West Chicago Dist. 94 ready to apply for pilot e-learning program
No more snow days?
Starting Jan. 1, that might be a reality for West Chicago High School District 94 students.
The district -- which put Chromebooks in the hands of every student at the beginning of this school year -- has plans to submit an application to be part of the state's new pilot e-learning program. The program will allow three Illinois school districts to teach students through digital devices on days when they can't attend school, due to snow or other emergencies.
E-learning on emergency days is the brainchild of the District 94 Superintendent Douglas Domeracki. After hearing how districts in other states were launching e-learning programs, he proposed the idea to state Rep. Mike Fortner of West Chicago, who then sponsored legislation to create the 3-year pilot program.
Gov. Bruce Rauner approved the measure this summer, and now applications to be part of the program are being accepted by the Illinois State Board of Education through Oct. 15. "The e-learning is more than just taking care of snow days. Having this model present really does a lot of capacity building for our staff and students," Domeracki said, referring to the many yet-to-be explored opportunities that digital devices provide for learning.
A public hearing on District 94's proposed application to take part in the program will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the board room of the district administrative center, 157 W. Washington St. in West Chicago.
Domeracki said he has been discussing the possibility with community members and staff for months, and so far the response has been positive.
"I think they're excited about it because the unknown is always the last day of school," he said. "It's a moving target. This idea kind of solidifies the target."
Every time an e-learning day occurs, the districts will be required to submit a report of how the day went to a regional superintendent, Domeracki said. Teachers will take attendance and conduct at least five instructional hours on the e-learning days. The district also will need to verify that every subgroup of students in the school was served on those days, and surveys will be conducted to evaluate the program's effectiveness.
Domeracki said he has no concerns about accessibility, now that every student in District 94 has a Chromebook. If a student's family doesn't have Internet access at home, the student can check out a "hot spot" device from the school's library that will give them Internet access anywhere they take their computer.
"Oftentimes you know bad weather is coming," Domeracki said. "We can announce to the kids if you need Internet access, please go to the library."
However, if the weather sneaks up, he said, then the school won't take an e-learning day because it would put the kids without Internet access at a disadvantage.
Although the district has only been "one-to-one" -- one device for every student -- for about five weeks, Domeracki said he is already hearing that there are a lot of live discussions happening between students, their teachers and their peers after school, when they are working on assignments from home.
"They're not just posting a reading assignment or posting a work sheet and telling kids to work on it," he said of the teachers and what would happen if an e-learning day is necessary. "Kids are getting online. There's ongoing discussions that are happening."
Domeracki said learning management systems that are already set up on the devices monitor everything the students are doing when they log on. More details about how the district would guarantee five hours of learning, however, would still need to be ironed out of if the district is selected.
Although he has invested a lot of time into the creation of the pilot program, Domeracki said he has no idea how likely it will be that the district will be one of the three selected by the state.
"I'm confident we are prepared, we are ready and we are a good fit for this," he said. "We're putting our best foot forward right now."