Officials at Glencoe School District 35 are laying the groundwork for additional in-person learning opportunities that could be available as soon as next month.
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Wang set a roadmap for the administration’s plans to increase in-person learning districtwide during the board of education’s Thursday, Feb. 4 meeting.
Wang told board members that it is the administration’s goal to present in-person plans at their March 4 meeting. She added that the implementation of those plans could occur in mid-March with officials “really looking at April-June as a time for all of those new learning models to be in place.”
For the district to move forward with any alteration to its learning model, “substantial vaccinations” of staff members needs to be happening simultaneously, Wang said.
Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination rollout program started Jan. 25 and includes educators. But as is the case with many local school districts, educators are struggling to secure appointments, officials said.
District officials are continuing work to ensure that a townshipwide vaccination site — which would almost certainly be New Trier High School’s Northfield campus — is available, Wang said, adding that the district is hoping to receive more news on the program early next week.
Administrators are planning on surveying parents from Feb. 12-19 to determine desired learning choices for the remainder of the school year, according to Wang. Doing so is the first step in a potential transition to more in-person learning.
The district will also be seeking volunteer support and will continue to look for substitute teachers, Wang said.
Implementation times for new learning plans may vary by school and by grade level but District 35 will not run three learning models (in-person, remote and hybrid) at once, according to officials.
The remaining months of the school year will allow officials the opportunity to preview what next year may look like.
“The April-June (timeframe) is really about us testing what works and how we can grow and learn from that,” Wang said. “It will help us inform what is possible for our next year, 2021-22. We absolutely do not know exactly what is on our horizon for that year but this allows us a time to trial.”
Implementing new learning plans in the spring also “opens up an incredible avenue with outdoor space again,” Wang said. She added that the district is hoping to bring back outdoor learning spaces at all of its schools.
Wang’s presentation was followed by submitted public comments urging the district to offer additional in-person learning opportunities from more than a dozen parents.
While acknowledging and thanking district educators for transforming the way they teach, parent Melissa Field said she “wholeheartedly support(s) any efforts to expand in-person school especially efforts that reduce the amount of time that in-person students are still learning through screen because teachers are teaching students at home simultaneously.
“Our children are craving face to face, masked of course, interactive classroom experiences that solidify learning. These typically can’t be replicated via Zoom, especially with younger students.”
Many parents also expressed a desire to have schools “fully reopened” by March 1.
“We strongly believe the current COVID metrics in our area allow for the safe return to full in-person learning,” parent Dan Ponce said. “We ask, respectfully, that school open full-time on, or before, March 1.”
Wang followed the comments by thanking the board, staff, parents and the community for their efforts and saying that she hopes they can move forward together.
“I recognize the path forward is not easy and I recognize that it’s asking for additional change … and I ask that we do it together with care and with compassion and respect for each other,” she said. “When frustrations are high, I’m asking all of us to take a moment to show grace, to show understanding, as we all are living through this pandemic.
“I thank our entire community but also seek the support of the entire community to move through this together and in that graceful way.”
District 35 likely won’t pause in-person learning after spring break
As local school districts continue to consider plans for the weeks following spring break, Glencoe students seem to have a clear direction of what their learning operations will look like.
Wang told the board that she is not recommending the district pause on-site education after spring break and that students return to the classroom, when scheduled, on April 5.
“I think our data from our winter break pause and our testing that occurred after that, even amidst the high positivity time nationally and regionally … (shows) our positivity rate was very, very low,” Wang said.
The district will likely follow CDC travel guidance, which as of publication time recommends quarantine for travels and COVID-19 testing both before and after traveling. That guidance could change by the district’s spring break, however, the goal is to follow procedures outlined by the CDC.
Wang said that officials are working on a township-wide option for testing that would be free and be hosted by one of the township-area schools on April 5 to make it easier for families if that is still a recommendation from CDC.
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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.