District plans summer school, grapples with graduation

With buildings shuttered for rest of school year, challenges of planning during a pandemic continue

YARD SIGNS are popping up outside the homes of Port High seniors as a way to recognize them during a time when schools are closed. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Gov. Tony Evers last week ordered schools to remain closed through the end of the school year, but the Port Washington-Saukville School District still plans to offer a modified summer school program and hold a high school graduation ceremony, although it will undoubtedly be unlike any commencement Port High has ever held.

“This is probably one of our biggest planning challenges because of all the uncertainty now and our desire to recognize our seniors,” Supt. Michael Weber said this week referring to organizing a graduation ceremony during a pandemic.

“It may have to be some sort of virtual graduation,” he said. “Maybe it will be something similar to what a lot of churches did on Easter with people sitting in their cars and tuning their radios to a certain station so they can hear the ceremony.”

Among the graduation options discussed by administrators was a ceremony in July or August when the Covid-19 infection rate would have hopefully subsided and large gatherings would again be permissible. 

But that option is fraught, Weber said, because there is no guarantee that it will be safe to hold mass gatherings by July or August and several students — those who enlist in the military, for instance — will have left the area by then and would not be able to attend.

“There are a lot of challenges to holding a traditional graduation ceremony in July or August,” he said. “If we wait until July or August, there’s no certainty it will be safe to gather by then, and at that point we have no contingency.

“When we put large groups together, we’re taking a risk, and it’s certainly not a risk we’re willing to take with our students.”

The district, however, is committed to hosting some sort of commencement because administrators realize that graduation is an important milestone in the lives of students, Weber said. 

“I think it’s important that seniors celebrate the end of their senior year and their high school career,” he said. “We understand how important this is to our seniors and their parents, but we have to make sure our students are safe.”

Just as graduation will likely be vastly different than the typical gathering of hundreds of people in the Port High gym, ssummer school will also be modified.

Instead of a program that begins in June and stretches into July, classes this year will likely begin in July and extend into August, Weber said. The hope is that by then schools will be allowed to open and a late summer program will help prepare students for a return to the classroom when the regular school year begins in September. 

Provided regular summer school classes can be held, it will have been four months since students were last in classrooms.

Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said summer school could be a mix of online and physical classes and that the typical long list of offerings, which include enrichment classes that range from furniture painting to in-line skating, will be pared. 

“We see summer school this year as a way to offer academic support, so maybe some enrichment classes like flag football, for instance, won’t be offered,” Froemming said. 

Administrators have said that while remote teaching is the best option available with school closed, some material simply cannot be taught online. That makes summer school more important than ever, administrators said.

“We want to make sure our students have the opportunity to pick up on anything that was missed during virtual learning,” Weber said. 

Summer school is also important because students who take summer classes factor into enrollment calculations, a key in determining state aid allocations. 

Also at issue now that schools are shuttered through the remainder of the school year are final exams and grading scales, two  issues administrators are discussing, Weber said. 

“We will probably end up using days scheduled for final exams for something a little different, maybe for helping students who have fallen a little behind or for enrichment activities,” he said. 

Last week, Port High Principal Eric Burke told the school board that while some other high schools have adopted a pass-fail grading system, Port High is not yet willing to go that route. 

“It’s not as simple as just going to a pass-fail system because of the amount of credits needed for graduation, class rank and the way we measure the progress of students in some academic areas,” Weber said. 

“This is an unprecedented situation, and we have no guides, no books, no recipes to rely on as we work our way through this.”

As the district grapples with those issues, it continues to feed students with a drive-through meal program that has become increasingly popular, Froemming said. The district is providing more than 300 meals on some days, he said. 

The program is open to all students 18 and younger who attend schools within the district. The district asks that families place orders by calling 268-5541 or sending an email to clark.blachly@pwssd.k12.wi.us and providing the name of each student receiving the lunch, the school they attend and their grade. The meals can be picked up at the high school.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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