Despite school closures, learning goes on, D209 officials say

Officials said 3 in 4 students attending online classes, more than 650 free meals served

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

During a March 20 video message to families and staffers, District 209 officials deemed the first online learning week for Proviso Township High School students a success. The experiment came in the week after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that all schools statewide would close on March 16, in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. 

The closure prompted D209, along with many school districts in the state, to transition to remote learning practices while students are at home. The governor's school shutdown order was initially supposed to last until March 29, but on Friday Pritzker said that the order would be extended until April 7. That timeline, too, is subject to change. 

During the March 20 video, Assistant Superintendent for Academics and Family Services Nicole Howard said that D209's first week of online learning was a success. 

"About 73 percent of students reported their attendance and over 4,100 users have accessed teams," she said. "We have received reports of creative and engaging interactions." 

Howard pointed to a variety of examples that she said only scratched the surface of online engagement that's been happening — from Proviso West teachers piloting online student debates to a Proviso Math and Science Academy teacher conducting a live lab demonstration online. 

Howard added that, although the state initially prohibited teachers from grading or scoring students' work while schools are closed during what educators call an 'act of god' period, there have been some updates to that blanket prohibition. 

She said the state has upgraded its guidance on online grading so that teachers using traditional grading may give "only passing scores that do not lower a students' overall grades or academic standing." 

Howard added that any teachers practicing within the district's specialized Mastery Based Learning or Personalized Competency-Based Education curricula "can score as usual." Howard said that's "because students get multiple opportunities to achieve mastery, so they can't be penalized for low performances during this 'act of god' period." 

Howard said standardized tests, such as AP, SAT and IB assessments, will change. The College Board recently announced that it will start offering the AP test online to students across the country and the upcoming spring ACT tests were recently canceled. 

"More information [on standardized test changes] will be given as soon as it becomes available," Howard said. 

Bessie Karvelas, D209's chief innovation officer, said that maintenance and custodial staff workers will report to one of two shifts — one running from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and another running from 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

"Staff are able to choose to work the shift best able to meet the needs of families, particularly during the closure," she said. 

Karvelas said security teams will work in crews of two to three in order to secure buildings and facilitate the execution of ongoing activities like the district's free 'Grab & Go' lunch and breakfast program. 

Paul Starck-King, D209's superintendent of finance and operations, said the district has served some 250 meals per day through the program while schools have been closed. D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said total meals served total more than 650. Rodriguez said that meals will also be served during spring break. 

Karvelas said staff members who are working in school buildings during the closure will engage in online professional development and completion evaluation documents remotely. 

Stark-King added that summer construction on phase one renovation projects at all three high schools will so far move forward as scheduled. He said that the construction manager and architects for the projects are "fully aware" of the possible implications of the coronavirus "and will adjust accordingly" as the situate evolves. 

During Friday's video message, Rodriguez and D209 board President Ned Wagner tried reassuring families and employees amid the global pandemic. 

"Everything is going to be OK," Wagner said. "It's up to us to ensure that things are OK." 

"It has been inspiring to witness the dedication and hard work of each member of the Proviso community," Rodriguez said. 


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