dr. Giraldo will keep his seat with the West Liberty Chamber of Commerce. Middle school principal Vicki Vernon was given the appointment of District 504 Coordinator and the appointment of District Equity Coordinator was awarded to Kyle Steffen. Appointed as Level 1 Investigators were Stephanie Paulsen and Russ Hughes and Level 2 Investigators were to include Jim Sweeney & Associates.

Jacob Burroughs was named the IASB delegate and the reconsideration committee would include Stefanie McNamer, Kelly Butcher, Vicki Vernon, Jeni Laughlin, and Gabrielle Bugenhagen.

The Local School Improvement Advisory Council/LSIAC committee will include Brenda Arthur-Miller, Jacob Burroughs, Juan Cardona, Kelly Daufeldt, Kara Dennis, Kelsie Garcia, Hector Garrido, Randy Guerra, Priscilla Haessig, Bobbi Jenks, Shawn Kivi,, Jeni Laughlin, Lindsay Meeker, Ed Moreno, Melody Russell, Lynne Sasmazer, Christian Torres, Vicki Vernon and Megan Zalzala.

Hire recruitment firm

After viewing three proposals, the board decided to hire Grundmeyer Leader Services of Des Moines to begin the search to replace Dr. Giraldo since his resignation on Nov. 2. The superintendent will complete the school year and provided notice early enough so the school board would have plenty of time to find the right replacement.

Working alongside the IISFIC (Iowa School Finance Information Services), the Grundmeyer group, led by Ted Grundmeyer, was the team the board used in their last search for a superintendent. Geertz said one of the things she liked about the recruitment firm is the fact they not only came to a board meeting and set a plan and timeline, but utilized members of the community to bring input into the hiring decision.

“We got a lot of feedback,” Geertz said, noting there is also some orientation training involved through the company for the new administrator. The company got its start two years ago and pledges to recruit “highly qualified leaders who fit the school’s requested guidelines,” while managing the overall hiring process.

The board also made some personnel changes, accepting the retirement of Kathy Noble as the head cook at the Early Learning Center effective at the end of the year while the board also accepted resignations of Yailin Reyes as Middle School paraprofessional and Sofia Aragon as an ELC paraprofessional.

Ashley Ehrecke was hired as an hourly preschool instructor and Olga Lara was also hired as a paraprofessional for the Middle School.

The board won’t have a regular meeting again until Monday, Dec. 7, beginning at 6 p.m. from the Administration Center.

The board is expected to hear a superintendent’s report, learn more about West Liberty High School students getting “On Track,” get an update on the COVID-19 situation and quite possibly hear from Grundmeyer Leader Services in setting a course to hire a new superintendent to replace Dr. Diego Giraldo, who is resigning his post.