The Sun Prairie Area School District will move to hybrid instruction beginning with grades 3-5 in January and continuing with grades 6-12 in late February, the Sun Prairie School Board learned on Monday, Dec. 21.
The action was made possible by the recent school guidance provided by Public Health Madison Dane County, which said there was no reason to restrict K-12 students from returning to the classroom, barring social distancing requirements.
SPASD Director of Student Policy and School Operations Nick Reichhoff said the guidance all schools in all grades in Dane County can reopen once certain recommendations and requirements are met. Based on SPASD infection mitigation strategies already in place, Reichhoff said, the SPASD meets all criteria to reopen.
But — Order #11 requires six feet of social distancing, which means not all students could be accommodated if everyone wanted to go back to full-time, in-person instruction, according to Reichhoff.
Sun Prairie compares favorably to decisions made by two other large Dane County school districts — Verona and Middleton-Cross Plains — which voted to use roughly the same timelines to begin hybrid instruction in their districts.
Hybrid instruction means two days in school with other members of a cohort and two days in front of a computer screen, with Wednesdays being used as deep cleaning days in each school facility. As with K-2 hybrid instruction, SPASD parents may opt to keep their children at home for distance learning.
Some changes already signaled
SPASD Director of Elementary Teaching & Learning Rick Mueller said parents with students in grade K-5 received a letter Dec. 17 letting them know there will be a survey sent out gauging their interest. The survey will be open Dec. 28-Jan 4.
In addition, parents were told in late November (see “Despite concerns, SPASD ready for hybrid learning on December 7,” Nov. 27 issue) that adding more students would only happen if PHMDC clearly outlined that guidance and only at the beginning of the third quarter, which is Jan. 25.
Mueller said school site teams will follow up to verify any loose ends, but by Jan. 8, all student information will be verified so Kobussen can create bus routes.
As a reminder, Mueller said K-2 families who already participated in a survey also need to re-take the survey each quarter. He said it is important to respond to the survey because it allows bus routes to be established over winter break to begin hybrid instruction in January.
“Watch your inboxes,” Mueller said.
Mueller said older kids with siblings in grades K-2 assigned a cohort will be assigned the same cohort to keep families together.
The responses to surveys have already generated in some changes in distance, or online, learning. Sarah Chaja-Clardy, Director of Secondary Teaching, Learning and Equity for SPASD, said a recent survey garnered 3,632 total responses including 1,780 students and 1,405 family responses. In addition, 166 individual and small group student focus interviews were conducted.
Chaja-Clardy said there is strong agreement among students, teachers and parents that the distance learning experience is engaging (67 percent among students), while one survey question received the lowest response from families about having a positive experience (70 percent).
The survey also found about 50 percent of students were meeting with teachers after 1 p.m. four to five days per week. But students were also perceiving their school day to be largely over by 1 p.m.
One highlight from the survey was the response to this question: Overall I am satisfied with by distance learning experience this year. Students responded yes 73% of the time, while staff responded yes 84% of the time and families 78% yes.
But because of the perception that the school day is largely over by 1 p.m., the instructional day will be lengthened gradually beginning Jan. 25.
A caregiver survey will be sent in late January/early February in which caregivers will commit their students to a third quarter instructional option — hybrid or distance learning — for the entirety of third quarter.
“One thing we learned in the survey was . . . the overwhelming response of families was for students to return to school,” Chaja-Clardy said.
SPASD Assistant Superintendent for Teaching Learning & Equity Stephanie Leonard-Witte explained the next steps beyond the hybrid survey for Early Childhood-Grade 5 parents Dec. 28-Jan. 4, including:
• Beginning the planning process for secondary hybrid instruction in grades 6-12. This will include transportation planning, school nutrition and the formation of cohorts for students in grade levels where they have not been formed yet.
• Communicate the details of the 6-12 hybrid plan to parents in grades 6-12.
• Begin the extended virtual instructional day for students in grades 6-12 on Jan. 25.
• Begin the EC-Grade 5 hybrid instruction on Jan. 28. A Cohort students will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays, with online instruction Thursdays and Fridays, while B Cohort students will attend school Thursdays and Fridays, with online instruction Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesdays will remain work days for students and staff and deep cleaning days in each educational facility in the district.
• Administer the third quarter hybrid survey to 6-12 parents and caregivers in late January or early February 2021.
• Begin 6-12 hybrid instruction on Feb. 22 for third quarter A Cohort Day classes.
“I can’t even wrap my head around how I would work as a teacher to teach this way,” remarked board member Carol Albright — a reference to the concurrent teaching method being used to keep kids learning at home and in the classroom engaged.
Deputy Clerk Marilyn Ruffin asked whether there is a maximum number of students allowed in a class,
Reichhoff replied there was not, but that social distancing is required, which will limit the number of students based on the size of each classroom. Part of the planning process will be to determine the capacity for each classroom for in-person instruction.
“The next thing that’s going to come is what about sports?” asked Board Clerk Bryn Horton.
Reichhoff said PHMDC has addressed school sports separately, with many practices limited to 10 students or fewer. A letter was sent to parents last week about sports practices and how those will be monitored.
Board Governance Officer Dave Hoekstra asked the administrative team to explain the delay in 6-12 instruction versus 3-5 hybrid instruction.
Leonard-Witte explained the district had anticipated PHMDC guidance would allow grades 3-5 to move to hybrid instruction, but had not anticipated the 6-12 guidance.
Elementary principals are well-versed on how to do this, Leonard-Witte said, which makes SPASD more nimble at elementary transitions. But she said other districts were also taken by surprise — so much so that an online conference call of district administrators had to be scheduled quickly last Friday.
“The 6-12 was truly a surprise,” Leonard-Witte said. “When that came out, we all looked around and said ‘oh my’.”
School Board President Steve Schroeder said he knows there is no good answer for instructional delivery in a pandemic. But he said he also knows concurrent teaching is difficult and also knows that the model is not meeting the needs of kids because of its complexity.
“It’s hard enough to monitor ‘mute’ for first graders, let alone meeting the needs of kids right in front of you,” Schroeder said, referring to teachers using concurrent instruction. He said he gets the feeling many of the staff are struggling with this model.
Both Mueller and Leonard-Witte said they believed staffers were catching on.
“We’re just going to keep building on what’s working,” Mueller said.
Leonard-Witte said teachers are working hard to build relationships with kids online. Because of a decision to move to distance learning early, she said she’s already seeing teachers say they are starting to figure it out.
The decision has already captured two fans: Sun Prairie Student School Board members Quinn Williams and Sarah Rhoads.
“This truly was very exciting to hear,” Rhoads told the board near the end of the meeting on Monday, Dec. 21 during the Student School Board member report. She said her only concerns were with moving to an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day, it will mean a larger change because students have gotten into a groove with the current 8 a.m.-1 p.m. school day. But she said she looks forward to hearing more about hybrid model.
Williams echoed most of what Rhoads said initially, and told the board how he has already been back at Sun Prairie High School because of in-person instruction offered for lifeguard certification.
“It’s been a really great experience,” Williams said. But he also echoed most certainly the thoughts of other SPASD students when he said he’s ready to get back into “a more normal groove of things.”