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Huntley School District 158 releases specifics on 'modified remote learning' approach

E-learning will be more structured, easier on parents this fall, superintendent says

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Huntley School District 158 on Thursday released its revised e-learning framework for the fall, which outlines a structured virtual learning model designed to mimic class periods for secondary students and homeroom time for elementary students.

Rather than working on assignments independently and checking in with teachers periodically, District 158 students will engage in real-time virtual learning through interactive video sessions designed to increase engagement and reduce the burden on parents, Superintendent Scott Rowe said.

“In the spring, we had a sense that there was so much uncertainty in what was going on in the lives of our students and our families, so we gave them so much flexibility that we were almost too flexible,” Rowe said. “There was too much freedom in terms of what the school day could look like, and that lack of structure caused problems.”

Rowe presented the plan during the school board meeting Thursday, a follow-up to his announcement on July 31 that the 9,100-student district would switch from a hybrid learning plan to remote only to start the year.

Although this more structured, real-time learning approach was encouraged in the spring, it now will be required four to five times a week for pre-kindergarten students, eight to 10 times a week for elementary school students and two times a week per class for middle and high school students, according to the plan, called “Remote Learning 2.0.”

For pre-kindergarten and elementary school students, real-time learning will be conducted in a blocked daily schedule. Middle and high school students will follow a daily bell schedule, moving from class to class as they normally would to avoid scheduling conflicts between teachers, Rowe said.

In a few sample schedules provided in a presentation Thursday, elementary students were scheduled with a mix of assignments and real-time instruction in core areas such as literacy and math from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with a short break for lunch and recess. The 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. block was slated for special programs and additional core support, followed by teacher office hours from
3 to 3:30 p.m.

Middle and high school students will attend all nine class periods Mondays, with block scheduling Tuesdays/Thursdays and Wednesdays/Fridays. The school day will run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. as usual, but periods will be an hour and 15 minutes Tuesday through Friday.

By providing the supervision students normally receive during school hours, this more structured approach aims to support working parents who may not be home during the day or who may try to work from home, Rowe said.

“To be totally clear, I would rather be in school,” he said. “This decision was not made lightly, I can tell you, and giving to our parents that additional burden of job and education again was hard.”

The plan also supports students by requiring teachers to provide a monthly calendar of assignments, a weekly schedule the Friday before the start of a new week, as well as 8 a.m. daily updates as needed. Normal expectations for grading and attendance also will be reinstated.

Rowe referred to the plan as “modified remote” because in-person instruction will be available, when possible, to special education students and any students identified as needing the district’s intervention services.

“We want to be sure that those supports are strong enough in the remote environment, and an in-person component to that is likely going to be necessary,” he said.

Thursday’s presentation listed students with special services needs as the No. 1 priority for in-person learning, followed by students with the highest tier of intervention needs. Then, the district will make in-person learning available to the rest of students in small group settings, if desired, for things such as social-emotional learning and cultural connection.

District 158 aims to begin offering these small group, in-person opportunities the week of Sept. 14.

The district is scheduled to resume classes Aug. 21, two days later than originally planned, to give staff planning time, the district has said. High school students can expect to receive their schedules Aug. 11, and elementary and middle school students will receive their schedules Aug. 14.

The modified remote learning approach will remain in place until
Oct. 16 and may be extended if the district decides it still is unsafe to return to in-person instruction at that time, Rowe said.

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