St. George Superintendent addresses future remote learning plans

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 8:45pm

The following letter was shared April 8 by the St. George MSU Superintendent: 

Dear Families,

Yesterday evening, the Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Mankins, with the support of the Governor, recommended that schools “begin to plan to replace classroom/group instruction with remote/distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.”  In her letter, the Commissioner, recognized the profound impact that this will have on students, educators, and families. 

We have become all too familiar with those impacts over the past few weeks.  Parents have been forced to navigate new technologies and online learning tools, connect and problem-solve with teachers, and try to find the space, time, bandwidth, and energy to help their children stay focused and engaged with learning.  School staff have had to figure out how to deliver food, supplies, social work services, and education to students while establishing online classroom communities and figuring out – along with parents and families – new online learning programs and tools.  It has not been easy.  It has not been perfect.  However, as a school-community - students, staff, family, and community members - we reinvented public education in the span of several weeks.  And we did all of this during a national emergency that disrupted almost every aspect of our lives.  That is a remarkable accomplishment and was possible because – despite social distancing, stay-at-home orders, uncertainty, and fear – we stood together and took care of our kids and one another.

Now we need to (1) make remote learning sustainable for students, families and staff and (2) begin planning to help our students successfully transition back to school when that time arrives.  To help us achieve these goals, I will share as much information as I can while recognizing the unknowns and things that we still need to figure out.  On behalf of the staff and School Board, I want to encourage families to fill out this survey so your voices and experiences can inform the decisions and shape the plans that still need to be made.

Below are some specific steps that we will be taking – or will consider taking – to help improve the remote learning experience for everyone involved and prepare for next year:

Monday, April 13, will be a teacher workshop day and there will be no remote learning classes on that day.  Teachers will spend the day reviewing the many remote learning resources that are now available, assessing our current distance learning practices, working virtually with their teams, and developing plans for the remainder of the school year.  Students can take the day to catch up on any missed work or just step away from screens and get outside!

On Wednesday, April 15, the School Board will meet using Zoom to discuss a 4-day remote learning week with 1 day every week being used for teachers to plan, prep, and engage in professional development.  If we choose to go with this model, it could be structured so students have regular remote learning classes Monday through Thursday.  On Friday morning, students might check-in with their teachers and Crews and then be free for the rest of the day to catch up on work or get away from screens for awhile.  After the Crew meetings, teachers would spend the rest of the day meeting with their teams, preparing for the following week’s lessons, and working to improve the remote learning experience for students and families.

We will probably not be returning to school this year.  Given the ongoing pandemic, along with the Governor’s and Commissioner’s recommendations, I do not think we will be returning to school this year.  However, before a final decision is made at the Wednesday, April 15 School Board meeting, we want to hear from more families.  Please fill out this survey and let us know about your experience with remote learning.

At the April 15 meeting, the School Board will also discuss whether we should end remote learning prior to the official last day of school, Thursday, June 18.  We want remote learning to be a positive experience for students, staff, and families that keeps students engaged and learning while providing some structure and routine.  We do not want this to be a source of stress and worry for families who are already dealing with so much.  Your input on the survey will be very important as we consider how long to continue remote learning.

Even if remote learning ends before the official last day of school in June, we will continue to provide food delivery for all children living in St. George for the remainder of the school year and, if necessary for the wellbeing of our community, throughout the summer as well.  If remote learning ends prior to June 18, teachers and school staff will keep working.  Staff would spend the majority of their time planning for next year to ensure that we have programs and supports in place to identify and address any gaps in learning.  We also recognize the incredible stress that families are currently experiencing and want to have a clear plan to address students’ health and wellness needs (i.e., physical and mental health, social-emotional wellbeing, and food security).   However, if we end remote learning before mid-June, teachers have discussed maintaining a connection with students through regular Crew meetings, activities, and check-ins.

We are here for our high school students!  The High School Transition Working Group is monitoring the impact of school closures on our students in grades 9-12 and is ready to provide support, assist with communication, and help in any way that we can.  For more information, please contact School Social Worker Stephanie Simmons (s.simmons@stgeorgemsu.org).

We are in this together and - together - we will get through this.   I have no doubt of that.  Given what I’ve seen from this school and community over the past few weeks, I’m convinced that we’ll come out stronger on the other side.  We’ll know that when faced with real adversity, we stood together for our kids, community, and one another.  We have a long road ahead, but we will walk it together. 

Stay healthy.  Stay connected.  Stay Dragon Strong.

Mike Felton, St. George MSU
m.felton@stgeorgemsu.org
207.372.6312 (school)