During a the school board’s Aug. 11 meeting, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 administrators presented an updated fall transition plan while the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution affirming its plan for the 2020-21 school year. 

The board also unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the Oak Park Teachers’ Association to “prepare and implement a rigorous curriculum of study for students in a remote learning environment,” according to the memo.

The school district, which starts classes on Sept. 1, will begin with a fully remote learning plan. Administrators initially decided on a hybrid plan before an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Cook County prompted them to reverse course.

According to the transition plan, D97 has partnered with area organizations, including Hephzibah, the Park District of Oak Park and By Discovery to support the child care needs of district families. The district will help cover the costs of child care for any student who receives free or reduced lunch.

In the plan, administrators stated that D97 has received and started setting up 1,300 Chromebooks, which will be given to students in exchange for their district administered iPads starting Aug. 19.

Earlier this month, administrators shared a new Google site with district staff that will house professional learning plans and other remote-learning resources. Administrators are planning on purchasing and using three online tools for monitoring students’ progress and mastery of benchmark standards. 

In addition, administrators said that the district’s Professional Learning Subcommittee is planning to launch “an online platform to track and manage professional learning hours for staff.” 

According to the plan, even though the district is starting the year fully remote, D97’s Buildings and Grounds Department has been working on preparing school buildings for when it’s safe for students and employees to return.

Administrators said that they’ve modified HVAC filters, capped water fountain spigots, ordered face masks and created floor plans for socially distanced classrooms, among other changes.

During the Aug. 11 board meeting, Eboney Lofton, the district’s chief academic and accountability officer, said teacher feedback and grading will be similar to pre-COVID-19 practices.

Lofton explained that the students’ remote learning days will feature synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction.

“Synchronous instruction happens in real time,” she said, adding that teachers will use Zoom technology for morning meetings, advisory, small group instruction, mini lessons and other types of live, real-time engagement with students. 

“Asynchronous instruction is also a key feature of a successful remote learning program,” Lofton said. “Asynchronous instruction allows flexibility for non-traditional learners and easily accommodates different learning styles. So examples include videos that introduce content, class discussions … group projects, demonstrations and learning activities.” 

Lofton said that during asynchronous learning, students will be able to access teachers via Zoom “to ask questions and seek clarity just as they would if they were on site.” 

Lofton said younger students will experience less synchronous instruction, and by extension less screen time, than middle school students. 

Michael Arensdorff, D97’s senior director of technology, said a typical daily schedule for elementary school students during remote learning will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be early dismissals on Wednesdays, he said. 

Middle school students can expect a remote learning day that will last from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“Students will attend four of their eight classes on alternative A and B days,” Arensdorff said. “So, one week they will meet with four of their classes three times and then the other week they’ll meet two times. So, over a two week period, they’ll have all of their classes five times.” 

Donna Middleton, the district’s director of special education, told board members that families of students with IEPs have expressed the need for “predictable schedules with built-in time for interventions; a consistent learning platform; more synchronous instruction, but with options for families; better use of breakout rooms to target skills; provisions of hands-on materials to enrich instruction; and providing staff development and collaboration time.” 

During the Aug. 11 meeting, D97 Superintendent Carol Kelley acknowledged the concerns, questions and “tinge of mistrust” that many families may have heading into the fall, before explaining that her administration is “working extremely hard, with a deep sense of responsibility to you and your children.” 

She said the district will continue to post updates and FAQs to the website (op97.org), host webinars and host virtual town halls throughout the first trimester

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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