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What we heard; return to school plans

5/29/2020  -- In the past few weeks, we received over 10,000 thoughts from parents, staff and students from our community Thoughtexchange. Your feedback will help us tremendously as we prepare for the future. For example, we have already started planning for improvements to online learning experiences.

What we Heard
Learning online during this emergency closure was a challenge for everyone. You shared that it served a purpose given the circumstances. We also know when we use online or distance learning in the future, we can certainly improve. We heard these major themes regarding online learning:

  • More interaction between teachers and students is needed. More than 1,000 thoughts were shared on this topic alone. We need to create more opportunities for students to connect with teachers and peers, including live instruction and recorded lessons to make online learning more like the classroom.
  • Parents and students shared challenges with too many online platforms, resources and websites. 
  • Teachers were concerned with how to effectively engage students in learning online and how to increase student participation and motivation. We heard that grading and expectations for our students should be improved in the future if students are learning online.

All of the Thoughtexchange results and major themes are below:

eLearning Thoughtexchange Summary

May 29, 2020

Nearly 7,000 teachers, parents and students shared feedback through Thoughtexchange around the following question:

What worked well and/or did not work well with eLearning and what else should we be considering as we plan for the next school year?

Over 1,200 teachers/staff shared nearly 2,000 thoughts. Over 5,000 parents shared nearly 10,000 thoughts. Nearly 1,000 secondary students participated with over 750 thoughts. Thank you so much for sharing your comments. This input is vitally important to our planning for the fall.

The majority of the feedback was around eLearning. Parents, students and staff were passionate about sharing feedback on what went well and what we might improve in the future. As time went on, parents and students struggled more with eLearning. They appreciated the work of our teachers and understand the circumstances. They also feel if eLearning continues in the fall, we can improve. 

There were fewer thoughts shared about plans for the fall, but general anxiety and/or questions were shared by parents and staff.

Top themes from parents:

Parent Summary Report here:

  • #1 theme: Overwhelmingly, we heard again, that live, face-to-face interaction with teachers and students is needed. More than 1,000 thoughts were shared by parents around this theme. They would like more opportunities for their child to connect and collaborate with teachers and peers, including live instruction, recordings to view later, online class meetings and more time and access to teachers, lessons and instruction every day. 
  • #2 theme: Parents shared that they are struggling with too many and different online platforms, resources and websites. They want more consistency among teachers regarding instruction. There was debate among parents around Schoology vs. Google Classroom. 
  • #3 theme: Working families struggled with managing child care and supporting school work, particularly at the elementary level. Parents felt that learning was often independent for their child with limited teacher support or only completed with significant support from a parent. They are concerned about child care in the fall as well.
  • Students need 1:1 Chromebooks at home to support eLearning. Sharing devices among families was not ideal.
  • In many cases, students and/or their parents had difficulty keeping up. This was pronounced at the elementary level where students struggled to independently manage eLearning, so parents had to help while also managing their own work schedules.
  • Specials and electives were a challenge. At elementary, specials (art, physical education, music) felt like an afterthought with little interaction between teachers and students. Specials fell by the wayside as parents and students struggled to just keep up with core content from classroom teachers. 
  • Students need to be held accountable for work and grades. Some said at secondary, grades should have been worth more or not allowed to harm a student’s grade.

Top themes from teachers and staff:

Staff Summary Report here:

  • #1 theme: Many concerns with the level of student participation and engagement in eLearning. Grading, accountability and expectations for our students should be improved next time. Expectations for students and teachers can be improved.
  • #2 theme: Continued debate about Schoology vs. Google Classroom/Meet vs. Zoom, which platforms are better, and not requiring teachers to use specific platforms. Many shared a strong preference for Google Classroom but some like/prefer Schoology as well.
  • #3 theme: Teachers appreciate the flexibility they were given in many areas, including platforms, office hours, progress reports, assessments and general expectations. Generally, they felt respected and appreciated.
  • Most passionate theme: Overwhelming, teachers appreciated the 4-day week, the chance to catch up and plan, and loved the professional development offered on Fridays.
  • Concerns around equity for all students, including technology, internet access, accommodations for students with IEPs and parent/family support at home.
  • Moving forward, we need to continue to be mindful of the challenges both teachers and families might face with eLearning, staggered schedules, child care for both teachers and parents, and the ability to deliver dual online and in-person learning. 
  • Teachers and staff are concerned about how we can effectively manage social distancing in a traditional classroom environment.
  • Students need social-emotional support, interaction with peers, and teachers now more than ever.
  • Teachers need time to prepare for the fall and want information/plans shared as soon as possible.

Top themes from secondary students:

Student summary report here:

  • Top theme: Students shared similar concerns as parents around too many platforms and ways to access learning. Many students shared a preference for Google Classroom.
  • Students would prefer assignments and lesson plans outlined for the week on Monday so they have the time and flexibility to manage work. Students were balancing different courses and teachers with inconsistent workloads, schedules and deadlines.
  • Many students mentioned the quality of learning declined. They shared difficulty staying motivated and focused while learning online from home.
  • Students shared that the 5% grading rule did not work well saying it led to little motivation to complete work and that their grade could not be improved under this rule. Many wanted more accountability and for their work to “count.”
  • Students shared frustration with inconsistency among teachers, including volume of work assigned, communication, schedules and deadlines to complete assignments.
  • Similar to parents, they would like more opportunities to access teachers and collaborate with peers, including live instruction and support.
  • Some shared appreciation for not having to take finals or standardized tests.

Return to School Plans

Right now, we are heavily planning for what a return to school this fall will look like for students and staff. It’s too early to know what will be most appropriate based on health guidelines at the time, so we are planning for multiple scenarios, action steps and responses.

Watch this video for an update on our plans as we return to school this fall. While we continue to plan this summer, what I can tell you right now is:

  • We will begin our 2020-21 calendar, as planned, on Monday, August 24.
  • It’s important to have the most current information to make the best decisions for our students and staff. Therefore, we will make final decisions about school operations in mid-July. 

What do you Prefer?
We also want to make sure our plans are consistent with the needs and preferences of our staff, students and parents. So we want to know how you feel about a return to school and preferences for your family. Please complete this important Return to School survey by June 7. We will likely ask for your feedback at additional times this summer as we plan for the upcoming school year. This will include more specific questions as we work to meet the needs of each student and staff member.

Click here to complete the Return to School Parent Survey

Our summer work is certainly different this year. Please know that we are working diligently to develop plans that will maximize learning for our students while also maximizing the health of our community. We will stay in touch over the coming weeks and months to share updates and information with you. 

Thank you for your ongoing support, grace and understanding as we plan for the months ahead. I’m so grateful to be in a community that continues to champion our schools, students and staff. I’m confident we will work together to overcome any challenge ahead in the best interest of our children.