Harrison School Superintendent Dr. Stewart Pratt gave the Board of Education some COVID-19 update information Tuesday night, and he indicated some changes could be forthcoming.
On the whole, Pratt said the district sees about 65-75 students quarantined each week as a result of exposure to the novel coronavirus. Out of them, between six and 10 actually test positive on average.
At the elementary level, students are counseled to return to school if at all possible. Each plant might have different numbers, but Pratt estimated about 10 or less haven’t returned because parents are resistant to let them.
Those administrators have been given authority to speak in a direct fashion to those parents to get their children back in school.
“This is their learning,” Pratt said. “This is long term. It’s going to have lasting effects if we don’t bring them back.”
Pratt said that a child who is off-site and performing well, the district won’t try to force them back into the classroom. More pressure could be applied to those who have multiple Fs in classes.
At the middle school level, there are about 10-15 in grades 5 and 6 students who need to return to campus, while that number is 15-20 in grades 7 and 8. Those are averages that fluctuate.
Staff are working with parents to get those children back to school. The numbers change with upper grades when parents are a little less in control of older children, he said.
At the high school level, there had been about 170 students in the off-site model and some 115 or so had one or more Fs. Principal Jay Parker has been working to get those students back on track as quickly as possible. Pratt admitted that pressure is put on both students and parents.
“I’m not going to shy away from that,” Pratt said. “These students are in peril. They’re on the track for graduation and they may not make it. If we don’t do something now, they may not make it, especially if COVID sticks around.”
Pratt said there are students at every level who are prospering with the off-site model, which is something he thinks could be around for years to come.
He said at least 30 high school students have returned to campus and administration continues to work to capture more.
Still, he said some students have gone into the workforce. He said he is supportive of the community and businesses. But any business is asked to reconsider hiring such students if they are missing all their classes to work.
“Because education is more important than that minimum wage job right now,” Pratt said.
If any business has a student working, supervisors can request their grades and encourage them to go back to school.
As far as staff, there is an average about three to seven quarantined each week, but less than four actually test positive.
Teachers feel they need more preparation time with all the added work. One of the elementary plants made some adjustments to the way on-site and off-site learning is delivered and that has provided some relief to teachers.
Feedback from teachers in K-4 has shown they want as much time as possible to be with students.
At the middle school level, teachers face more stress in balancing the on-site and off-site students. So, they need more preparation and have asked for one day a week to be virtual learning only in order to catch up.
At the high school level, teachers are frustrated with those students who are disengaged, so they are concentrating on getting them back to campus.
The balance between off-site and on-site is more difficult at the high school level. Grading lessons is different for teacher. On-site lessons are all turned in at the same time, while off-site lessons come in at various times. It takes longer and requires more prep time.
To get feedback, the district has been having meetings with some teachers and staff from different plants. They have had healthy discussions, although they might not agree with each other on all points, as to what direction the district needs to go moving forward. PTA leadership was also brought in for input.
All that input led to a realization.
“The model we’re in is unsustainable,” Pratt said. “And we’re not providing the education we can provide without some change in the way we deliver.”
Parents were polled at the beginning of the school year and 85% said they wanted to see school held five days a week. They need to go to work and childcare would be a major challenge.
So, Pratt said, administration will be making a recommendation in November to offer a compromise between teachers and parents.
As of Tuesday night, that recommendation looks to be early dismissal at 2 p.m. each Monday beginning in the new year. “Stewart Pratt hopes that never goes away,” he said.
Parents will be provided with more information next month about what to do for childcare. He plans to perform some community Zoom meetings for parents to offer input.
That schedule would also give teachers some time — they work until 3:30 p.m. — to get caught up on issues that need more attention.
Although the compromise doesn’t meet all requirements of all teachers and even parents, it’s a matter of the future.
“The purpose of what we’re doing can’t be just for COVID,” Pratt said. “It’s for what’s best for the district in the long run to make learning masterful and get the best product for our kids every year for years to come when Stewart Pratt’s not here and many of these boards aren’t here.”