Huntley District 158 releases specifics on 'modified remote learning' approach
Huntley School District 158 on Thursday released its revised e-learning framework for the fall, which outlines a structured virtual learning model designed to mimic class periods for secondary students and homeroom time for elementary students.
Rather than working on assignments independently and checking in with teachers periodically, District 158 students will engage in real-time virtual learning through interactive video sessions designed to increase engagement and reduce the burden on parents, Superintendent Scott Rowe said in an interview Wednesday.
"In the spring, we had a sense that there was so much uncertainty in what was going on in the lives of our students and our families so we gave them so much flexibility that we were almost too flexible," Rowe said. "There was too much freedom in terms of what the school day could look like and that lack of structure caused problems."
Rowe presented this new plan to the school board's committee of the whole meeting Thursday evening, a follow-up to his announcement last Friday that the 9,100-student district would switch from a hybrid learning plan to remote only to start the year.
While this more structured, real-time learning approach was encouraged in the spring, it now will be required four to five times a week for pre-school, 8 to 10 times a week for elementary school and two times a week per class for middle and high school, according to the plan, called "Remote Learning 2.0."
For pre-kindergarten and elementary school students, this real-time learning will be conducted in a blocked daily schedule. Middle and high school students will follow a daily bell schedule, moving from class to class as they normally would to avoid scheduling conflicts between teachers, Rowe said.
In sample schedules provided in a Thursday presentation, elementary students were scheduled with a mix of assignments and real-time instruction in core areas like literacy and math from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., with a short break for lunch and recess. The 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. block was slated for special programs and additional core support, followed by teacher office hours from 3 to 3:30 p.m.
Middle and high school students will attend all nine class periods on Mondays, with block scheduling on Tuesdays/Thursdays and Wednesdays/Fridays, according to the plan. The school day will run 7:30 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. as usual, but class periods will be an hour and 15 minutes on Tuesday through Friday.
This more structured approach aims to support working parents who may not be home during the day, or may be trying to get work done at home alongside their children, by providing the supervision students normally get during school hours, Rowe said.
"To be totally clear, I would rather be in school," he said. "This decision was not made lightly, I can tell you, and giving to our parents that additional burden of job and education again was hard."
The new plan also gives more support to students by requiring teachers to provide a monthly calendar of assignments, a weekly schedule the Friday prior to the start of the week and 8 a.m. daily updates as needed. Normal expectations around grading and attendance will also be reinstated this fall.
Rowe referred to the plan as "modified remote" because in-person instruction will be available, when possible, to special education students, as well as any students identified as needing the district's intervention services.
"We want to be sure that those supports are strong enough in the remote environment and an in-person component to that is likely going to be necessary," he said.
Thursday's presentation listed students with special services needs as the number-one priority for in-person learning, followed by students with the highest tier of intervention needs. Then, the district will make in-person learning available to the rest of students in small group settings, if desired, for things like social emotional learning and cultural connection.
The district is aiming to begin offering these small group, in-person opportunities the week of Sept. 14, according to the plan.
District 158 is scheduled to resume classes Aug. 21, two days later than originally planned to give staff planning time, the district has said. High school students can expect to receive their schedules Aug. 11, and elementary and middle schoolers will receive their schedules Aug. 14.
This modified remote learning approach will remain in place until Oct. 16 and may be extended if the district decides it still is unsafe to return to in-person instruction at that time, Rowe said.