Despite a two-week in-person-learning pause following winter break, Winnetka Public Schools officials continue to explore more daily on-site instruction.
Superintendent Dr. Trisha Kocanda presented the board of education with updates regarding the administration’s progress on a potential “all in” model sometime next year during the board’s Tuesday, Dec. 15 meeting.
The district’s current hybrid learning plan divides students alphabetically and splits them into a.m. and p.m. groups for half-day in-person attendance and half-day remote learning.
Although the district is shifting to remote learning for a brief period, officials still consider a longer in-person day a priority.
“We’re investigating this, we’re doing our due diligence and we’re trying to honor our commitment of moving forward,” Kocanda said. “I know there’s all different perspectives on this and health and safety continues to be our most important driving factor and number one priority. And then of course maximizing our in-person learning (is next).”
A memo to the board from the administration contained analysis on how the district can move to a full-day learning model.
According to the memo, under the “all-in” model, in-person instruction would increase by approximately 20 percent districtwide. This model would have students at all district schools attend class daily from 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Current class sizes would double under the model, the memo says. As previously reported by The Record, the average class size right now is between 8-12 students.
To fulfill this model, the district would need to use nontraditional learning spaces such as gyms and auditoriums to provide appropriate spacing, the memo says.
The administration says in the memo that making the program shift to the all-day learning model would require additional staffing. To maintain proper social distancing under the all-day model, the district would need to make 21 additional hires — 17 certified staff members and four classified staffers.
The personnel costs would amount to $1.9 million for a full year, but the school year will be at its midway point, officials said.
Kocanda added that the administration will come back with more information and potentially a detailed course of action at the board’s January meeting.
“I think the (administration) has done some great work here … but I think as a board we will be looking forward to your bringing us a plan for a longer school day in the new year,” Board President Dawn Livingston said.
“I think we’re going to be looking to have a little bit more of a plan in place. This (information) is great, this is a good starting point. It gives us a lot to think about. I’m glad that you guys put the work in to do this. But we’re going to definitely want to move forward with looking at a specific plan to get our kids back into the longer days.”
Survey results support an in-person pause, superintendent says
Survey results presented by Kocanda at the meeting showed that close to 50 percent of parents and staff members may be considering traveling over winter break.
So far, 215 staff members took the survey, Kocanda said. Approximately 25 percent said they will be traveling out of state over winter break. Twenty-three percent said they are currently unsure.
From the 802 parents who submitted the survey, 30 percent said they will be traveling, while 17 percent said they are unsure right now.
“In both cases, we’re close to half … considering traveling so I do think that would have been a major operational challenge to try to manage,” Kocanda said, adding that the data supports the pause in on-site instruction.
The survey is still open to participants until Dec. 17.
COVID testing update
The previously approved pilot of a COVID-19 screener program in District 36 won’t take place in January.
Kocanda informed the board of education that Safeguard Surveillance LLC cannot offer the district a one-off pilot of its screening program. Because of the high demand the company is facing, it can only offer a pilot if a district makes a high-volume commitment, Kocanda said.
Members of the board stated that they did not see a reason to rush into an agreement right now. The board decided to table a decision on pursuing a COVID-19 screening program or PCR testing option until January.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.