The Shakopee School Board approved the amended learning models for the fall at its Aug. 10 work session after some board members raised questions and concerns about the details of those plans.
Shakopee Public Schools will follow the state’s recommendations for the reopening of schools by allowing students and families to choose between either a flexible in-person, hybrid or distance learning model (Shakopee IHD), or enroll their students into a one-year program called Shakopee Online, the district announced earlier this month.
Families were asked to commit to one of the programs by Aug. 5.
In-person, hybrid or distance learning — or what the district is calling IHD — is the first option. IHD would be a fluid option that could fluctuate between in-person, hybrid and distance learning depending on the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Scott County, the district said.
The second option is Shakopee Online, which means there will be teachers designated specifically to online learning who will provide live lessons and instruction that is different from the IHD program.
According to the district, 1,710 students have opted for Shakopee Online schooling — more than Director of Teaching and Learning Nancy Thul expected, she said at the school board work session. 6,234 students have chosen the Shakopee IHD program.
For families who have chosen the IHD program, the district has indicated the “hybrid” learning is the most likely option for this fall, based on current COVID-19 rates in Scott County.
The traditional grading system will look a bit different next year. For middle school students, report cards will have A, B, C, “P” for pass or “NI” for “Needs Improvement.” High school students will have similar grades: A, B, C, P, “Incomplete” or “no grade.”
Incomplete students will be given an additional two weeks to complete their work and gain graduation credits.
“One of our biggest fears is that we will see a larger number of kids becoming further and further behind,” Thul said.
A five-day hybrid schedule
Shakopee’s hybrid learning model will operate under a five-day learning cycle, meaning students in hybrid learning would attend school on an A/B schedule Monday, Wednesday, Friday one week, and Tuesday and Thursday the following week.
Board member Judi Tomczik and Board Chair Kristi Peterson asked about the five-day model, which would require secondary teachers to provide distance learning lessons as well as in-person lessons. Tomczik referenced other hybrid plans she’s seen that have one day a week designated for teacher planning and development.
“I think what we’re asking of secondary is really quite a lot,” Tomczik said.
Thul said there is “no perfect schedule,” but that offering more in-person learning for students is the most equitable option, citing access to meal plans and technology as a few examples.
“There’s pros and cons to every schedule, but this is the one that gives kids the most in-person time,” Thul said. “So for me, that’s what I think is one of the most important rationals.”
Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond said another advantage of this model is smaller in-person class sizes, which will be around 16 students per class instead of 32 students to allow for more social distancing.
“That should help in terms of building those relationships,” Redmond said.
Students in the IHD program who are working from home will receive live instruction from teachers during assigned time blocks. Middle school and high school students will have four blocks of live instruction from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Elementary students will have live morning meetings and, at a minimum, 30 minutes of live instruction and interaction beyond that, Thul said.
“That was the main piece of feedback we got from parents… the need for live, synchronous learning,” Thul said.
The hybrid learning block schedules will also be shortened to give teachers more time to prepare.
“So staff can have their prep and collaboration time all at the beginning of the day, and minimize the number of transitions they have to make around the building,” Thul said.
Shakopee Online saw greater enrollment than expected, Thul said, with more than 1,700 students divided evenly between elementary and secondary schools.
The course offerings for the online-only learning program will look different from the course offerings available for secondary students in the IHD programs, simply because there are less students and staff members, Thul said.
District administration said one positive that could come from COVID-19 is the possibility of Shakopee Online becoming an accredited online school in the future.
“Right now, we’re working to try to see it as a chance to innovate in a difficult situation,” Thul said. Some of those ways the district is looking to innovate is through the integration of subjects — by fusing together Language Arts and science, for example, students could receive more of a multidisciplinary curriculum.
A year-long commitment
Peterson said she was concerned that families have been asked to commit to either Shakopee IHD or Shakopee Online for the entire year, as opposed to offering families the chance to reevaluate at the end of each quarter.
“Personally, that troubles me, having somebody lock in for that long of a period of time. Because I think we need to offer flexibility,” Peterson said.
Thul said because of staffing designations, offering a reevaluation period for all families would mean many teachers designated — often by necessity — to Shakopee Online schooling would need to switch to Shakopee IHD.
“We’re not sure how much flexibility will really be there in terms of staffing and student enrollment,” Redmond said.
But administration said the district will look at requests to switch programs on a case-by-case basis, and that not every child would necessarily have to be locked in for the entire year if their decision isn’t working for them.
“If something is really not working, I’d hope we are astute enough to change that,” Assistant Superintendent Dave Orlowsky said.