Geneva District 304 preparing for abnormal learning scenarios this fall

  • Randy Soto of Geneva walks to the first day of school at Heartland Elementary last August with son Bryan, who was entering the fourth grade. The coronavirus pandemic forced students to finish the year online.

      Randy Soto of Geneva walks to the first day of school at Heartland Elementary last August with son Bryan, who was entering the fourth grade. The coronavirus pandemic forced students to finish the year online. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/12/2020 2:02 PM

The future is foggy for schools statewide as they await guidance on the structure and setting of education this fall.

But Geneva Unit District 304 administrators know one thing for certain: The experience won't be normal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

School leaders are now developing a scenario-based plan that will allow the district to adapt to any combination of learning environments, from remote to staggered to in-person, said Andrew Barrett, assistant superintendent for learning and teaching.

The district was thrust into unprecedented territory a few months ago when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and students were forced to finish the year online. The challenging situation required a certain level of understanding and flexibility from kids, teachers and parents, he said.

"We got a lot of grace, and we gave a lot of grace," Barrett said during a school board meeting this week. "Whatever we do (next year), we think expectations will likely be heightened."

That means preparing for all circumstances -- and realizing that even the best-case scenario won't resemble a typical school year, he said.

The district is focusing on three possible situations: in-person learning with remote support; an entirely remote learning environment; and a staggered schedule with a heavy focus on e-learning, plus some in-person support.

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That third scenario assumes kids will have to spend most of their time in a remote setting, Barrett said, but the district will attempt to provide opportunities for students to reconnect with their teachers and peers face to face, even if it's in a limited capacity.

"Certainly everyone's health is a top priority," he said. "But we also know we are living our vision and our mission the best when we have kids in person for learning."

So far, the three scenarios have been evaluated from a bird's-eye view, Barrett said, but administrators are beginning to sharpen their focus as they brainstorm implementation strategies and seek feedback from school board members and a special COVID-19 task force. As more information is released by the state, he said, the district will be faced with some critical decisions regarding the school calendar, building capacities, staffing and "transition points," or the threshold for shifting into a new scenario.

Barrett anticipates the district will have more local control over the structure of the school day this fall than in the spring, though that can be a "double-edged sword."

School board member Mike McCormick said the district needs to build in metrics to monitor the productivity, participation and accountability of students and teachers, especially if remote learning is involved.

That way, he said, "we have more unanimity across the board that everybody's getting that same product delivered to them from teachers, but also so we can know that the students are buying into this as well."

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