Indianola’s elementary schools are about to return to full days. Some teachers are reportedly concerned that their to-do lists just became longer, too.
The Indianola School Board discussed the upcoming schedule change, as well as feedback from teachers, at the board’s regular meeting on Monday.
Board member Ben Metzger said he’d been on the phone with “numerous” educators for two hours before the meeting.
“We’re putting a ton of stuff on teachers’ plates, and from what I’m hearing out of them, it’s just ‘You take something off and pile something back on,’” he said.
But first, board members took a closer look at the schedule. In December, they had voted to potentially resume full days for onsite elementary students, while continuing to offer the online option currently available under the district’s hybrid learning model.
The plan hinged on a crucial hire, though: an elementary special education teacher who would focus entirely on virtual classes.
Recently, the district received a verbal acceptance of employment and pinpointed Thursday, Jan. 21, to return to full days at the elementary level, with Wednesdays continuing to be a 90-minute early dismissal.
The middle school and high school will continue to dismiss 90 minutes early daily, at least for now and despite some misinformation otherwise.
“I’ve had a lot of phone calls about the middle school going back to normal, to 3:05, too,” said board member Sue Wilson. “Are we working toward that? I’ve had lots of parents call me. Even my daughter came home telling me that that was happening. I was like, ‘Oh?’”
Superintendent Art Sathoff said that, while there aren’t any concrete plans, “it could happen.” He said that perhaps students have picked up on that intention.
“That’s what we’re working toward,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised, I guess, that if the district is telling teachers that — and they’re working on it, thinking about it — that probably is getting relayed somehow to students.”
But then, a new expectation had apparently been relayed to elementary teachers as well, spurring those reported phone calls to Metzger, whose wife is a teacher, as well as to board president Rob Keller.
In recent meetings, they relayed, elementary principals had asked teachers to take a new approach with class pages in PowerSchool, an online information hub used by the Indianola Community School District.
Apparently, administrators asked them to post summaries of assignments in a consistent way, in part so that quarantined students and their families could access them easily.
Until now, those students were able to join the online classes comprised of students who had chosen to learn from home. This semester, the intent is that quarantined students stay in step with their in-person class.
Meanwhile, students who opt to learn online are being asked to commit to that route for a nine-week period. Until now, they were able to use it with more flexibility.
“Perhaps this isn't the right time to roll out this whole PowerSchool thing," Metzger said. "We're asking teachers to teach in a pandemic ... and do all this other stuff we don't normally ask of them. Maybe this isn't the time to ask them to do this, too."
Keller asked for clarification on what exactly was being asked.
“How much time are we expecting them to spend on this? Because they all seemed instantly like, ‘Holy cow, we’re going to have to do all this again?! This is what we’ve been doing,’” Keller said, referring to online teaching.
“If we’re saying they should be spending 15 minutes on this, putting up a summary page and that’s it … Or are we saying they should spend two or three hours on this thing?” he asked.
Mimi Kelly, the district’s human resources director, explained that the teachers weren’t being asked to develop online content. It was meant to be an overview of what each class was working on.
“They wouldn’t be making videos or posting videos — those kinds of things,” she said. “It would just be the same kinds of things that, as a parent, if my third grader was out for any reason … I’d like to be able to go to class pages and know what they’re doing.”
The district is asking teachers to take a common approach to how they utilize class pages after hearing feedback from families who accessed them during quarantine.
“I do know the conversation was ‘Make it consistent, easy to find’ … a summary page or a week-at-a-glance or something,” said Sathoff. “I know that was the motivator behind what the elementary principals were talking about.”
Sathoff clarified after the meeting that, while teachers at the middle school and high school used class pages before the pandemic, this is newer technology to most elementary teachers.
“They really had not used them until last spring," he said, "although there had been training previously. … Our IT staff and teacher technology leaders can provide assistance to people who are struggling. Any newer technological process can be daunting for some.”