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Local

Geneva D-304 officials lay out plan for delaying school start to Aug. 31

'A lot of this is not going to be easy'

Geneva District 304 Director of Learning and Teaching Shonette Sims (left) and Assistant Superintendent Learning and Teaching Andrew Barrett explain at Monday's school board meeting why the district needs to start school on Aug. 31 instead of Aug. 19 as originally planned. Sims and Barrett said they need more time to prepare for the hybrid learning plan, and a remote-only plan, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Geneva District 304 Director of Learning and Teaching Shonette Sims (left) and Assistant Superintendent Learning and Teaching Andrew Barrett explain at Monday's school board meeting why the district needs to start school on Aug. 31 instead of Aug. 19 as originally planned. Sims and Barrett said they need more time to prepare for the hybrid learning plan, and a remote-only plan, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

GENEVA – Geneva District 304 officials laid out the reasons why it is better to delay the start of school – both the hybrid plan and the remote only plan – to Aug. 31 instead of Aug. 19.

“We need more time,” Director of Learning and Teaching Shonette Sims said at the Aug. 10 school board meeting. “We need more time to develop that quality programming that we want and we need more time to ensure that … we develop plans for all the safety concerns and protocols, but that we have time to share that with our staff.”

Beginning the week of Aug. 17, teachers would have a full week of preparation that includes logistical considerations, professional development time, collaborative planning and decision-making, Sims said.

Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Teaching Andrew Barrett said they were trying to address all the little intricacies that were emerging.

“We’ll never have all of the answers,” Barrett said. “But we know that having more time will get us a lot further of the way there. ... We are all in this together, in an unpredictable, complicated, complex situation that none of us has never been in before. We know we are going to face a lot of challenges. A lot of this is not going to be easy. But we know that the way we get through it is by sticking together.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials developed a hybrid plan for students from kindergarten to 12th grade to attend school two to three times a week, divided up by last names. Students with last names from A to K will attend Monday, Wednesday and alternating Fridays and students with last names from L to Z will attend Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays. Other students will have remote learning only.

The plan is to start slow, in two-day cycles, advancing the curriculum and maintaining connections while students and their teachers get to know each other, Barrett said.

“We have to make sure we’re taking advantage of the in-person day while also maximizing the off-site learning,” Barrett said. “We have to be advancing the curriculum, right? Our job is to get through all of that curriculum. And whether we’re on in-person learning days or off-site learning days, we have got to be creative and find ways to get through all that content.”

Parents will have symptom checks to fill out every day for students’ in-person days, certifying that the child is not ill, he said.

“We’ve got to trust each other and rely on each other to be sure everyone is safe,” Barrett said. “Could a parent lie on this? Sure, they could. We have to work together and trust each other that we can keep schools open.”

While 80% of the district’s students have chosen the hybrid learning plan, the remote-only students will all be on a common Microsoft platform, Sims said.

The online-only teachers will be in the buildings, working as a team. They will take attendance and assign grades, she said.

In all, 309 elementary students will be remote learners, as will 135 middle school students and 123 high school students, Barrett said.

The elementary students will have 16 sessions, two to three sections per building, he said.

“Just that was no small feat,” Barrett said.

Middle school will have shared responsibility across teams and buildings, he said.

The high school students will have 150 unique course requests.

Ronald Fabbi, a father of a student, said the proposal was “pretty disappointing” because it was treating his first grader like a high schooler.

“I’m trying to be a parent and a teacher at the same time,” Fabbi said. “We are not equipped for it. It does not work.”

In particular, Fabbi said his daughter needs extra help in speech and reading and that will be taken out of her in-class learning time.

“I don’t think that’s reasonable,” Fabbi said.

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