RED WING -- When Red Wing High School must shift to distance learning, there will be no class for four days. This will give teachers of grades 7-12 opportunities for intense training to enhance online learning, the School Board learned Monday, Nov. 2.
The transition from hybrid to full distance will address five core issues: close academic gaps, engage reluctant learners, accelerate learning for all, enhance social-emotional learning and reduce teacher stress.
“All of these things outlive the pandemic,” Director of Teaching and Learning Jess Whitcomb said.
The state allows districts up to five days to transition. Red Wing High School administrators propose to use four days -- three of them dubbed the “virtual power pack” for teachers. Topics include:
increase rigor in virtual instruction, connect better with students, improve class dynamics
change teaching styles to maximize learning and address online challenges
monitor learning in the virtual world and then put it all together.
Some building and department leads will have more intense training, according to Whitcomb, and will then be able to help others.
Separate from the power pack, there will be day of breakout sessions for the full building. Climate, culture and mission will be among those with a "laser focus" on how everything plays into improving instruction. Principal George Nemanich said that formulating “why we exist” must include teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, clerks, food service personnel and administrators.
“If we don’t all have a hand in it, then it doesn’t have any meaning to it,” Nemanich said, adding, “What do you wish the school to be like?”
There is no immediate plan to switch to distance learning, but COVID-19 numbers are rising rapidly. The Minnesota Department of Health will issue a new 14-day case rate on Thursday, and while Superintendent Karsten Anderson hesitated to predict that it will be worse in Goodhue County, he indicated that it will be.
When that day comes and instruction resumes after the power pack training, high school students will continue with their four-block schedule five days a week online, Nemanich said in response to questions.
When early childhood through grade 4 students must shift to distance learning, there will be a one or two-day transition when teachers prepare and students have no class. This primarily will allow the distribution of materials, Whitcomb said.
“What happens with grades 5-6?” Vice Chair Arlen Dierck asked.
Anderson said that is being finalized. The state considers 5-6 elementary, although Red Wing Public Schools has both grades already in hybrid with 7-12, so those students might follow the E-4 plan if the high school switches ahead of the elementary schools.
Diercks asked if teachers will teach from their classrooms or from home. Anderson said he sees great value in having teachers in the school buildings, adding that the union will be part of the discussion.
Anderson also told board members that any shift to distance learning will last at least two weeks, reflecting the Center for Disease Control's recommended 14-day COVID-19 quarantine period.
Board member Holly Tauer, who serves on the district technology committee, praised giving staff time to prepare for full distance learning and some serious training to start maximizing the computer programs at their disposal. Some teachers are tech-savvy; some not so much.
“The smarter and better the teachers are, the better it's going to be for our students in every capacity, so I’m in full support of this,” she said. “Teachers need to have a basic toolbox that they can share with all students. It’s not fair that some kids have that teacher, who is so good at it, and the other teacher is clamoring for it and can’t get it.”
Whenever the shifts come, those planning workdays will be considered instruction days and part of the academic quarter.
Distance learning might not come simultaneously for elementary and high school students. The state has recommended districts consider distance for all students when the 14-day case rate is 50 per 10,000 county residents. At 30 per 10,000, elementary schools are in hybrid learning, but high school is distance. Goodhue County's case rate was 19.04 as of Oct. 17 on the Department of Education's Oct. 29 report.
Since those reports are almost two weeks old when districts receive, Tauer asked that the superintendent create a chart using Goodhue County numbers, too, to paint a more current picture.
Things are changing daily, Anderson acknowledged.
“We might not have a lot of lead time to give parents a heads up,” Chair Pam Roe said.