In preparation for the upcoming 2021 academic year, the Creston Community School District held its second public forum regarding the district’s return to learn program Tuesday evening in the CCSD High School auditorium and live streamed over Facebook.
Due to the risk of reopening schools in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, every Iowan school district was required to develop plans for providing education in three different forms: exclusively in-person, a hybrid education model held at brick and mortar locations while synchronously viewable online and entirely distance learning. CCSD Superintendent Deron Stender said that, although the process of creating the plans has been a stressful one, the safety of students, faculty and staff are key to providing proper education to Creston students.
“If we can’t keep them safe, we are going to be back where we were last spring, folks,” said Stender. “We did not educate anybody last spring, I’ll be honest about that. And I’ll be honest about the fact that what we did last spring, it set us up in a mindset where people probably don’t have faith in our ability to provide online education and opportunity. What we did last spring was not education.”
The first public forum was held Thursday, and Stender discussed the topic with members of the CCSD School Board during the regular monthly meeting Monday evening in order to receive feedback over the plan as it currently stands.
“We, as a team, as a district, are basing our decisions on the student’s well-being and health of our students, staff, and community,” said Stender. “We use guidance from Union County Public Health, so our decisions are based on that. Is everything in our plan right? No. We are living in unprecedented times where we are making decisions on information we get today, and we are making decisions on the best information we get each day. That’s a challenge.”
The second forum comes after Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation Friday, which puts responsibility for complete closure of a school in the hands of the Iowa Department of Public Health, and also requires districts to maintain above 50% of its students in a traditional education format.
“We’ve been fighting mandates at the department level for a long time,” said Stender. “The governor comes out on Friday and rolls out... a proclamation that almost changed the direction that we were in. The way the proclamation read confused a lot of people... it even took me a long time to get clarification, because I was worried about our plans being all for not after spending three months on them.”
However, despite concerns, Stender assures that the plans drafted by the return to learn team are still sustainable under the new proclamation.
“Our plans are good,” said Stender. “People I have consulted with, this term was used: ‘Your plans are golden.’ With meetings with superintendents across the region, we have good plans. Again, are they the right plans? They are the best plans... I need your patience. I need your flexibility. Because what we do today, tomorrow the Governor or the Department of Education could come out and say that something needs to change. We expect that as educators. It’s harder for you as families to probably expect that because it could happen that fast.”
Currently, the return to learn team is recommending the hybrid model, which would give parents the choice between in-person education and distance learning based on individual needs.
“It will be an engaged process, an engaged product for our families and our kids, regardless of whether your learning at home, online, or here in brick and mortar on site,” said Stender. “We expect our kids to get the same quality of education, the same quality of interaction from their teachers in an engaging environment whether they are at home or on-site.”
Stender said there had been pubic concern over the distance education, as some parents thought it would be the same as the continuous learning offered in the spring.
“People are thinking ‘Oh jeez, I’m not going to do the online education piece because that was really terrible last year,’” said Stender. “It was, it was. But that was not the district’s decision at that time, that was what the state mandated we could do.”
After the last forum, Stender said there was conflation between distance learning and homeschooling, and addressed the differences between the two forms of education.
“Online, if you’re receiving services from the district, is not home school,” said Stender. “There’s a difference. If a parent chooses to do home school, they cut ties with the district, we do not provide any services with that. Online, the district is responsible for providing educational services, and we will do the best job that we can providing that.”
Since last spring, the CCSD staff have been trained in digital technology, digital curriculum and digital instruction.
“I may have wanted to do online distance learning last spring when the Governor signed the proclamation to close schools, we were not ready for it, and I wasn’t going to set my staff up for failure and discomfort,” said Stender. “The key to our success is going to be the training we provided our staff so they can be successful. I need them to be comfortable... so they can transfer that and those skill sets and that confidence to our students and families at home.”
One topic brought up in both the first forum and the board meeting that has resulted in a change in the plan involves mandatory temperature checks for those entering the facilities.
“It was a good discussion,” said Stender. “As a team, we did talk about temperature checks, and it came down to the practicality of the expenditure... we are the largest organization in the city of Creston. Between 7:30 and 8 o’clock, we are taking in 1,600 people in 30 minutes... we said it was almost impractical, almost unfeasible.”
Yet Stender said that, after discussing the budget at Monday night’s board meeting, the team decided to pursue the concept.
“(The board) said ‘We spent a lot of money on all these other things to make sure people are safe, but, temperature checks,’ and I don’t disagree,” said Stender. “We still have a lot of work to do, but it is most likely that we will be doing temperature checks.”
A third forum is expected to take place in August prior to the plan being submitted to the board for approval. The first two forums are available for viewing in their entirety on the Creston Panthers Facebook page, and the plans are accessible at the CCSD website. For any questions, comments or concerns, contact Deron Stender at firstname.lastname@example.org.