E-Town Hall discusses reopening plan

Louise Bond, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, July 22 at 6 p.m., ETHS hosted an E-Town Hall event to discuss the fall reopening plan released on July 17. 

Panelists Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, Assistant Superintendent and Principal Marcus Campbell, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Peter Bavis, Associate Principal for Student Services Taya Kinzie and Director for Special Education Diona Lewis answered previously submitted questions from community members on nine topics: metrics for reopening regarding COVID data, 504 plans and special education, academic experience and supports, quality of instruction, curriculum and grading, scheduling and courses, social-emotional wellbeing and technology and communication.

A task force of about 100 people–including community members, teachers and students–have worked this summer to develop plans for remote, hybrid and in-person learning. 

“We have tried our best to come up with a plan that is going to keep everyone safe and alive at ETHS,” Witherspoon said.

Two days after sharing the details of the hybrid reopening plan with the public at the July 13 School Board meeting, administrators privately decided to shift the timeline of reopening in-person from after Labor Day to “until further notice”. This was due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at Lake Zurich High School in which 36 students on three different sports teams tested positive, along with a fearful response from ETHS staff about returning to school. The change became public on July 17, when ETHS released its reopening plan.

There is no specific date ETHS is planning to return to in-person classes, but Witherspoon made it clear they will be closely monitoring the situation, and Campbell stated they will give 10 days notice before transitioning to hybrid learning. The factors they will consider for reopening are equity, health and safety precautions, social and emotional wellbeing, academic and instructional strategies and outcomes and infrastructure needs.

“We’re fortunate… we have an amazing ed-tech team. They’ve been instrumental in preparing our teachers for e-learning” Bavis said. 

The E-Learning Academy was held for all teachers to enhance their online teaching skills in hopes of creating a more engaging and effective digital learning environment this fall. The academies focused on classroom climate, planning, delivering content, discussion, assessment and feedback, as well as refining technology skills.

“We have dedicated part of our E-Learning Academy and preparing teachers to [make]… connections [with students] in our e-learning environment” Campbell said.

ETHS will be returning to an A-F grading scale, but Bavis notes that “while a return to grading is important, it’s equally important to remember we’re in the midst of a pandemic.”

In order to engage students during this enhanced e-learning, there will be an element of live instruction for each class, but not for the entire period. The new block schedule will consist of 70 minute periods, with Tuesdays and Thursdays covering periods 1-5, and Wednesdays and Fridays covering periods 6-9. AM Support will remain each morning, and Mondays will be reserved for office hours and asynchronous learning in order to support students in a remote setting.

“We built AM support and office hours into our Monday schedule so that students can access supports outside of class time,” Campbell said.

The social-emotional wellbeing of students is also a priority for continued remote learning. 

“Getting connected starts in the classroom where teachers will be infusing the social-emotional learning and building community,” Kinzie said. “But we also recognize that some students may struggle, and we are prepared to help.”

These supports will include training sessions to deal with emotions, social work supports and mindfulness coaches.

Witherspoon also acknowledges that, while there is undoubtedly a wish to return to the normal ETHS experience, learning will look a lot different even when the school transitions to a hybrid plan in order to follow Illinois State Board of Education and Center for Disease Control regulations. These include assigned seats for all students, no occupation of common spaces, no talking while eating lunch, controlled and distanced passing periods to maintain six feet distance at all times, and more.

“The very things that we do that enrich our lives and enhance our lives and make the Wildkit experience the Wildkit experience, they’re not going to happen now,” Witherspoon said. “I know in some of this we painted a little bit of a bleak picture, but we painted an accurate picture.”