Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Confidence, anxiety compete as ISD 2142 faces uncharted path

David Colburn
Posted 3/26/20

REGIONAL- Anxiety over the educational implications of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened confidence among those in ISD 2142 that they will be ready to shift …

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Confidence, anxiety compete as ISD 2142 faces uncharted path

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REGIONAL- Anxiety over the educational implications of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened confidence among those in ISD 2142 that they will be ready to shift gears to educating students remotely beginning next week.
Superintendent Reggie Engebritson told school board members on Tuesday that while the district was still awaiting word from Gov. Tim Walz about how the remainder of the school year will be conducted, the district’s plan for distance education will be ready by Friday.
The board got a small sample of what’s to come for staff and students because four of the seven members weren’t in physical attendance at the meeting, but instead logged in through Google Hangouts or phoned in to participate. Upcoming meetings of the board will be conducted exclusively via teleconferencing until the coronavirus threat has passed.
Engebritson said that she has been meeting with building staff every other day using Zoom, an online videoconferencing application. While some teachers are working from home, all are involved in developing lessons and materials that can address the needs of students, some of whom have internet access and some who don’t.
“The essence of our approach is to not overwhelm people,” Engebritson said, “so that if I’m a parent who’s working during the day and I come home and have three kids, that they don’t have four hours of homework they have to do.”
Schools have been offering childcare for students 12 and under whose parents are healthcare workers, emergency responders, and others as directed by the governor. Children are grouped ten to a classroom, Engebritson said. Some staff have expressed concerns for their own health.
“We’ve got staff saying, ‘I don’t want to come in. I don’t want to watch kids of healthcare workers because they’re taking care of sick people,’” Engebritson said. “Real concerns. Real fear.”
Board member Chet Larson asked if anyone in the district has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“We have some people with symptoms, but there haven’t been enough tests, so if they have symptoms we’re telling them to stay at home.”
Engebritson said she believes that even if more restrictions on socialization are imposed instruction will continue.
“I have a call every day at 4:30 p.m. with the commissioner (of education),” she said. “Yesterday she said that even if we go to shelter-in-place we’re still going to be doing distance learning. I don’t see the governor saying shut down the schools.”
Board chairman Dan Manick asked about seniors completing graduation requirements.
“We worry about the kids when they’re in the building, how they’re doing,” he said. “Will they be prepared?”
Engebritson emphasized that keeping students connected with teachers while ensuring their distance education has sufficient rigor will be key. Given the individual differences in instruction that will arise through the distance education model, the district is looking at switching to a pass/no-credit option rather than assigning letter grades for fourth-quarter classes.
“How do you define an ‘A’ if I’m at home with no internet and paper and pencil versus somebody who has internet?” she said. “We’re supposed to provide an equitable education and we’re going to do that to the best of our ability.”
Board member Chris Koivisto responded that some students were concerned about what would happen to their grade point averages.
“There is some nervousness about pass/fail,” he said. “They’ve worked hard to earn the grades they’ve gotten. That’s causing some angst.”
Engebritson also noted the challenge presented by distance education in working with students who have been performing poorly.
“If a kid was failing in the third quarter, what do we do fourth quarter to get them to the finish line?” she said. “There’s a lot of angst out there. How do we relieve some of that and make it successful? Luckily we’re looking at just one quarter and it’s not October and we’re thinking about all year.”
Koivisto echoed the comments of other board members when he said, “I couldn’t be more impressed with all the teachers. Everybody should take time to thank them.”
In other business, the board:
Approved a response to the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee addressing instructional concerns. The board agreed to assure meaningful instruction addressing American Indian educational standards will be embedded into course content for all students, and to provide teachers with the approved state standards at the outset of the school year.
• Approved advertising for three social workers on a 6-1 vote, with Koivisto dissenting.
• Approved an adjustment to the number of track coaches to accommodate increased participation, provided spring sports are not canceled.
• Hired Karl Jonas as a part-time custodian at North Woods; Angela Schultz as a part-time preschool teaching assistant at North Woods; Sydney Bell as an Early Chidhood Family Education part-time teacher aide at North Woods; and accepted the retirement of North Woods Indian Education Program Assistant Diane Brunner.

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