MENDOTA – Mendota elementary students in grades 2-8 may be switched to an alternate day schedule beginning next month. The new schedule, which was approved by District 289 Board of Education during its Oct. 15 board meeting, would be in effect for the second trimester.
Superintendent Dr. Kristen School said parents are being asked this week whether their students will attend the next trimester in person or remotely. The final decision on scheduling will be determined by the number of students who plan to attend in person.
Dr. School explained that a preliminary survey of parents showed an increase at all three of the district’s schools. Blackstone, which now has 144 students attending in person, would increase to 177; Lincoln, currently with 216 in person, would go to 263; and Northbrook, now at 290, would increase to 344. If the number of students returning to in-person hold true in the final survey, School said attendance would be too high for Lincoln and Northbrook to safely accommodate students.
Blackstone School, which has larger classrooms, smaller class sizes and some of the greatest needs for in-person learning, would be able to handle the increase, however, and not have to switch to alternate day attendance. Kindergarten and first graders will attend Monday through Thursday as will Life Skills students. Preschool students will remain on the same schedule they are currently following.
In the alternate day plan, both Lincoln and Northbrook students would be divided into two groups with half attending in person on Monday and Wednesday and the other half on Tuesday and Thursday. One change that will affect all of the district’s students will be on Fridays, which will be used as a ‘blended learning’ review day with no in-person instruction, but attendance will be required. No new material will be presented on Fridays, rather it will be a time for catching up and review.
School said students at Lincoln and Northbrook will be divided alphabetically to determine whether they attend Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, although family groups will stay on the same schedule and other adjustments will be made for particular situations. On the days students are not in the building, they will be given work to do at home. The school day will still end at 2:30 p.m.
“If the number of students returning to in-person at Lincoln and Northbrook stay high, this is the plan we will use,” School said. “If not, the current schedule will stay in place.”
School explained that the Transition Team met on Oct. 9 to discuss options to best accommodate the possible increase of students attending in person, which everyone agreed is the best way to educate students. “We know that remote learning is not a good option for everyone,” she said. “This is a year like we’ve never lived before. The only option we could see was an alternate day schedule. Teachers are now doing two jobs – in-person and remote – and they’re also dealing with students who are in quarantine. They are doing a fantastic job but they are overwhelmed. They need assistance, time and professional development.”
In addition, some remote learners have been coming to school at the end of the day for extra help from teachers. “And some students are just not doing well with remote learning, they’re not passing,” School said. “We have been reaching out to the students who are not doing their work but if they still don’t respond, that’s really all we can do.”
The new alternate day plan will only be used if the number of in-person learners goes up. School said if the number remains the same or similar to students currently attending, then the only change would be on Fridays, which will be remote learning days used as a review, for meetings via Zoom, arranging for in-person extra help, and assistance for students who need help the most.
In response to a question about wearing masks, School said the mask breaks will continue. In addition to the breaks, she noted that teachers have been trying to take their students outside for structured activities that are part of the learning process while still keeping students distanced. School said when the weather gets colder, the amount of time spent outside will be different but students will still get some type of mask breaks during the day. All three school principals, Stacy Kelly, David Lawrence and Paula Daley, agreed that students have been very cooperative in wearing their masks. “We have had no complaints from them at all. They are being wonderful about it.”
This week’s parent survey will be a firm commitment and will remain in place for the entire second trimester, which begins Nov. 16. Those choosing remote learning will not be able to switch to in-person during the trimester although someone choosing in-person can switch to remote. The surveys are due back by Friday, Oct. 23. “We just can’t have too many students in the buildings at Lincoln and Northbrook to keep them safe and distanced,” School said. “We may have to go all remote at some point during the year, but that is beyond our control.”
For board member Angel Eisenberg, who attended the Transition Plan meeting as a board representative, the safety of students and the community is the highest priority. Eisenberg, who is also a parent, a nurse and works with the county health department, said she believes safety must take precedence over anything else that is done in education. She emphasized that everyone must continue wearing masks and socially distancing. But with the number of students at Lincoln and Northbrook, social distance cannot be ensured.
“Our school buildings were not built for this situation and with the cold weather coming, total remote learning may become necessary,” she said. “Flu season is approaching and compromises needed to be made. Teachers have done and will continue to do their best. I am a parent too, and I understand the hardship on parents with this type of schedule. But a quarantine would be even worse. I strongly encourage all parents to return the survey.”
The complete Transition Plan update is available at the district website (m289.org) and to help explain the changes at each of the schools and for special education, a video has been posted on YouTube. In addition, anyone with questions is encouraged to contact the building principal or the superintendent.