When Marshall School District Superintendent Dan Grady presented the fall reopening plan at the school board’s July 28 meeting, he said it would be a fluid document that could change based on various circumstances. One of those changes was presented at the Aug. 5 board meeting. The board did not need to approve of the amendment as it approved the reopening plan last month with the knowledge it could be updated.
“Now is the time when we’re putting more pieces together,” said Grady.
One of the pieces is teachers’ location while creating and providing instruction. Initially, the proposal was to have all staff members work from their respective classrooms during regular school hours. However, staff decried the mandate for various reasons.
As a way to compromise, the administration would allow staff to be flexible with 20 of their weekly hours where they could complete work remotely or shift hours to later in the evening if necessary to meet the needs of students and families as opposed to working from the school buildings during the entire time.
Elementary school principal Kathy Kennon said have flexible hours allows the district to be responsive to staff needs. Middle school principal Paul Herrick added the administration trusts teachers to put forth quality instruction while also allowing them to have a bit of flexibility, which could take personal concerns about safety off their shoulders.
Comments from 14 staff members were provided during the meeting, including a letter from the Marshall Education Association read by MEA President and middle school teacher Mike Jansen. According to the letter, the first time teachers were made aware of the mandate to teach virtually at the school was when the reopening plan was presented to the board. Eighty-seven teachers across all for schools responded to an MEA survey with the following results: 53% were not in favor of physically reporting in the fall from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., Monday through Friday. Of that total, 38% had their own children attending school virtually in the fall and of those staff members, 29% said they are unable to physically report to the building for that reason.
“Of the ‘are not in favor’ camp the comments revolve around safety and risk to staff, helping their own children with their education, and the regular work day not being when they actually served kids in the spring,” Jansen said.
According to him, those in favor of physically reporting to the buildings the comments were based on the “nuts and bolts” of organizing the teaching day, questions about contracting the virus, and childcare and helping their own children who would attend school virtually.
Jordan Schrader, who is the middle and high school speech teacher, said when speaking with a nurse about why if essential workers had to report to their jobs, why should teachers not be expected to do the same. The nurse said it was because teachers have a safer option than showing up in person.
Other staff members listed reasons why they did not want to be required to report to the schools, including their personal health and the health of their families, wanting the ability to come and go to the buildings, using up childcare slots that should be set aside for essential workers, the safety and health risks associated with sending children to daycare, the possible health implications of having all staff in the buildings at the same time, the additional cost of daycare, and the risk of having quality teachers leave the district to find positions where they can work remotely.
A ‘typical’ day of virtual instruction
Each of the building principals outlined what a typical day of virtual learning would look like at their respective buildings. Early Learning Center principal Rich Peters said the school day would begin at 8:15 a.m. with all students attending a 20-30 minute live classroom meeting. Then families can choose what order they would like to watch pre-recorded lessons, including all specials like art and physical education. During the school day, which is expected to conclude at 3:15 p.m., students would check in with their teacher as part of a small virtual group of no more than five children. Families would sign up for the time slot that works best for them based on the teacher’s schedule of availability.
“We want consistency and structure, but it’s also going to be decided on what’s best for that child and that classroom as well,” Peters said. This theme continued in Kennon’s response to what a typical day for elementary school would look like during virtual instruction.
She said the daily schedule would be nearly identical to the ELC. The day would start with a live classroom meeting and then students would choose what order they would like to view the pre-recorded instruction. Additionally, there would be time for student collaboration with the creation of virtual small groups
“Within that model staff would have a little more flexibility in the afternoon for 4K-6 to not only have a prep hour but also to meet in a PLC, to video tape some of their lessons, if they wanted to flex some of that time to then meet with kids maybe at 3:45 (p.m.),” Kennon said.
Herrick said grades 7-8 students would have a bit later start to the day, which would allow staff to record lessons and have prep time at the start of the day. The daily schedule would commence at 9 a.m. with shorter class periods than the three-day rotation the middle school had planned to undertake for the upcoming year prior to coronavirus.
“There’s a pretty good chunk in the middle of the day where there’s a break time for kids, it’s a transitional time for staff with some prep time in there and then finishing up with the last few class periods with the idea being, again, following that schedule,” Herrick said.
The principal would love to see teachers use the work day to prepare video instruction but then being live and on-camera to interact with students.
Recently hired high school principal Eugene Syvrud said he had not met with staff to determine how a day would operate but would speak with them during the week.