The Shawnee Mission School District is preparing for the historic Aug. 21 total solar eclipse by focusing both on its educational value to students and its capacity for harm.
Christy Ziegler, assistant superintendent for innovation and performance, told school board members Monday that the district has been meeting with curriculum teams about ways to teach students about the eclipse and making sure they have resources from such groups as NASA and the National Science Teachers Association. For example, schools will be connected to a NASA website that will allow students to view the eclipse online.
But many students and teachers will want to view the eclipse directly, Ziegler said, and the district is developing supervision plans for administrators to follow when taking students outside.
“We are following NASA recommendations for safe viewing standards and eye protective wear,” she said. “Student safety is always our priority.”
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Some schools even plan to reschedule outdoor recess to avoid being outside during the eclipse.
During an eclipse, the moon’s shadow blocks out some or all of the sun. The Aug. 21 eclipse is expected to totally block the sun for more than two minutes across parts of the United States. In Johnson County, people will see a partial eclipse.
Although the sunlight is dimmed by the passing moon, looking directly at the eclipse can still cause eye damage or even blindness if done without proper safety glasses or an eclipse viewer.
Ziegler said several businesses and community partners are interested in providing safety glasses to students for the eclipse. She said the schools also plan to ask parents for their help in explaining to students about safe practices.
District officials acknowledge that some parents may want to remove their students from school that day so the family can view the eclipse together. Ziegler said parents would need to contact the school as any other absence, but that eclipse-related absences will be excused.
“It’s a great educational opportunity for our students and families together,” she said.
In other business:
▪ The board narrowly elected Craig Denny as board president for the 2017-2018 school year.
Four members of the seven-member board voted for Denny, and three members voted for Brad Stratton. Stratton was later selected as board vice president by acclamation after the only other candidate, Patty Mach, withdrew her nomination.
Denny’s tenure could be brief as he faces a reelection challenge by three other candidates in an Aug. 1 primary with the winners moving on to the November general election.
Denny replaces Sara Goodburn, who served as board president for two years.
This was the first time the board selected its leadership under a new formal process that Stratton pushed for a year ago. At the time, he objected to the lack of a formal process and that the board had selected Denny as vice president, a position that typically became president the following year. Stratton said then that he didn’t think it proper for a board member seeking reelection to be the board president.
▪ Board members also voted unanimously to spend an additional $15.9 million to rebuild Brookwood Elementary School at 3411 W. 103rd St. The board last month approved $1.4 million to demolish the existing building and prepare the site, bringing the overall project cost to $17.3 million, which is less than budgeted.
The school’s students are scheduled to attend classes at Indian Creek Technical Center on 4401 W. 103rd St. in Overland Park until the new Brookwood opens in 2019.
▪ Goodburn told the board that district officials have narrowed the field of search firms to coordinate the selection of a new permanent school superintendent to three: Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates; Ray and Associates Inc.; and School Exec Connect. She said the board will hear presentations by the three companies on Aug. 12 before choosing a final firm.
Former Superintendent Jim Hinson stepped down last month after four years in the position. Kenny Southwick is serving as interim superintendent.
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