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'Lesser of two evils': DeKalb 428 teachers respond to remote start to school year

DeKALB – Kim Posega said she doesn’t want remote learning in the fall.

But when the DeKalb District 428 school board decided to start the fall semester without in-person classes, the Cortland Elementary research teacher said the board members made the right call, one that the DeKalb Classroom Teachers Association had been pushing them to make for weeks.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Posega, who had been at Brooks for the past 20 years and will start at Cortland in the fall. “We all really want to be going back to school and it was a really hard decision. I’m really proud of them they took our safety and the student’s safety as a priority. They made the right choice even though it was the lesser of two evils.”

DCTA president Mary Lynn Buckner said there was a sense of relief when the board changed plans to start the year with a blend of in-person and remote learning.

“This was a prudent measure to keep everyone safe for the time being,” Buckner said.

Neighboring districts such as Genoa-Kingston 424 and Sycamore 427 are sticking with their hybrid learning model, though teachers in both districts have expressed concern about returning in person.

DeKalb School Board President Sarah Moses said both the DCTA and DeKalb Federation of School Assistants were recommending no in-person learning, and they make up a chunk of the workforce for the district. Combine it with increasing COVID-19 numbers locally and testing delays, and Moses said remote learning was the way to go.

“First of all we had concerns about the uptick of COVID at the local level and within the state,” Moses said. “So that was one consideration. Next was our two largest employee unions both expressed concerns about in-person learning. They make up over 70% of our workforce, so that could present issues for in-person learning.”

Teachers and administrators are still hammering out exactly what remote learning will look like ahead of the Aug. 24 start date.

Kelli Hamilton, an instructional coach at Clinton Rosette Middle, said in addition to more one-on-one time with students, the district is trying to come up with a specific policy for students with special needs.

On Monday, Hamilton said all students with special needs will have a remote learning plan crafted for them individually.

“The school board talked about our different learns and we know they’re there,” Hamilton said. “Now the challenge is making sure we reach every one of those kids. We’re lucky there’s so much technology in place to make sure that happens. Going forward we can make sure we’re not missing anybody.”

Posega said getting in more face time with students is a lesson learned from the spring and that is something teachers are working on.

“I know parents want that, actually meeting with kids over Google Meet or video conferencing,” Posega said. “We’re planning on that and ready to do that. A lot of us were doing that anyway, but it will be increased and more people know how to do it.”

With remote learning being put in place quickly in the spring, there was an adjustment period Posega said isn’t a factor this time around.

“It just took a long time to set everything up,” Posega said. “That gave us a lot less time to be one on one with the kids. But that’s done now and we know how to do it. A lot of the groundwork is already laid and we’re now getting better at being one on one with the kids or in small groups to interact with them more.”

Also where the spring was just about maintaining academic stability, Hamilton said the fall will bring back grades.

“It will really bring up the level of rigor for the kids,” said Hamilton, who also said she was relieved when she found out the year would start remotely. “Now grades count, plus we know it could be months before we’re back to any sort of normal school. We’ll make the most of our time with them and figure out things they need to know and not miss anybody.”

Buckner said that whatever the final form looks like, it will be much more uniform across the district than the spring was.

Posega said the decision brought on mixed emotions.

“There’s a box full of my classroom stuff in the kitchen, and whenever I pass it, it’s sad. “Posega said. “We want to go back. But at the same time, we want everybody to be safe.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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