Despite some challenges, Oswego School District 308 Board of Education members and Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin said this week they believe the first week of school under completely remote learning was, for the most part, a success.
Board members and Sparlin offered their comments during a meeting Aug. 31 meeting, one week after the district’s more than 17,000 students began the 2020-2021 school year remotely due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
The district’s remote learning program is set to run for at least the first six weeks of the school year. The board is scheduled to reexamine the format during a meeting set for Sept. 28.
Board member Toni Morgan thanked all district staff for their work, and called the rollout of remote learning phenomenal in terms of getting staff to do as much as they could to get students started on the first day.
“I know from talking to my very many verbal friends and neighbors and people that I know in the community that it has not been easy on the people that are home,” Morgan said.
A teacher in Yorkville School District 115, Morgan said that she sees kids telling her, ‘My daddy says don’t open the office door.’
“All I can say is that we’re going to have to adjust some things to make it in this new era. We’re going to have to adjust parenting, we’re going to have to adjust teaching, we’re going to have to adjust expectations as a community, and we’re all going to have to learn to live in a different world, because it’s not the same as it used to be,” Morgan continued. “It’s not going to be the same as it used to be, just because we go back to school.
“I really hope that people take that to heart and think about it, because it is naive and dangerous to think that you can go right back to normal. That’s not how it’s going to work,” she added.
Morgan also expressed her hope that those who are having difficulties under remote learning will continue to give the format a chance over the next few weeks.
“This is a very hard time of year in general, and it can get easier with a pattern. I’m rooting for everybody to do their best, I really am,” she said.
Vice President Matt Bauman expressed his thanks to district employees for their work in starting e-learning, calling it “a difficult start.”
“We as a board asked for some audibles, and you fulfilled those in short time and school started,” he said.
Noting reported district-wide technology issues, Bauman said his household experienced a few problems the first day, but by the end of the week “it went better than I thought it would.”
Bauman also acknowledged the physical issues that come from sitting for extended periods of time, saying that his children were experiencing neck pains. He also expressed concern over the lack of personal interaction and other social-emotional concerns for students.
“As well as it’s going for many of us, it is still disappointing that this is the situation we’re in,” Bauman said.
He encouraged the district’s Student Services Department and other departments to reach out to students that are expressing a need for help.
Board Secretary Ruth Kroner thanked district staff, saying “We knew there were going to be some things that were great and some that were maybe not so great and could use some tweaking.
“I just think that from what I have seen and heard, and from what we have experienced in our house, everyone is doing a great job of putting in a huge effort,” Kroner said.
Board president Lauri Doyle expressed her gratitude to “everybody who changed their plans all these times for us and still pulled it off.”
“I wouldn’t have guessed that things had been rushed or changed or anything like that,” Doyle said. “Everybody had engaging things. The kids were happy to see each other, the teachers were there and connecting, and I’ve seen that they were all given solid training.”
It was clear to tell, Doyle said, that teachers had been prepared for the first day of remote learning, something administrators deserved thanks for.
“We know that it’s not over just because it felt good for us as the first week, we know that you’re doing a lot more work,” she said.
Sparlin showed the board a slideshow of pictures sent in to the district, of students and staff on their first day of remote learning.
Sparlin addressed teachers on an institute day before the first day of school, discussing the district’s mission and core values and beliefs, the stress that comes in the first 72 hours of school, being creative, and building relationships with students.
“That’s basically where the normal year stopped and remote began,” Sparlin said.
Noting the historic nature of starting the school year remote, Sparlin mentioned technological issues that had plagued the district, but he said had been quickly resolved.
“We started our journey together. We don’t know how long we’ll be on this path, but we all have to have faith in ourselves that we will be successful,” Sparlin said. “The motto this year, instead of ‘We’ve Got This’ is ‘Together, We’ve Got This.'”
Sparlin also said that he was “super proud” of the work that staff had put into starting remote learning.
However, despite the board and Sparlin’s praises, parents still voiced their concerns over the remote learning format.
District parent Thomas Jilek sent a statement to the board encouraging them to reconsider in-person learning. The statement was read aloud during the Aug. 31 meeting.
“I applaud the schools’ attempt at remote learning, but in its current state it is unsustainable,” Jilek wrote. “I took a look at my 7th grader’s email and found 120 emails in the first week alone. With that amount of email, it is impossible to sort through what is important and what is not.
“It is not reasonable for a 12 year old to sort through that amount of email, while also completing his assignments,” Jilek said, while acknowledging he didn’t know the amount of emails his daughter had received from teachers.
“I am not a teacher and I do not have the means to support my child’s academics while both my wife and I fulfill our full-time jobs. With two children in the family and college planning under way with my senior student, there is not enough time in the evening to run through the daily assignments, identify where my son is struggling, run a household and prepare dinners and lunches.
“I am disappointed in the board’s last minute decision to go full remote and would like to appeal that decision and encourage in person learning,” Jilek continued. “I understand this is a difficult time and with its many challenges, but I fear the level of education my students are receiving will leave both my children at a disadvantage.”
He added, “It would be very disappointing that with all this effort in conducting remote learning if it would be found to be completely ineffective.”
The Oswego School District 308 Board of Education will next meet at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 14, in the Community Room of Oswego East High School.