The Academic and Technology Committee of the East Lansing School Board met this past week to focus on preparation for the fall, including to discuss how remote learning might be improved should the State of Michigan shutter schools again due to the pandemic.
Meeting on May 25, the committee debated how much planning should be done in advance and when to reveal plans — whether finalized or in progress — to the ELPS community.
Tentative plans call for eliciting feedback from families and teachers in June, developing a plan and curriculum in July, and preparing and training teachers in August.
Teachers’ contractual obligations emerged as a concern for developing and implementing a plan. Teachers are contractually employed through June, are off in July, and return in August.
School Board Secretary Chris Martin said that the district would be judged by how much advanced planning they had completed and continued his call for getting started now.
Board Vice President Terah Chambers seconded Martin’s position, saying that parents want to understand the Board’s plan. Chambers supported the idea of using the upcoming weeks to gather information on the needs of ELPS families and cautioned that ELPS may need to consider other factors, too, particularly regarding child care needs for working parents.
But Superintendent Dori Leyko advocated against making plans that would need to change to meet state guidelines or publicly revealing information that was subject to change. The worst thing, she suggested, would be distributing wrong info.
Leyko was alarmed that the public school district of West Bloomfield had released plans for hybrid learning before receiving guidance from the state, calling such actions premature.
Martin acknowledged that state guidance was important but he wants to identify now the district’s “hopes and dreams” for the fall, which he said were not dependent on guidance from the state.
Martin believes that the district can poll teachers to see if any would not return should classes be held in person – an important staffing question. He also wants to assess now how smaller class sizes might function for an in-person or hybrid approach in the near future.
Board President Erin Graham had been following the Ann Arbor discussions and said the key word there was fluidity.
Ann Arbor school leaders are hoping students can toggle between options. For example, if a student participates in hybrid or in-person instruction but falls ill or has a family member fall ill, ideally the student could transition to remote learning through the recovery period.
Consultations with stakeholders and other districts to happen
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Graham proposed holding town halls and focus groups to receive feedback from the ELPS community, referencing the bond committees from several years ago as one model.
On Friday Leyko notified families that the district was forming work groups to obtain “input and feedback about how students and families will engage in learning this fall.” (Those interested can apply here by June 3.)
At last Tuesday’s committee meeting, there appeared to be some consensus that teachers would be asked about their experiences this spring and preferences for the fall in mid to late June, before their contracts end in July.
ELPS will also coordinate with nearby school districts through the Ingham Intermediate School District and will follow guidelines set forth by Governor Whitmer through consultation with the Return to Learn Advisory Council, which she established on May 15. Leyko is serving on the suburban school subgroup of that council, meeting with peers twice weekly.
Leyko cautioned that the timeline was fluid but anticipates some directives should come from the state in mid-July.
Curriculum Director Glenn Mitcham stated that the Ingham Intermediate School District is looking to form a district planning team with possible subcommittees to consider school operations, personnel, and academics. Nothing has been formally established yet.
Technology issues will be addressed
Facing the reality of more distance learning, ELPS is planning to adopt a designated online learning management system to streamline access to course materials. Families have been struggling as they’ve been asked to deal with different platforms for different classes, adding to stress.
Mitcham said a committee had been formed to examine various platforms. He had initially hoped that the entire district would use the platform selected, but teachers of younger students had different needs.
Kindergarten classes through the second grade will use the platform SeeSaw. Families of students in third grade and above should expect to use either Google Classrooms or Microsoft Team/OneNote, pending the committee’s decision.
Meanwhile, families that have been using ELPS laptops and iPads may be able to hang on to them for a while.
Christian Palasty, the ELPS Director of Technology and Media Services, had planned to collect these on June 15 but is now delaying that date, saying it made little sense to collect the items to only redistribute them should they be needed in the fall. Currently, in terms of asking for devices back, ELPS is only reaching out to families who only have graduating seniors or are leaving the district.
Palasty indicated that the district has distributed over 900 laptops and 350 iPads. Families have been invited to access Wifi in the parking lots of school buildings.
What about the feedback survey?
No word yet on what feedback the district received on its survey, distributed weeks ago, asking for feedback on the emergency distance learning system.
On Friday, May 29, Leyko told ELi, “Our learning plan surveys close today. We should be able to gather the data next week from our principals and share it with you.”
So, it appears that that feedback will come too late to make a substantive difference for this school year, which ends this Friday.
The School Board’s Policy Committee is set to meet Friday at 3 p.m. The School Board as a whole is not due to meet again until June 8.