Alder sets target dates for returning to fully in-person classes

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(Posted Sept. 17, 2020)

Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Jonathan Alder Local Schools students could be returning to fully in-person instruction within the next few weeks.

The district started the school year with a hybrid model, with students receiving in-person instruction two days a week and remote instruction three days a week. Half the student population is in the classroom on Mondays and Tuesdays; the other half is in the classroom on Thursdays and Fridays.

At the Sept. 14 school board meeting, Superintendent Gary Chapman announced that conditions and statistics three weeks into the school year are such that the district might be able to return students to the classroom full-time.

A key factor is student enrollment, Chapman said. The district also is taking into account Ohio’s alert level for COVID-19, current Madison County Public Health guidelines, and local considerations, such as staff attendance and reported cases of COVID-19 in the schools. According to the district’s COVID-19 reporting dashboard, accessible through the district’s website, www.alder.k12.oh.us, the district has had one person test positive for the virus as of Sept. 16.

Enrollment numbers are showing that most of the district’s buildings could provide the physical distancing necessary to accommodate fully in-person instruction. Because 163 students have opted to learn remotely through the Jonathan Alder Digital Academy and 161 children are being homeschooled, in-person enrollment numbers are down, Chapman said.

The tentative dates for returning to fully in-person instruction are as follows:

  • Sept. 28 for Monroe and Plain City elementaries–Enrollment numbers are down at both buildings, Chapman said, adding that the district might need to install physical barriers in some areas of the buildings as part of COVID-19 safety precautions.
  • Oct. 12 for Jonathan Alder High School–The high school building has larger classrooms, hallways and auditeria space, making physical distancing more easily achieved than at some of the other buildings, Chapman said.
  • Oct. 23 for Canaan Middle School and Jonathan Alder Junior High–A return to fully in-person instruction at these schools is more tentative than at the other buildings, Chapman said, noting that enrollment at these buildings has not dropped like it has at the district’s other three buildings.

“We’re not quite there yet as far as being willing to bring (students) back based upon larger class sizes, small classrooms in those two buildings, and smaller large spaces,” he said.

Chapman emphasized that all plans and dates are subject to change.

“Our community, our students and our staff have done an outstanding job of adhering to social distancing, to the face masks, to all the health and safety protocols that have been put in place. And that has made a huge difference in us being to where we are now,” Chapman said. “We cannot let up. Just because things appear to be going well right now, that is not a reason to let our guard down.”

Digital Academy

Several parents who chose to enroll their students in the Jonathan Alder Digital Academy (JADA), rather than in the hybrid model, have expressed dissatisfaction. Many say the platform is difficult to navigate, not only for students but also for the parents who are helping them. Many say the content is over complicated, citing a 26-page art lesson as an example. They want more live Zoom sessions and recorded videos from Jonathan Alder teachers to help keep their children more engaged. They also want schedules that clearly state what coursework is due on what days.

“This is nothing like we expected,” wrote Katie Beasley, a parent of a Jonathan Alder student enrolled in JADA, in an email to the school board. “I’m trying to go through and simplify things for my child so we can give this a full try but it is not going well. There are so many things due each day that it is hard for my child to keep up. I believe that every parent would find it helpful to have lessons Zoomed or on video.”

Dr. Misty Swanger, assistant superintendent, said the district has been listening to parent feedback and working to make adjustments and improvements. Teachers are actively working to hold more live Zoom sessions and post video links. They also are providing students with simplified due-date schedules.

For students in kindergarten through fifth grade, the district is providing workbooks and lesson kits to balance out screen time. For students in grades 5-8, teachers are holding more live-by-Zoom lessons and small group meetings.

“I will tell you that online school is not easy,” Swanger said, referring to the transition for students, parents, and teachers. “We would always rather have our students in front of our teachers.”

But because JADA is a good option for some students and their families for a variety of reasons, teachers are doing what they can to make the online schooling work. Administrators and JADA teachers met on Sept. 14 to talk about changes.

“Coming out of that meeting, our teachers were saying, ‘If you tell us what you need, we’ll make it work for you,’” Swanger said.

Food Service

Mark Fenik, director of facilities, reported that the federal government is extending its summer food program. Starting Sept. 21, every student who is attending school in person will have access to free breakfast and free lunch. The breakfasts will be basic, Fenik said–a muffin and juice, for example–and likely will be bagged for easy pick-up in the morning. The lunches will be the usual school lunches.

The program will run through Dec. 31 or until federal funds run out, Fenik said.

“We have heard rumors they will extend this through the entire school year,” he added.

Next board meeting

The school board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at the high school. The board and administrators will be discussing when, where, and how future board meetings will take place and if and how they will reopen the meetings to the public. For information about upcoming board meetings and to access agendas and minutes from previous board meetings, visit www.alder.k12.oh.us/BoardofEducation.aspx.

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