May 20 Letter from Dr. Wade to the Board: Update on Feedback

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NOTE: Superintendent Dr. Nicolas D. Wade submitted the following letter to the District 401 Board of Education on May 20, 2020. To translate the letter into a language of your choice, go to the top right corner of this page where the Google Translate button ("Select Language") is located, and choose from the menu of available languages. Links to all of Dr. Wade's letters and other COVID-19 communications can be found at our Update Center.


To: Elmwood Park CUSD 401 Board of Education
Re: Impact of COVID-19

A survey was sent out to students, parents and District employees to collect questions, comments and concerns about current learning and operations related to remote learning and the general impact of COVID-19 on the 2019-20 school year and going into 2020-21. The survey was designed to be broken down into categories (i.e., teaching and learning, student support services, interscholastic activities, etc.) and to provide the responder ample space to write out his or her thoughts. There were a total of 168 responses: four community members, 51 District employees, 77 parents and 36 students.

The goal of this survey was two-fold: 1) to offer an additional avenue for stakeholders to communicate with the District and 2) generate a list of items that will need to be addressed as the District transitions into 2020-21.

To remind the Board, the 2020-21 school year will more than likely see at least one of the following three scenarios:

  1. The 2020-21 school year will begin with face-to-face instruction.
  2. The 2020-21 school year will begin with remote learning.
  3. The 2020-21 school year will see intermittent periods of remote learning and face-to-face instruction.

As communicated previously, there are a myriad of topics to address under each scenario with some being under the control of the District while others will come from the Governor's Office or the Illinois State Board of Education. To best address these challenges facing the District next school year, the District has created a committee of District employees to create common expectations for learning and engagement under remote learning, a transition plan for when students re-enter the buildings, and to proactively address potential challenges students, parents and District employees will experience under any of the aforementioned scenarios. Currently, there are over 50 participants on this committee.

Going back to the survey, there were consistent results from students, parents and District employees about the positives and areas for growth. What follows is a summary of their responses:

In terms of your experience with remote learning, please provide your questions and feedback on matters related to teaching and learning. This can be about grading, platforms to manage classrooms, posting assignments, the general curriculum, graduation requirements, parent/teacher/student communications and so on.

For District employees, they expressed there being some difficulty in being able to hold students accountable for work completion and/or participation. This can be attributed to a lack of responses to communication efforts from home, parents continuing to work if deemed "essential," concerns over students cheating, students not keeping a schedule, some lessons or courses being more difficult to teach than others, students being selective about what they will and will not complete or participate in, and the state's pass/fail policy.

There is a concern over student learning and the transition into next school year between the above-mentioned point(s) and students in grades K-2 not receiving a take-home device. There is appreciation for the communication tools and resources provided by the District to assist in reaching out to students and parents. They are also appreciative of how all of the different stakeholders came together to navigate through Quarter 4 and of the District’s communication efforts.

Staff are feeling more comfortable having an e-learning plan in place in the event school is canceled due to inclement weather. Some have expressed that remote learning has increased their workload when compared to face-to-face instruction.

For parents, as a whole, parents are not fond of remote learning, but continue to be supportive of the work and efforts of staff and administration. However, parents are not supportive of the pass/fail policy instituted by the state. Parents have expressed there are inconsistent communications, assignment postings and grading from staff either within a grade level, department and/or building. Parents, as a whole, would like there to be an increased number of the posting of assignments and activities and the duration of the "school day."

There is a request for assistance to be provided to parents in better understanding the content, the purpose of posted assignments, and accompanying directions. There is a feeling students are engaged, but not learning. Parents have been complimentary of instructional videos created and posted by staff and would like more direct communication efforts between teachers and the classroom or individual students through Zoom or Hangouts.

Parents expressed they wished either the District already was implementing standards-based reporting or should have for Quarter 4 because of the overall remote learning experience and the state’s pass/fail policy.

Students responded very similarly to parents echoing the inconsistent communications, assignment postings and grading from staff either within a department and/or building. They also expressed they are learning more from instructional videos created and posted by staff and hope to have more classroom and one-on-one communications going into next school year.

As a whole, students are more supportive of remote learning and hope the District can build off from Quarter 4 for 2020-21.

In terms of your experience with remote learning, please provide your questions and feedback on matters related to student support services. This can be about Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), 504 plans, bilingual and English Learner services, related services provisions and so on.

The staff have been complimentary of the work and efforts being made by personnel providing EL and student support services to students. However, there is a concern about students transitioning into next school year academically, socially and behaviorally. There is a frustration with the lack of flexibility being legally provided by the U.S. Department for Education in relation to IDEA.

Parents have responded extraordinarily similarly to the staff in this area. Parents have also added that there is difficulty in redirecting students to complete assignments or participate in activities.

Students expressed they wish there will be an increase in related services (i.e., social workers) to help students deal with the feelings of isolation, depression and what 2020-21 will be.

In terms of your experience of the impact from COVID-19, please provide your questions and feedback on matters related to interscholastic activities. This can be about clubs and athletics, sports camps, banquets and other ceremonies and so on.

Staff pointed out that some after-school clubs continued to meet virtually while others did not, and are wondering what 2020-21 will bring to holding after-school club meetings, practices and athletic events.

Parents and students were adamant that all events that typically occur during the last quarter of the school year should still be held with many stressing the need for a physical event as opposed to a virtual one. In general, communications and alternative plans coming from the buildings or the District have been complimentary. Parents would like coaches and sponsors to be reaching out to athletes and club participants more often.

In terms of your experience of the impact from COVID-19, please provide your questions and feedback on matters related to the impact's effects on District finances and facilities. This can be about the school calendar, building access, grounds access, finances, technology, BASEC, District-provided lunches and so on.

District employees were concerned about how the FY21 budget and beyond will be impacted, especially with two collective bargaining units currently under negotiations.

Parents are inquiring about refunds for services not provided and student access to lockers. Parents are appreciative of the meals being provided to students with some wanting a better quality, but some would like meals delivered to their place of residence.

Parents have asked if there will be PPE provided to all students, staff and visitors for the rest of this school year and next. They also expressed concerns over the FY21 budget and beyond.

Middle school students would like to see the middle school when it is finished, and students, in general, were inquiring about access to lockers.

Please provide your questions and feedback on matters related to teacher, individual building and/or District communications efforts.

District employees feel supported by the building and/or District administration.

Parents and students reiterated there are inconsistent communications either within a specific classroom, grade level, department and/or building. Solutions and expectations for communications vary significantly. However, parents, as a whole, are also complimentary of communications in general from the schools and/or District.

What are your biggest questions or concerns about the close of the 2019-20 school year?

For staff, there is a concern about maintaining a sense of community within the classroom and building.

Students and parents were concerned about rescheduling Quarter 4 events, wondering about the fate of yearbooks, expressing further dislike of the state’s pass/fail policy, and inquiring about student access to lockers.

Students, like staff, expressed a concern about maintaining a sense of community within the classroom and building.

What are your biggest questions or concerns about the upcoming 2020-21 school year?

Staff are inquiring about the possible scenarios the District could see for the start of the 2020-21 school year. Staff have an overall concern about health and safety should face-to-face instruction resume or there is a hybrid model — essentially, a general concern of socializing and returning to the physical buildings. They are hoping there will be less ambiguous guidance coming from the state, especially if there is remote learning or a hybrid model next school year.

Staff have also expressed concerns on how they will be evaluated next school year if there is remote learning and whether or not there will be time for team, department and/or building meetings.

Parents were also inquiring about the possible scenarios for the start of the 2020-21 school year and if there will be common expectations for students and parents from staff and administration. Parents have an overall concern about health and safety should face-to-face instruction resume or there is a hybrid model — essentially, a general concern of socializing and returning to the physical buildings. There is also a question as to whether or not they should enroll their children next school year.

Parents have an overall concern about the learning gaps and trying to "catch kids up" when transitioning. Parents are also wondering about whether traditional beginning-of-the-school-year events will happen, whether there will be any extracurricular activities next school year, and the future of parent/teacher conferences.

Students shared extraordinarily similar concerns to that of their parents.

What are some positives you could provide about the remote learning experience and the district's response to recent events?

Staff are appreciative of how proactive the District was and its overall communication efforts. They liked how there was more of a shared responsibility for student success with students having to become more responsible. They also believed Elmwood Park CUSD 401 had a more positive experience than most districts, specifically citing technology, curriculum resources, communication systems and building/District leadership.

Staff have been appreciative of posting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Staff have received positive communications from parents about the remote learning experience. Staff are appreciative of the assistance and professional development coming from the instructional coaches and administration.

Parents are appreciative of how proactive the District was and its overall communication efforts and how prepared the District was for remote learning. Parents have enjoyed the parades. They also agreed with staff that Elmwood Park CUSD 401 had a more positive experience than most districts, specifically citing the need to keep students and staff safe.

Students appreciated the remote learning experience and felt prepared to handle it and the fact they can learn at their own pace.

The District’s Transition Committee (which does not have a clever acronym yet) will begin meeting toward the end of the month and throughout the summer to work on enhancing our strengths and addressing areas of concern. The work of this committee will be included in the monthly Board reports and, again, the final product will be shared with the larger community for constructive feedback.

As communicated to the staff, we may not know what the new normal is, but we can do our best to define it for ourselves.

I continue to be proud of how this District has operated and functioned during this time of crisis and of the stakeholders we serve in their response to that. I am also appreciative of those who took the time to complete the survey and those who are communicating with the District when needed or regularly.

As before, please do not take this letter (or report) to be comprehensive, but an informational installment in the pursuit of a panoptic overview and its potential long-range response plan.

Sincerely,

Dr. Nicolas D. Wade
Superintendent of Schools


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