Alder prepares for return to hybrid model after winter break

(Posted Dec. 15, 2020)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Jonathan Alder Schools plans to shift to its hybrid plan for instruction when students return to school on Jan. 4 following the winter break.

With the hybrid plan, students in Group A will attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students in Group B will attend school in person Thursdays and Fridays. The plan applies to all grades, pre-kindergarten through 12th.

To create space and allow for social distancing protocols, custodians are moving student desks, tables, chairs, and other furniture into semi-trailer storage containers at each building.

At the school board’s Dec. 14 meeting, Superintendent Gary Chapman said district leaders also are exploring an alternate instruction model for students in grades K-4. The idea is to have these students attend school in-person five days a week, half of them in the morning and half of them in the afternoon. This would provide students with daily, direct contact with their teachers. The idea is still under exploration.

“Our plan is to communicate any updates and/or changes regarding the status of our (return-to-school plans) no later than Wednesday, Dec. 23,” Chapman said.

He noted that superintendents at school districts throughout Madison County will be meeting with Chris Cook, the county’s health commissioner, for an update on Dec. 21.

“We will continue to monitor the conditions at the state, county, and local levels,” Chapman said.

As of Dec. 14, the school district had 10 active COVID-19 cases and 31 individuals in quarantine. Going into Thanksgiving break, the district had 11 cases and 121 individuals in quarantine.

Chapman said the district chooses which instruction pathway to follow based, in part, on the ability to maintain appropriate staffing levels.

“The type of pathway engaged may be dependent upon student, teacher, and staff COVID-19 absenteeism and access to appropriately licensed substitutes,” he said.

Public input
During the public participation portion of the Dec. 14 meeting, several parents of students in the district commented on the district’s instructional pathways.

Tyler Harriman said his son, a sixth-grader, has done well with the set schedule in full-remote mode. He said his son likes the structure, and assignments are easier to track. On the other hand, he said his daughter, a second-grader, struggles with spending so much time on the computer.

“She’s a bright kid, but she’s hurt by not being in the classroom,” Harriman said. “Getting our younger ones back in the classroom really needs to be a priority.”

Diana McCoy, the parent of a senior at the high school, said that remote and hybrid learning is taking a toll on students’ mental health and negatively impacting their education. She read aloud a letter her daughter wrote to the school board about this issue.

In the letter, McCoy’s daughter writes about missing face-to-face interactions with her peers and her teachers. She feels distant from her friends and school community.

“It’s hard to stay connected to your community over a screen,” she writes.

She noted that she and many of her peers are finding it hard to focus while learning at home and are experiencing burnout. Additionally, in the current learning environment, students are being held to a different standard, she said, one that is not on par with previous years of instruction or with the standards expected in the world outside of school.

After reading her daughter’s letter, McCoy thanked the staff at Jonathan Alder for the hard work they are doing in tough circumstances. She said she would love to see the district return to a traditional in-person instruction model or, if that is not an option, look into alternatives within the hybrid format, such as allowing students an additional day of in-person learning if they feel they need it.

Sonia Walker, a parent of two students in the district and an attorney, urged school leaders to consult with the district’s attorneys regarding the enforceability of orders and advisories issued by the local health department.

Levy renewal
In other business, the school board passed the second of two resolutions needed to place a levy on the May 4, 2021 ballot. The district plans to seek renewal of its 0.5 percent income tax for current expenses.

If renewed, the levy will generate $1.53 million per year for 10 years, starting in January 2022. Previously, the levy was passed in 2014 for a period of seven years.

Next board meeting
The school board will hold its annual organizational meeting and its next regular monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 11.

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