Almost a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began reshaping the landscape of education, Winnetka Public Schools is slowly moving down the path toward normalcy.
Superintendent Dr. Trisha Kocanda presented a tentative roadmap to the board of education Tuesday, Jan. 26, highlighting the administration’s plans for the district’s operational models moving forward.
For months, district officials have publicly stated their two priorities are upholding the safety of students, staff and families, and maximizing in-person, in-school learning. With that, officials have continually explored more daily on-site instruction.
Administrators detailed plans to increase in-person learning times at district schools during the Jan. 26 meeting and recommended extending daily instruction times at Carleton Washburne School, where seventh- and eighth-graders attend.
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.
The administration’s recommendation for Washburne is to merge the a.m. and p.m. pods to create a minimum four-hour daily in-person learning schedule.
According to officials, plans call for daily instruction in four core academic subjects.
Shifting to four hours of daily in-person instruction will also shorten the remote portion in the afternoon and keep lunch off campus to avoid “health safety concerns” and logistical challenges, officials said at the meeting.
District officials are targeting an implementation of the extended day on either March 8, the start of the final trimester, or April 5, the date the school is slated to return from spring break.
Administrators are only recommending implementation of the four-hour day at Washburne right now because of its size — it is the only district schools that can maintain the current state-mandated social distancing requirement of 6 feet with both learning pods present simultaneously.
At the elementary level, officials are targeting an increase to in-person instruction by 15-30 minutes daily, Kocanda’s roadmap shows. To do so, a redesign of the current use of time would need to take place, officials said.
Additional improvements to the operational plan at the elementary level include increasing the number of students receiving reading intervention support, opening playgrounds to utilize at recess time, and more.
Potential improvements at Skokie School include offering club opportunities for students, increasing the availability of math support and opening playgrounds.
Extensions at the K-6 level rely on several circumstances such as the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and if the state reduces the required social distancing guidelines, officials said.
Because of the ambiguity surrounding these situations, a precise timeframe on extending in-person learning is not applicable right now.
“There is such an evolving nature to all of this work,” Kocanda said “ … Making sure (we have) relevant plans for the context at hand is important to us. We’re excited; we want our students back at school, our staff want our students back at school, our students want to be back at school. So we want to make sure that we can do so in a way that is sustainable and safe and gives our children a quality educational experience.”
The Board of Education is scheduled to hold a special meeting Feb. 15 to determine a plan for the K-6 grades moving forward.
Kocanda also reaffirmed a previously stated goal of the district, which is to have a full day of learning for all grade levels by the start of next school year.
“We’re anticipating and we’re going to plan for August of 2021 to be a day that is more typical than not,” she said.
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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.