D181 moving forward with hybrid plan

Despite pleas from parents to reverse last week’s decision and return to a five-day in-person plan for reopening schools, District 181 will continue work to refine a hybrid model for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Educators have spent the last week working on a hybrid plan that ensures students can remain six feet from one another in the classroom, Superintendent Hector Garcia said. The goal is to maximize in-person core instruction and coverage of the core curriculum.

The 28 elementary school staff members who were invited to a meeting Monday unanimously preferred splitting the school day in an “a.m./p.m.” model over an “A/B” schedule that would bring kids to school for a full day mostly likely twice a week.

“This (a.m./p.m.) model would ensure that students are in school every day, interacting with teachers live for half of the day,” said Kathy Robinson, assistant superintendent of learning. “The other half of the day would be remote.”

Meeting attendees shared similar reasons for preferring that options, Robinson noted.

“We heard the same thing over and over. They wanted daily contact with students and that focusing on early literacy and early numeracy is extremely important when teaching those skills to students who are just entering an elementary setting,” she said.

The in-person half day would run two hours and 20 minutes, with 60 minutes of literacy instruction, 60 minutes of math instruction and a 20-minute segment to address student needs. That portion will be focused on safety protocols as school opens and then move to social emotional learning and other topics. Science, social studies and specials would be taught remotely.

The model keeps students on pace with curriculum as it would be taught during a normal year, Robinson said.

“We’re able to devote a large block of time to math and literacy because all of our elementary teachers can teach all content,” she said. “We can’t apply this model to the middle school because not all middle school teachers can teach math and literacy.”

Administrators met with 25 middle school staff members Tuesday morning to discuss their preferences. Board members will review those comments when they meet at 6 tonight, Aug. 13.

One challenge to remote learning is the Hinsdale Clarendon Hills Teachers Association’s position that teachers will not pre-record lessons or present them via livestream. Board members said that is not acceptable and encouraged the superintendent to talk with union reps again.

“We see it as an important tool in our toolbox for hybrid,” Garcia reassured the board. “We will not waste any time going back and having them reconsider that.”

Teachers in other districts are using those tools, and board member Meeta Patel said she has heard parents are signing agreements stating they will not record teachers or post their lectures on social media.

“The idea that an in-person teacher cannot livestream but a remote teacher can doesn’t mesh,” Patel said. “It’s incongruent.”

Officials also are working on transition guidelines for moving to a fully remote option for all students — not just those who select it — if the need arises.

“We need to be ready to switch between those learning models,” Garcia said.

Unlike other districts, the fully remote plan will not be outsourced.

“Whatever the model that our parents select, whether it’s a hybrid or remote model, it will be taught by our highly qualified D181 teachers,” Garcia said.

Board members spent some time reflecting on the change in plans approved at the Aug. 3 meeting. Board member Bill Cotter, who called for a vote on the five-day in-person plan in a letter to the editor that ran in The Hinsdalean last week, asked if returning to that plan was at all possible.

“Any further delays, Mr. Cotter, on our focus of starting our work would jeopardize the start of the school year,” Garcia said.

As it is, the first day of school tentatively has been moved from Aug. 24 to Sept. 8, with the final day set for June 8.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean