LOCKWOOD — The newly constructed Lockwood High School building will see its first set of students Wednesday, and its principal doesn't see physical distancing of students as a problem in the building built for 700.
"We're going to roughly be 75 to 80 kids a day in a building for 700. I am not worried about social distancing. I think we'll be okay that way," said Gordon Klasna, Lockwood High School principal on Tuesday.
Klasna has been working for Lockwood School District 26 for 10 years and previously served as the principal at Eileen Johnson Middle School.
In 2018, Lockwood voters passed a $49.9 million bond to pay for the new school and improvements to other buildings on campus. In February 2019, crews broke ground on the new facility.
Lockwood High School students have been split up into three groups by last name. Each group will attend in-person school once per week on Tuesdays through Thursdays, and the other school days will be supplemented with distance learning.
Fridays are reserved for elective classes and students that need extra help. Mondays have been reserved for special needs students and prep time for teachers to record video lessons for students to watch at home.
"If it’s a class that needs to have a discussion, they have that background knowledge and they can have those classroom discussions with everybody there. We also have teachers that are going to have kids Zoom (video chat) into those classes as well. So they may not be in that class physically, but they will be in there virtually and doing some things that way," Klasna said.
The student population is only made up of freshman and sophomore students this year until the classes move up in grade level.
Klasna said of the 230 high school students, only 15 have signed up to be strictly remote learners this year.
"That’s a nice benefit and I think that speaks to our community and the teachers that we have here. I think that our community knows that the best place for our kids is in the building with their teachers," Klasna said.
Lockwood was in the same position as all other Montana schools in March when they were closed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Klasna said students who struggled with online learning and fell behind last year will get extra help in the socially-distanced classroom this year.
"It definitely wasn't the same education that they were getting in the classroom. So we do have some kids who we knew in the spring when we did some of our grading, we were able to make some notations of kids we were concerned about that would maybe need a little extra help and some intervention to get them back up to full grade level," Klasna said.
As for sanitation, classrooms will be wiped down between each group of students. Then custodians will go through the building with disinfecting misters at the end of each day, Klasna said.
In-person students also use school laptop computers for some of their work throughout the day. Klasna said those laptops will be assigned to a student for the day, then be disinfected after they turn them in after school.
"At the end of the day, we’ll wipe those down as well and get them cleaned up for students the next day. And students that need them at home, we’ll check them out a separate one that they can have at home," Klasna said.
As Lockwood welcomes students back to a different school year, Klasna's biggest concern is making sure students follow the governor's mask mandate and other COVID-19-related rules.
"Just understanding that it’s important. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. Even as adults, there are things that we don’t like in this situation right now, but we’re doing it because we know that’s what’s best for us and for our kids and our community. That’s the fastest way to get everyone back into this building that we have built is to follow the instructions and guidelines that have been given to us," Klasna said.
Lockwood High School is moving ahead with fall sports under Yellowstone County Public Health and Montana High School Association plans for fall activities. The Lockwood Lions' first home football game Friday against the East Helena Vigilantes will have no fans under the health department's school activities plan.
"I know it’s not as fun without all the fans there, but that’s a pretty big event for us," Klasna said.
East Helena High School is also a brand new school worth $39.5 million that will welcome students through its doors for the first time Wednesday.
Lockwood will stream and radio broadcast high school sporting events through the National Federation of High Schools. Viewers will be charged a fee to watch, but a portion of the money to view is given back to Lockwood athletics, Klasna said. The fee can be compared to the price of entry you would have paid to get into the game anyway.
“Athletic departments really rely on the fees that people are paying to get into games and stuff like that. It’s a financial strain on our programs to lose that extra money that we get into our activities," Klasna said.