A shortage of substitute teachers and rising COVID-19 numbers in Jefferson County is forcing the Southwestern Jefferson County School Corporation to shift to virtual learning from Thursday, Nov. 12 to Monday, Nov. 30, the school corporation announced Tuesday.
Coronavirus cases have roughly doubled in the span of a month in Jefferson County, pushing the county and surrounding areas into the orange on the Indiana State Department of Health map while the rest of the country now has more than 10 million cases overall. With COVID-19 reporting at an all-time high, contact with the virus has become almost inevitable, especially for school teachers.
At a Board of School Trustees meeting Tuesday night, Southwestern Superintendent Jeff Bates said three staff members and roughly half a dozen students had recently tested positive for the virus. But the biggest problem for the district is that several teachers are currently quarantined due to close contact and another handful are waiting on their test results, making it impossible for Southwestern to find enough subs to fill the open positions.
Bates said Southwestern usually has about eight who sub consistently, and that number is closer to four when taking into account subs who work other jobs or aren’t working due to the risk of infection.
“With COVID and everything you can’t really blame them for not wanting to be around a bunch of people,” Bates said.
The district was hit hard by contact tracing early in the school year, having to send groups of 30-40 students home at a time due to exposure with positive individuals. That has since calmed down so now the biggest problem is replacing staff, he said.
“We’ve been fairly lucky as far as the number of cases, but now that it’s kind of hit the staff, that’s our downfall,” he said.
Administrators met Tuesday morning to decide on a solution to staff absences after an already stressful year in which Southwestern has had to combine classes, move teachers around and put principals in the classroom for teachers awaiting test results. Bates said these adaptations were starting to undermine the district’s entire strategy of minimizing contact with multiple groups in the case of one student or teacher having the virus.
The district plans on continuing its free meal service for students, with pickup scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the high school cafeteria and the option of delivery available Monday through the rest of the virtual learning period.
As for how classes will be taught, the model students will use Thursday and Friday will be similar to the eLearning they used over fall break, but starting Monday, teachers will be streaming classes live, Bates said.
Madison Consolidated High School is facing similar problems. On Sunday night, Madison Consolidated schools announced the high school would use a virtual learning day due to a lack of subs amid staff testing positive for the virus or calling in for other reasons. The district followed up on Monday afternoon with a plan for MCHS to use virtual learning throughout the rest of the week on a “red/white” schedule.
Students enrolled in dual-credit classes at Ivy Tech Community College are still reporting to classes at their normal times. Extracurriculars and athletic events are also still proceeding throughout the week, since the decision was rooted in staff absences, not student illnesses, Madison’s announcement read.
Madison Superintendent Jeff Studebaker sent a letter to families Monday noting the school’s COVID strategy was working well and asking for their cooperation in wearing face coverings, washing hands and limiting contact to small groups outside school hours.
“From the beginning of the school year, we knew that if we had staff out for any reason (scheduled professional development, personal day, non-COVID related illness, or medical reason) that would be complicated by any precautionary quarantine situation,” Studebaker said.
“We realized early on that this would make us more vulnerable to a potential closing as we are extremely short on available substitute teachers. While each year we struggle to find subs, the conditions around COVID-19 have made this year a particularly challenging climate for finding any type of additional personnel.”
He added that Madison is evaluating its entire virtual program to assess best practices, areas for improvement and overall student success. But due to how close the district is to the end of the semester and the fact that its COVID data is still solid, administrators don’t plan on switching their strategy just yet.
However, Madison will announce enrollment options for the second semester in the coming days should families want to switch their children to virtual learning after winter break, Studebaker said.
In other business at Southwestern, the board:
— Ratified the 2020-2021 tentative agreement with teachers making a number of changes. Returning teachers will receive a one-time stipend of $750, except for two middle/high school teachers who started in January of 2020. Those teachers will receive a $375 one-time stipend.
The district also adopted a new salary scale ranging from $36,500 to $68,500 and agreed to pay $250 more toward employee health insurance if those employees are on the school insurance plan. Southwestern will now pay $7,000 toward a single plan and $8,250 toward a family plan.
The school corporation will also pay a one-time check of $50 per accumulated sick day — up to a max of 150 sick days — for any teacher retiring from Southwestern.
— Approved a $6,300 purchase from Metalite Corporation to replace a broken forklift.
— Awarded a $258,524.78 bid to Alfred L Schiller Hardware for locks to re-key and secure doors in the school corporation. A $267,000 from grant from the state is helping to cover the cost, Safety Specialist and Middle School Principal Jason Watson said.
Milton Fire and Rescue and several other fire departments spent much of Tuesday and into early Wednesday morning battling a raging structure fire that destroyed a residence on KY 36 in Milton.
Milton Fire Chief Jason Long said he was heading down Milton Hill at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when he got a call from someone driving by the residence who and reported smoke and flames coming from the building. Long contacted the dispatch to issue a call out and arrived at the scene about a minute later to find the two-story residence well engulfed in flames.
The owner, Justin Hiott of Indianapolis, was not home, Long said. He said the house, which overlooks the Ohio River with river access, is a vacation home for Hiott and his family and that Hiott had only owned the property about 30 days.
The only person who was inside the house at the time of the fire was a painter Hiott had hired. He later told firefighters that he left the house immediately after smelling smoke and seeing the flames.
Like most homes close to the riverbank and in the flood plain, the residence is two-stories — a concrete first-story that housed a boat, two jet skis, a tractor and other belongings and a second level residence with wood paneling on the exterior. Long said both levels were a total loss in the fire.
The home was still salvageable by the time Long got to the scene, but high winds and the wood-panel construction on the exterior helped push flames throughout the building, Long said. Bedford Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Madison Township Fire Department, Fair Play Fire Company No. 1 and Westside Volunteer Fire Department out of Carroll County all arrived to assist.
Long said he was unable to confirm a cause for the blaze, but dashcam videos and photos taken at the scene more than likely indicate “something electrical in nature” near the main entrance to the second floor residence.
Wind continued to hinder firefighters’ efforts to control the blaze as gusts would fan flames into new areas of the house, keeping firefighters occupied throughout the afternoon and evening. It was about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday before Milton firefighters were able to leave the scene, Long said. He was back at the property Wednesday afternoon to monitor for hotspots that continued to rekindle at the site.
“We’ll be here on and off all day if this thing doesn’t stop. It’s just everything is piled on top of each other; we don’t have any access to get underneath it — it’s just a matter of spraying and waiting,” Long said.
“Growing up in my family we were discouraged from listening to hard rock and metal music,” says Jerry Girton (stage name Jerry King). “Mom was a huge Elvis fan, plus Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Darin, all those guys, so that’s what I cut my teeth on.
“I was born in Madison, but dad worked on nuclear power plants, so we did stints in Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas. Eventually, when I was about 14 years old, we moved back to this area. Mom’s family is from the Switzerland County area.
“I grew up playing drums in church bands, but eventually I felt the call to write music, so I picked up a guitar. In 2003 I formed the band Jerry King & the Rivertown Ramblers, mostly with guys from up in the Cincinnati area. I chose the stage name King to honor King Records, plus it has that Carl Perkins, rockabilly ring to it.
“Now you have to remember 2003 was just after a big resurgence in rockabilly music, with Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats, The Squirrel Nut Zippers and others. Our sound fit right into all that energy. Before the decade was out we played all these rockabilly revival festivals in Indy, Green Bay, Winston-Salem, Vegas, even Barcelona, Spain.
“To go along with the touring, we put out five albums on CD and a vinyl record. We were never what you’d call full-time musicians, but we were close. We were super busy, but most of us still had day jobs.
“Speaking of day jobs, around 2010 I got an opportunity for employment down in Texas. And my teenage son Chris had this good friend Anthony Ray Wright who asked if he could come with us. We went down there for six years and Anthony and Chris both really came into their own musical styles, playing over in Austin and all over west Texas.
“When we moved back from Texas to the Vevay area I got the Rivertown Ramblers going again, and Anthony and Chris and I started doing gigs as the Falls City Boys. Before COVID we were playing quite a bit around the region, at venues like Southgate House over in Newport and the Rambling House up in Columbus, Ohio.
“If you’ve been to our Falls City Boys shows, you’ve probably seen the Johnny Cash set I do. That’s a funny story actually. I was playing with this Johnny Cash tribute band years ago and the lead singer had to back out. The promoter
was desperate, trying to find a replacement. I told him I could give it a try,
and I ended up doing a whole bunch of shows. I can do a pretty solid Roy Orbison tribute too!
“Basically the Rivertown Ramblers is the outlet for our original songs, and the Falls City Boys is more oriented to cover tunes. Not every audience is receptive to original stuff. But I will say this, Madison is exceptional in that regard. The music fans here truly appreciate original music, and they pay attention. They listen. You don’t get that everywhere you go.
“The music scene here in Madison has evolved a lot since 2005 when Joey G ran his bar and brought so much great music to town. We played there many times in those early years. But I think the scene is more mature now, and the music fans are more sophisticated. We can probably thank Joey for a lot of that.”
You can see Jerry King & The Rivertown Ramblers Saturday at Red Bicycle Hall, along with the Anthony Ray Wright Band.
First up, this Friday at 7 p.m., the Madison Performing Arts Foundation is hosting an online virtual concert with virtuoso pianist Justin Bartlett. Visit their website and follow the instructions to watch the concert live (it will also be available for later viewing.) Go to www.MadisonPerformingArtsFoundation.com. And I want to let you know about something VERY exciting happening next Thursday at Mad Paddle Brewery. The Jason Wells Band will be swinging through Madison for one night only playing their unique brand of Deep Purple/Rare Earth inspired classic rock. This is a ticketed show that might just sell out, so get over to Mad Paddle’s Facebook page for the ticket link and get yours. I’ll do a full profile on Jason in next week’s Charlie’s Beat.
Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.
This Week in Music
Thursday, November 12
Mad Paddle Brewery — Kyle Pearl
Friday, November 6
Mad Paddle Brewery — Bomar & Ritter
MPAF Virtual Concert — Justin Bartlett, concert pianist (See HOT TIPS above for details)
Red Roaster — The Chestnuts (6 p.m.)
Saturday, November 7
Mad Paddle Brewery — The Leftovers
Red Bicycle Hall — Anthony Ray Wright