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Preparing for a return to school

Board reviews distance learning data, early planning for 2020-2021

SOLON– In mid-March, the Solon Community School District (SCSD) had to move fast to put together a plan for distance learning.
Now the district has to figure out how to bring kids back to school.
SCSD board members reviewed voluntary participation numbers during the final months of the school year and listened to an overview of the district’s Return to Learning plan at a regular meeting May 21.
Superintendent Davis Eidahl walked board members through both reports.
Eidahl complimented district staff for quickly adapting to a model of remote learning for the final months of the year.
Kindergarten through eighth grade offered voluntary educational resources and learning opportunities, while ninth through 12th grade finished with a return to required classwork.
While there’s no way to determine the exact percentage of participating, Eidahl said, staff were asked to report how they tracked the involvement of students.
Data presented at the May 21 meeting reflected the voluntary learning from Kindergarten through eighth grade.
“We had really overall pretty good participation,” he reported.
At the preschool level, 70 percent of kids participated in virtual meetings, 56 percent were completing paper packets and 35 percent took part in online lesson plans, Eidahl reported.
Between 70 and 80 percent of first- through fifth-graders attended the virtual meetings. The participation dropped in the higher grades. More than 50 percent of sixth graders logged on for meetings, while numbers for eighth grade hovered between 15 and 35 percent.
“Eighth grade just didn’t do as well and wasn’t as enthused as sixth and seventh,” Eidahl observed.
Based on conversations with colleagues at area districts, Solon’s numbers were better than most, he added.
“This was voluntary,” he noted. “Kudos to the families that did their best to make this work and to the students that took the initiative in the older grades.”
While data at the high school level was not available for the meeting, Eidahl said Principal Zach Wigle had reported very strong participation in required coursework, taken as credit or no credit.
Thirty-three students had participation low enough to cause concern, Eidahl said, with home visits planned for five or six families.
Now the district has to take what it has learned in the last nine weeks and look to the future.
“Again, we took huge strides this spring with what our teachers dove into,” Eidhal said. That work will serve as the foundation for the beginning of the next school year. “We’ll be in a much better place based on what we accomplished this spring.”
The SCSD Return to Learning plan is based on a 48-page document required by the state department of education, and parts of it need to be submitted by June 1, Eidahl explained.
Director of Teaching and Learning Josh Lyons has taken the lead on laying the groundwork, with Eidahl and Lyons jointly overseeing the progression of the plan.
The Return to Learning plan addresses three models of delivery for the district: on-site, hybrid and continuous online.
In the on-site model, school returns to normal with modifications like social distancing. In the hybrid version, a combination of on-site and online learning co-exist, while continuous online instruction would take place when school buildings are temporarily closed.
During the 2020-2021 year, kindergarten through 12th grade learning will be required during any school closures, Eidahl noted.
“We’re going to have to anticipate what those scenarios might be and prepare to deliver learning,” he added. “Required, online.”
The varied methods should help the district deal with the possible isolation of students throughout the year due to exposure or risk factors, Board President Tim Brown observed.
Thirty-five staff members watched a digital presentation earlier in the week to start the ball rolling, Eidahl said.
The state’s plan includes seven required components to address, and staff members have been assigned to each.
Due to the timeframe, all district staff will not be able to be at the table, and Eidahl noted those with assigned roles are expected to solicit input from their peers.
Virtual meetings have already started, he said.
Teachers had the same last day as students to end the year, and those traditional added work days will be used instead for debriefing on the last nine weeks of the year to identify unfinished learning, he added.
The first work days in August will also look different, he warned.
Staff will be focused on prepping to start something brand new, but time might be required to educate employees on new protocol.
“We’re going to have to inform our staff, train our staff and maybe even practice some of those routines so we’re prepared for day one,” he stated.
For example, the district purchased disinfectant sprayers in anticipation of flu season last fall, and the equipment was used daily at Lakeview Elementary, which houses some students with high risk medical conditions, he said.
Another sprayer is being considered to allow for daily disinfecting of buses between routes, he noted.
Eidahl said he and Lyons have been working with Grant Wood Area Education Agency’s digital learning team to survey staff on what went well and what was a struggle.
He noted the district was just starting to scratch the surface of completing the state report.
No action was taken, but board members noted a lot could still happen over the summer months.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns that haven’t even come down the pipe yet,” board member Rick Jedlicka observed. “I just hope we don’t have to reinvent the wheel on July 15.”