MONROE — The School District of Monroe heard results from an at-home learning survey taken by parents at its regular meeting May 26 held via Zoom teleconference.
Monroe closed its schools March 16 after Gov. Tony Evers announced an executive order to close both public and private schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each child’s parent contact was sent a survey, meaning 2,350 responses were possible. The survey generated about 880 responses, about 37%, which District Administrator Rick Waski said was “a lot of feedback and a good sample to drive statistical meaning.” There were about 50-70 responses per grade level from parents with children in kindergarten through 12th, including hundreds of comments. Waski said most of the comments were positive.
The first of just a handful of questions asked whether the amount of instruction given to students during at-home learning was appropriate. Other questions asked about how much time per day students were spending on at-home learning activities, the level of support needed for children to complete work at home and how much virtual time (Zoom/Google Meets) students were having to connect with other students and teachers.
Principals from different age levels all reported on the survey results.
Northside Elementary School Principal Amy Timmerman said the elementary schools received 410 responses, including 124 from Abraham Lincoln, 174 from Northside and 112 from Parkside. Of those, 83% rated the amount of instruction as “just right” and 87% rated the difficulty of instruction to be “just right.”
About 68% of elementary school parents rated the amount of virtual time required as “just right;” and 23% rated the amount as “too little.” She said helpful feedback from parents included appreciation toward teachers, expressing difficulty regarding keeping students focused, requests for more live lessons and more opportunities to see other students.
“Our teachers did an outstanding job of connecting with students,” Timmerman said.
Timmerman said the results let the elementary schools know that if there is more home-based learning in the fall, it’s important to provide more training for both parents and students.
Middle school Principal Brian Boehm also reported key takeaways from the survey. About 68% of MMS parents felt the amount of work given was “just right” and 76% felt the difficulty of the work was “just right.” He said feedback came from overwhelmed but appreciative parents and some who hoped for more directed instruction and feedback from teachers. Some also expressed a desire for more streamlined communication, he said.
Boehm said it was clear that “what we need to do is relative to improving the product” after “switching the business model on a dime.”
Boehm said he also felt a newfound appreciation for teachers that manifested from parents in charge of home-based learning and that it was clear some families wanted a higher level of rigor to go above and beyond.
Chris Medenwaldt, Monroe High School principal, said his results showed similarities with the middle and elementary schools. About 70% of high school parents reported in the survey that the amount of work was “just right” and about 78% said the difficulty of the work was “just right.”
He said if home-based learning continues, they would work to provide more consistency, resources for parents to better understand the instruction, directed grading and better communication.
Medenwaldt said some families had to focus on the family, not schoolwork, due to outside, unrelated circumstances in the home.
Waski said results were what the school was targeting for at-home learning goals and he was pleased with the results and participation and appreciated the constructive feedback.
“I’m proud of our staff,” Waski said. “People have pitched in, worked outside of their comfort zones … overall, we’ve done a good job.”
Waski said there was one constant that teachers and some parents agreed to: “If we have to get back into home-based learning, we have to increase the rigor.”
In other matters, the board:
● Approved an extended warranty to get an additional year out of some Chromebooks at $20 per device. The amount total for 1,976 devices totaled $39,520. TC Networks representative Aras Ozpirincci was on hand and told the board the decision was a “wise choice” because some spare parts are out of stock due to closings in China and the warranty allows them to work with a company who has them.
● Approved an annual subscription for $3,670.50 to enhance its firewall system, as recommended after an audit, to make the district’s firewall more secure. Ozpirincci said that with several different software programs on different machines needing regular updates, this was a good solution for a district this size.
● Discussed what academic planning could look like for the 2020-21 school year. Waski said school officials are watching data closely for what school reopening in the fall could look like.
He offered four different scenarios of what returning to school might look like and addressed areas of uncertainty, blended learning options and requirements at different levels, possible expectations and what the future could hold.
“We’re going to have to be incredibly flexible,” Waski said, noting that the topic would be on the agenda for months as the board works through decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said DPI would likely come out with guidelines, but in the end, school officials and board members would decide. “One thing I can assure you is that no decision we make will work for every family,” he said. “We have a lot to work out before we know what it will look like.” Waski said he hopes to embrace the challenges as an opportunity to create a better product for students in the end.
Board President Rich Deprez said his intention is to “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”