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District 161 students, parents offer input via remote learning surveys

District 161 school board members got a look at student and parent responses to the district’s remote learning programs.

During a special  board meeting Sept. 29, Superintendent Dana Smith shared results of remote learning student surveys. Smith summarized the findings telling board members responses were limited, and officials wanted to protect the identity of students who answered.

Parental and staff data also has been made public.

The district received a total of 197 student responses and 894 from parents. In summarizing the results, Smith wrote the students “overwhelmingly” reported having dedicated learning environments and necessary materials for remote learning, and said accessing their digital platforms has been “going extremely well.” But students also requested in comments less screen time, additional breaks, opportunities to make up work and more time to socialize with classmates.

“Screen time obviously comes up a lot, but there were a lot of students who were comfortable with what they were receiving,” Smith said, later adding, “I think there are opportunities that we can really take advantage of quickly to reduce the amount of screen time, but we are limited in the amount of time we can reduce overall.”

Smith said he understands the concerns at the younger levels, but noted the district also is required to have a school day of five hours, minimum. And changes to the time mean changes to the curriculum.

“When you cut your day in half, you have to decide what to cut,” he said. “We really have to make some value judgments about which programs do we not want our kids to participate in.” 

When it came to parents, 84 to 90%, pending grade level, said their children could easily read materials. They also largely agree that remote learning activities have been right for age and ability, and that they are receiving effective communication from teachers and schools.

But fewer parents in the K-2 category (66.8%) agreed that their children were able to submit assignments and materials with little difficulty than parents of children in grades 3 to 8 (85%). There also was a disparity concerning the amount of daily time for remote learning, about which 63.7% parents of students in grades 3-8 said they had the right amount, but only 38.6% of K-2 parents agreed.

“Our K-2 really, really responded that that amount of work is not right,” Smith said. “So, if we’re going to make any changes … that’s probably where we should start. Food for thought moving forward.”

The district also surveyed 187 teachers, who mostly said they had the necessary materials, enough communication and proper training to implement the remote learning system. But 33.2% said they could use more training on Canvas, a learning management system. And only 21.4% said they thought the daily amount of time for remote learning is “just right.”

The district also surveyed them about the social-emotional impact of remote learning. Few responded at the extremes — “really struggling” or “rocking remote” — but 31% said they were “doing well” and 21.2% feel like they are “struggling a lot.” The largest cluster (48.7%) was right in the middle, citing good days and bad.

Smith said the district is constantly looking for ways to support teachers and families with their mental health. He said he understands the difficulties.

“It’s beyond challenging,” he said. “It’s downright devious.” 

Based on the results, Smith said the district intends to consider in the short-term reviewing the remote learning screen time recommendations; giving teachers the ability to adjust their schedules to increase or decrease the amount of whole and small group instruction, while exploring ways to decrease overall screen time for students; purchasing complementary software; providing more staff development; expand students breaks; and more.

“I truly think these will make an immediate impact,” Smith said of the potential changes. “I think these are low-hanging fruit.”

The district also asked parents if the district were to return to in-person learning in the next few months, would they be willing to send their children back in a hybrid learning model. Of K-2 parents surveyed, 58.7% said yes. That number dropped to 53.3% for parents of children in grades 3 to 8.

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