At-home classes taking shape

Local school officials are ready to roll out lesson plans for students for the rest of the school year, even though campuses will remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Iola school board members discussed the process at their regular meeting Monday.


Local News

March 24, 2020 - 10:06 AM

Dan Willis, president of the USD 257 Board of Education, leads a Zoom meeting Monday evening to practice “social distancing” because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than half of the board, and other attendees, took part in the virtual meeting as the district navigates a new educational landscape with the closing of in-person classes.

Less is more.

That’s the message USD 257 educators pressed when determining the best way to teach students now that in-person classes have been canceled for the remainder of the school year.

It’s uncharted territory that will ask students to work at home, either online or with worksheets. Teachers had less than a week to process the changing educational environment over spring break. They will use the coming week to help district administrators come up with the best possible plan.

That plan is still in development, but already those in USD 257 have a pretty good idea what it will look like. District officials expect to provide material to students by Friday, so they’ll be ready to start work Monday morning. 

Elementary school teachers will prepare packets with two weeks’ worth of hard-copy material for students to complete. Teachers could develop some type of virtual component, such as a virtual storybook reading. 

Those packets are expected to be delivered curbside at elementary schools Friday. Teachers also will turn over student belongings at that time. More information will be announced later. 

Middle and high school students will receive most of their education online, after an initial survey of students and parents indicated only a handful at each school lacks options to access a computer or internet service. All high school students are issued a Chromebook, so all they need is internet service. Middle school students, though, do not take Chromebooks home; if a student needs a Chromebook, they’ll need to make arrangements with the school to pick one up.

The process was led by Superintendent Stacy Fager, building principals and curriculum directors Jenna Higginbotham and Briana Curry.

Curry was part of a statewide task force to develop guidelines for districts to use during the shutdown. 

“Our teachers had a really good grasp on what needed to be done,” Curry told board members. “They got a lot done. There were a lot of tears. They miss their kids and want to see them. They’re moving into more of a digital age, like doing a Facebook Live to read a book, so I think it’s awesome they want to utilize technology to reach out to the kids.”

Many conversations, both last week and at today’s meetings with teachers, revolve around how much work to give students. The state task force recommended only short periods of time: 30 minutes for preschoolers, gradually increasing to 90 minutes for grades 4-5, and 30 minutes per teacher (maximum three hours) for grades 6-12.

“We don’t want to give them too much. But are we giving them enough?” Higginbotham said. “The teachers don’t want to just send home a packet of busy work. They care so much about what they are sending home.” 

“Less is more,” Curry emphasized.

NOT ONLY will students and teachers have to adapt to a new way of learning, but board members and others got an introduction to life online as more than half the board attended Monday’s meeting via Zoom, an app that allows for virtual meetings.

Logging into the meeting provided a sort of lighthearted bonding experience, as attendees struggled to figure out this newfangled way of communicating. Most said it was their first time.

It was a similar story earlier that day, as building principals hosted Zoom meetings with teachers and other faculty. 

“It’s a brand new thing but I think it went really well. The attitudes were really positive,” Lincoln Elementary School principal Andy Gottlob said. 

Some teachers and paraprofessionals headed into the buildings Monday, but tried to keep the recommended 6 feet of distance between each other. 

Although Monday was the first day for all faculty to return to work, the administrative team has been working on developing the Continuous Learning Plan since Tuesday, when Gov. Laura Kelly issued the order to close schools. Fager praised the work of Curry and Higginbotham, in particular, and others on the team for their dedication and long hours. 

TEACHERS AND other faculty will continue to be paid for the remainder of the school year, even if they are idle because their services are not needed during the emergency shutdown. 

Administrators will attempt to find duties for them as much as possible, Fager said. 

The board passed a resolution authorizing those payments.

The board decided to table a different resolution, though, that would waive the number of credits — from 24 to 21 — that would be required for this year’s seniors to graduate. The district already allows seniors to graduate with just 21 credits, by utilizing an alternative school, Crossroads. Those who graduate with 24 credits earn a diploma from Iola IHS.

Principal Scott Crenshaw said he wanted more time to study the benefit of such a reduction, considering seniors already have that option. He wondered if it would truly help students who are struggling, because they’ve already been given options to make up credit hours. 

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