At the January 25th school board meeting, Asst. Superintendent Erin Rathke acknowledged the challenges of learning in a pandemic. No matter what the learning model, Eastern Carver County Schools commitment is to being data-driven and looking at the growth of each and every student.
“Our Instructional Leadership Teams have been working on what engagement looks like,” Rathke said, “not only in-person but hybrid and distance learning. Each of those sound, look, and feel different to students and teachers so how do we ensure that engagement is happening in a virtual setting?”
One of the strategies the district has used to keep students engaged is reimagining the work of some staff to make sure students who are having difficulty have champions. These staff were a touchpoint, reaching out when a student was absent or struggling to connect, troubleshoot, and support them.
Bluff Creek Elementary principal Joan MacDonald and Administrative Dean Jane Best talked about what that looks like at their elementary school.
“We knew we would have to cast a net that would bring in our larger community of support,” MacDonald said, “and that’s where the teachers, the staff, secretaries, paraprofessionals, Reading Corps volunteers all came in to help us.”
That means physical education teachers are working in small groups with kindergarteners to work on letter identification and music teachers working on math problem solving with second, third, and fourth graders. When it comes to supporting learners through this challenging time, it was truly all hands on deck.
Talking about the work at the middle level, Chaska Middle School West principal Nate Gibbs said, “We launched our year really thoughtfully cultivating partnerships with our families through phone calls, virtual conferences, virtual parent orientation nights. As we shifted into distance learning we really doubled down on that work around engagement, support and partnership with families.”
Gibbs spoke to the tremendous effort of staff in this moment. Some paraprofessionals, as one example, are scheduling time with students sometimes later in the evening or on weekends to make sure they have what they need. It is a full school effort to make sure students are getting what they need.
“I often find myself longing for the familiarity of getting students back in the building,” Gibbs said. “We’re getting so close I can feel it. As I walk through the building, the empty classrooms, the echoes in the hallways remind me that something is missing. I have been challenging myself as of late and really thinking about when our students return, when the empty voids of our classrooms or the echoes of our hallways are gone: how do we make sure when we come back together, we’re not running to the familiarity of our old normal, but in the words of our superintendent, working towards building something better together?”
Superintendent Sayles-Adams echoed that sentiment and noted the district is working to make sure that the processes put in place this year and what the district is learning about supporting and sustaining these connections to boost student success aren’t lost. The district will take what it’s learned during this unprecedented year and apply what works to classrooms moving into the future.
The full presentation can be found at the 23:30 mark of the board meeting, archived here.