The Indianola Community School District may change the course of its Return to Learn plan as early as next month. But first, administrators want to hear the opinions of teachers.
At the Indianola School Board meeting on Monday, Superintendent Art Sathoff updated the board on how the district is gathering information, as well as the timeline for a potential decision.
“We’ll keep looking at what’s going on with the virus,” he said. “We’ll discuss any input from teachers on, you know, what makes the most sense as a learning plan.”
The administrative team intends to discuss the matter this Thursday, and building principals will hold staff meetings next week. Sathoff or Mimi Kelly, the district’s human resources director, plan to attend those to hear teachers’ feedback firsthand and answer any questions.
Then, a recommendation could be brought before the school board for action at the Oct. 12 meeting. One additional regular meeting will take place in the meantime on Sept. 28.
As far as what that recommendation is, a “range of everything” is possible, said Sathoff.
It could be a continuation of the current hybrid model in which classes are available onsite as well as online, with onsite classes dismissing 90 minutes daily to allow educators time for online instruction.
This model “is working pretty well … but we are concerned about those learning gaps, so if we can capture some more time, we want to do that,” Sathoff said.
Another possibility is that the district could move to a mostly onsite model, with virtual learning available only to those with documented medical reasons. School days could also return to full length, except for the usual early dismissals on Wednesdays.
Whatever the board would decide, Indianola families appear to be shifting toward onsite instruction of their own accord.
The number of students attending online is trending slightly downward, Sathoff said. Currently, they account for 9 percent of students at Emerson Elementary; 12 percent, Irving; 12.3, Laura Ingalls Wilder; 8.2, Whittier; 15 percent, middle school; and 15.5, high school.
“Whittier, I think, has dropped the most in terms of remote learners,” Sathoff noted. “They were around 12 percent or 13 percent the last time I checked. Now they’re 8.2.”
The drop may coincide with Warren County’s declining positivity rate for COVID-19. When Sathoff checked a month ago, he said, it was at 9.8 percent. Today it’s 6.6.
Board member Ben Metzger asked about another key number: How many online learners are actively participating?
“I know it was a concern expressed at the board’s last meeting, to make sure the online learners are engaged. What is your feel for that, or the feedback you’re getting, as far as how that has been?” he asked.
Sathoff said that principals now have the ability to “shadow” class pages online — a good step toward gauging involvement — but “there are concerns.
“If they’re just not engaging, then we’re considering those remote learners absent,” Sathoff continued. “Then we’ll address that just like we would if a kid weren’t coming to school. At some point, it’s a truancy issue if you’re not engaging.”
The board discussed that concern as one of the reasons to move toward in-person instruction if COVID-19 numbers allow.
At a previous meeting, October was identified as a logical time to implement a change, since it's already a month of transition: The end of second quarter and the target date for again allowing visitors in school buildings.
Board member Ken Bresnan raised the question of whether the district is ready if the other extreme happens — if an uptick in cases would make it necessary to move all students online.
“I’m concerned about coming back, too,” he said. “But I don’t know if we’re ready if something happens and we’ve got to ‘online’ everybody full time or anything like that. … Let’s have a drill and see if they had to do it tomorrow if they’d be ready.”
Sathoff responded that there are “certain things beyond people’s control,” including devices not yet being available to kindergarteners through fifth graders.
Ray Coffey, the district’s director of technology, added that some families wouldn’t be ready. Although the district has made “hot spots” available to households who need them for Internet access, some have yet to be picked up.
“To answer your question, ‘Are we ready?”— I’m sure there are families that, you know, their kids are here right now,” he said. “They’ve indicated that they need Internet access, but they haven’t picked it up or reached out to us. So, we’re probably not.”
Sathoff noted that teachers already are balancing their onsite and online duties in a “tough situation,” so he’s hesitant to ask more of them.
“The whole accountability mindset I understand. We need to be accountable,” he said. “But we certainly don’t need to put another layer or to-do list for teachers. … I have faith in the teachers, and they’ll do the very best job that they can.”