West Ada fills school board vacancy

Sheena Buffi

The West Ada School Board appointed parent and human resources professional Sheena Buffi to fill its open seat on the board late Tuesday night, bringing trustees back up to full strength in Idaho’s largest school district.

Trustees also spent 40 minutes discussing how the district can improve its remote learning plan. The school board did not take any action to alter West Ada’s current hybrid learning plan, which the board approved in October.

Buffi emerged from a field of 10 candidates who were interviewed in a panel format during Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

Buffi served as human resources manager of the Nye County School District in Nevada from 2008-2016. She and her husband moved to Boise four years ago and are raising four children. Their oldest just graduated high school last year.

Trustee Rene Ozuna nominated Buffi to fill the open seat on the school board.

“Her experience at a different school district leaves her uniquely prepared to contribute to our situation quickly,” Ozuna said.

During the interview Buffi said she believes students should be offered in-person learning as much as possible as long as it is safe to do so. She also said she brings experience with school operations and collective bargaining negotiations and feels she can help West Ada.

“I am really passionate about public education as well as I am very passionate about public service,” she said.

The candidates were given 10 questions and each allowed to answer for up to two minutes. The questions included how do trustees know if their goals are being met, what did West Ada do well and do poorly thus far in the pandemic, what is the public relations role of a school board and are you prepared to handle the extra scrutiny that comes with making decisions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The other candidates were:

  • Michael Willits.
  • Emily Haney.
  • Robert Chandler.
  • Talian “TJ” Kretchmar.
  • Kimber Russell.
  • Drew Ollivant.
  • Bretton Jarvis.
  • Michele Dooley
  • Scott Osborn. Osborn dropped out of consideration midway through the interviews. After Dooley unexpectedly disconnected from the remote meeting, a West Ada staffer said Osborn suddenly had to deal with a family emergency.

Buffi fills a vacancy that was created late last month when former trustee Steve Smylie resigned. Smylie said trustees are under enormous pressure now that high stakes reopening and closing decisions associated with coronavirus pandemic have been pushed to local school boards.

“When adults fight, children lose,” Smylie said during his final board meeting Oct. 27.

Buffi’s appointment is good for one year. The seat, representing Zone 3, will be up for reelection next year.

Remote learning update

Although the neighboring Boise School District recently approved moving to full remote learning following Thanksgiving, West Ada didn’t even consider moving to remote learning Tuesday.

There wasn’t even an item on the agenda. Instead, trustees and staff talked about improving technology and how long it would take until all classrooms could offer 100 percent synchronous learning where learning and instruction take place at the same time but not in the same place.

That means no change from the hybrid operations plan the board approved last month, which divides students into two teams that alternate in-person learning every other day. For grades 6-12, Mondays are all remote to give teachers time to plan and prepare lessons.

Last month, West Ada’s board signaled it wanted to move away from districtwide closures and employed a more targeted approach at the building or even classroom level.

The targeted approach was put into action a few hours before Tuesday’s board meeting, as district leaders moved Eagle High School to full remote learning for the rest of this week. Eagle High moved to full remote learning because the school cannot sustain operations with all the teaching and office staff absences, according to an announcement on the school’s website.

The district reported a trend of positive cases and quarantine numbers increasing, with 257 Eagle students isolating and 30 positive cases among students and staff during the previous two weeks ending Friday.

But Eagle High isn’t the only West Ada school experiencing an increase in cases and large number of students and staff in quarantine.

There were more than 100 students isolating at Centennial, Meridian, Mountain View and Rocky Mountain high schools over the previous two weeks, the district reported.

Over that same time period, the number of cases per 100,000 at West Ada’s high schools was 56.25, nearly in line with the 59.54 cases per 100,000 in Ada County.

Dustin Barrett, director of curriculum and instruction, said the district could move to full synchronous learning with the existing technology on hand if needed. Barrett said some synchronous classrooms could be set up now. But it will take time and training for many teachers to get up to speed.

The district could be 100 percent ready by January, he said.

West Ada started the school year with full remote learning but experienced widespread technology issues that frustrated parents and students.

Then, West Ada began phasing students back in for in-person learning in September.

West Ada is the state’s largest district and serves about 38,000 students K-12.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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