Naperville-area schools look ahead to in-person instruction
Kicking off an academic year unlike any other, Naperville-area school leaders reported a successful launch of their remote learning plans amid the coronavirus crisis.
Administrators at both Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 are now turning their focus toward what they say has been their goal since the pandemic hit: getting students and educators back in the classroom safely.
"Our work only gets harder now that we've started," District 204 Superintendent Adrian Talley told school board members Tuesday. "All of us understand the importance of having students in school face to face for learning."
A majority of District 203 students began e-learning Sept. 1, with Indian Prairie schools following suit Sept. 3.
Technology issues, Zoom meeting disconnections and scheduling challenges were among the hiccups experienced by teachers and families in the new learning environment, officials said. But every new academic year comes with a few bumps in the road, they said, and given the unique circumstances, most educators found reason to celebrate after the first few days of the fall semester.
"It's not the ideal situation or where any of us hoped to be at the beginning of a new school year, and our priority remains getting to in-person learning when we can safely do so," District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges said during a meeting Tuesday.
"Overall, I feel the first week of e-learning has gone very well," he continued. "I'm proud of the work that's been put in by our administrators, by our educators, by our families at home who have been supporting the kids, and most importantly our students for their perseverance and resilience to stick with it."
Both districts had initially planned to offer in-person learning on alternating hybrid schedules, as well as fully online academies, for their roughly 44,500 total students in the Naperville and Aurora areas. As state guidelines and COVID-19 cases evolved, however, administrators decided to switch gears and begin with all-remote instruction, while slowly transitioning to the hybrid model over time.
The concept has been met with a mix of support and criticism from families, some of whom say students -- especially at the young elementary age -- belong in the classroom rather than in front of a screen. School leaders, too, have acknowledged the social-emotional and academic benefits of in-person learning compared to remote instruction.
District 204 wants to have students back into the buildings by the second quarter, with some smaller groups returning even "sooner than later," Talley said, but the process has to be done thoughtfully and in coordination with public health protocols.
In District 203, the "Return to Learn" plan outlines four stages of instruction, the second of which offers enhanced e-learning with students invited into buildings periodically for labs, special services and performance-based instruction. The district is on track to make that transition over the next several weeks, Bridges said, noting officials will communicate their plans to families well in advance.
The two districts also stressed the importance of remaining flexible and responsive to the changing COVID-19 conditions.
"It's not a switch, and it doesn't just stay on once we're done," District 204 board member Justin Karubas said. "We're still in a pandemic, and the inconvenience that brings is going to be with us for some time."