With nearly a month of school under their belt, some parents and board members questioned whether the hybrid model implemented by Anamosa’s middle and high school was properly meeting the needs of the district’s students.
During the public comment period, one parent, Brooke Bohlken, expressed concern that their middle school student was falling behind and whether there was enough time at school for kids to be able to absorb the necessary information and ask the necessary questions of teachers. She also said the learning at home that was supposed to be happening wasn’t and didn’t feel parents had the necessary tools to be able to help.
Bohlken said that based on other parents she’d talked to, she wasn’t alone.
Board Member Katie Gombert, who has two students at the middle school, also expressed concerns with how the model was going.
“I feel like three hours a day of education is not working,” she said, citing a comment from one child who said they didn’t feel like they were learning and he wanted to go to school more. “We can’t keep going like this. These kids are not getting an education.”
Superintendent Larry Hunt, attending the meeting virtually, said the feedback he’d gotten from parents was, “pretty good” and expressed concerns that if the district brought kids back too early, the limited time kids were getting in classrooms risked being brought down to zero if they had to move online due to an outbreak.
The county is currently at just over an 8% positivity rate. High School Principal Erin Thompson said that right now, the district has the fewest number of kids in the county that they’re tracking for possible symptoms and nurses felt the numbers were still too high.
“We’re doing the right thing,” Thompson said.
Gombert said that her kids weren’t doing nearly the amount of online work that was promised when they moved to the online model.
Anamosa Middle School Principal Linda Vaughn had told the board when they voted on the model to expect an hour or two as far as a workload outside of school. After meeting with staff earlier in the day, it was clear not all staff were on the same page.
“We have not been consistent at a particular grade level,” Vaughn said of the workload. “We are addressing that.”
At the high school, a different divide had started to emerge. The struggle, Thompson said, was 40% of kids in the afternoon session were falling behind and a note had been sent out telling them they had to act like it was a normal school day so they had the necessary work complete before coming back to school.
Board Member Matt McQuillen asked whether there was a way that staff were able to assess how students were doing before some of the assessments came in later next month. Though things are different at the elementary, first grade teacher Kristi Robertson said she felt the one thing that hadn’t changed was the assessment of how learning was going on a day-to-day basis.
“I don’t think any teacher waits until October to see if anything is working,” Robertson said.
Thompson added that with smaller class sizes, due to the hybrid model, she felt that teachers had time to interact with students and get a sense of where everyone was.
When it came to determining when a change in the learning model could be undertaken, Thompson said the administration team had targeted the end of October because that was the end of the first quarter and when parent teacher conferences were to see whether the district could change to in-person learning. That not only allowed for some evaluation time, but gave students a consistent chunk of time.
“We also did not want to send a message to parents that every week we’re going to maybe pulling the rug out from under them and making another change,” Vaughn said.
Despite some of the academic struggles for some, both principals noted that discipline-wise, the numbers were much better than previous years, with just one office referral popping up at each building so far.
At the elementary school, Principal Ellen Recker’s struggle was a different one.
“It’s just a really long day right now,” she said.
The staff was working on adjustments to allow staff member little breathers.
In other COVID-19 related action, the board members approved allowing staff to be able to supplement their 2/3 pay through the expanded family medical leave in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act with accrued sick leave make up the other third of their normal pay. This covers a situation where staff would have to care for a child under 18 due to school or childcare provider being closed or unavailable due to COVID-19.