Summary of April 15, 2020 meeting

The third Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Teacher Advisory Council meeting of the 2019-20 school year was held via Zoom conference on Wednesday, April 15.

This group meets three times a year with the Superintendent to hear a broad overview of main issues facing Lincoln Public Schools. Members are then invited to make comments and ask questions. After the meeting, a summary will be sent to council members so it can be shared with staff members in their buildings.

Update from Superintendent Steve Joel

Remote Learning is in full swing at Lincoln Public Schools, thanks to the dedication and effort of staff across the entire school district. Conversations are now shifting to how we address the end of the school year and summer school offerings given the current and future possible health directives put into place. Right now graduation is moved to July 26, but we are putting backup plans in place to an August date or virtual graduations produced by the LPS Communications Team.

Thank you to each of our employees for doing a fantastic job in accepting the challenge of Remote Learning. We had three days to get everyone up to speed and trained before asking them to create new learning materials in the virtual classroom.

With the demographics of our student population, equity was the focus on anything we rolled out during Remote Learning. We have heard from parents that right now is about survival for them, it’s not about school work. They might not have internet access, the siblings are providing childcare, or children might be working jobs to support the family. There are many factors that we need to consider. We feel like we are in a good place, but we know we will lose ground with some students. We will continue to do what we can.

LPS is doing everything they can to continue compensation for most employees. We do not know what our finances will look like next year with businesses across the state shutting down. Sales tax will clearly be down and we do not know how our funding sources will be impacted. It will be a couple of months before the state will have a clear picture. We were already making a series of adjustments due to projections of state aid going down next year. We will continue to watch the conversation closely.

Questions and/or Concerns

Question: You’ve talked about the families that might not have the capability for internet or access computers, etc. My problem seems to be the opposite. Families are telling me that they are overwhelmed with the information they’re receiving, especially with the remote learning, especially if they have three to four kids. Trying to manage all the zoom meetings, all the assignments and trying to do the best for their children, although they understand that it’s not graded, they still want to keep their children accountable for their learning. Being inundated with so many videos and so many emails, what would your message be to them? Because they still have to work from their homes too, so the responsibilities of families, the school things and their job, what could I share with them?

Answer: We’ve gotten the same information from our directors and our principals. We’re going to look and see if we can make some adjustments, do some more streamlining. I would encourage you to tell them to manage the best they can. They have to take care of their children first. There are also many of our parents working from home, and we understand that as well. If families need to, slow it down a little bit. Communicate with teachers and principals. We’ll do everything in our power to work with them.

While many families say they hear too much and we communicate too frequently and it’s too complex, we also have an equal number of families who say they don’t hear from us enough. They’d like to hear more. They want more directions, more clarity. So it’s very hard to find the sweet spot. We have to respond to individual families and help them with their individual needs.

Question: With the obvious financial consequences this is causing on families, can our district consider a k-12 financial education curriculum for the future? While there are many issues to think about during this time, I feel passionately that a large portion of our students’ families and community members are under-educated in this area, and currently, are not financially ready for our current situation. When it comes to equity, some have more experience with money and money management, and I feel passionately that a k-12 curriculum would help build equity to all levels and be an asset to our students’ futures.

Answer: What we try to do in our curriculum, particularly at the high school level, is teach financial education. We have our Take Charge a required class at the high schools. There is some financial education that’s embedded in that course. I do believe that is probably an area that could certainly be talked about and strategized. How something like that gets added into an already busy curriculum and state requirements will be our challenge, but certainly worth considering.

Question: Due to this situation that we are in, has LPS considered starting an online education program for the future? Some students are thriving in this environment because it takes away social anxiety and other issues. Also, is there any conversation about ending school before May 21st due to the stress that this has added to families?

Answer: The ending date for school was a major topic today with the commissioner and the superintendents. Some of the school districts are stopping a week early, and others are extending a week to try to take advantage of additional learning time. So, I think right now we’re intending to end school on the day that it’s designated to end.

We understand that some students are disengaging. We know that some are flourishing in the remote environment and some are really struggling in a remote environment. What educational changes are going to be brought about by this pandemic? One of those considerations, I think, is what role does remote learning play in the future. I still think that physical school is going to be here for a long, long time. But I also think if we have students that don’t do well in physical school, but they do well in remote school, that it’s probably incumbent on us to see how we can blend that to help them become successful.

We’ve received a lot of waivers about attendance and seat time hours of instruction from the Department of Education, but we won’t get those waivers whenever we come back from the pandemic. That’s something that the federal regulators have really struggled with because they don’t want to make it so loose that we are not able to produce the kind of results that they expect. Particularly in light of the dollars that are invested in public education.

On the east coast this year, there are no longer snow days. They have become remote learning days. I can’t wait to get the emails from the students when they hear that one. They always look forward to snow days, as probably you do and I do. I think this is going to be one tool for the future. We’re not going to anticipate that students are going to do six and a half hours, nose to the academic grindstone. If they do two or three hours, and we get credit for the day, it might flex up our ability to use time a little bit differently. Those are good considerations for the future.

Question: Is it a possibility that teachers would be able to go back to school to work in their classrooms before the end of the school year?

Answer: We know that at some point, people are going to have to get back in the schools to get ready for the next school year. That’s going to have to be managed in a very diligent way while following the restrictions put into place by health and government officials. We’ve got a handful of people that are working in buildings that are deemed essential. They need to be in our facilities. But for the most part, everybody is working from home. When the May 30 restriction is lifted, we might be able to allow staff to come into buildings on a limited basis. We might be able to do it beforehand if we feel like we’ve got a little bit more positive momentum going with regard to lower infection rates.

The whole purpose of closing school and getting people home is to keep the virus from spreading. People can be carrying this virus without knowing it for a week to 10 days and they could unknowingly pass it along. If we let our guard down too soon, we’re going to extend this. I think there’s going to be a time in the future where you’re going to be able to make arrangements with your principal to come into your school in limited numbers and do what you need to do.

Question: What about staff who are retiring or staff leaving LPS, or people that need to get their belongings like students moving? Are there going to be exceptions that can be made before May 30?

Answer: We’re going to evaluate after May 6. The city limitations and restrictions are due to expire on May 6. Again, I do believe that we’re going to have to create some special circumstances or selected staff to be able to get into schools to pick up their belongings.

Question: Will adjustments be made for next year’s curriculum to account for things potentially missed this school year?

Answer: Our curriculum specialists are starting to work on that. There’ll be a transition period with units that will review key lessons. We’re not going to review it all, that would put us further behind. They will work on some pre-unit assessments which would identify missing prerequisite skills. Then staff can teach those before moving on to new content. This will also include the elimination of some content from the beginning of the year that’s less important. This will be done simply to make the transition back smoother. It’ll vary a little bit from subject to subject, depending on whether the subject focuses more on process things or specific skills.

Question: I am impressed with the amount of curriculum that is being presented to my middle school and high school daughter. I feel like the learning is very beneficial. My elementary aged daughter only has one video a day to watch, either math or reading. Would you consider expanding to having a math and reading video daily?

Answer: It’s another porridge problem and question getting the exact right temperature. We hear from parents that there’s too much elementary content, particularly if they have more than one child at home. We did have a serious discussion about adding more videos and content at the elementary level. At this time, we made the intentional decision not to do that because the overwhelming feedback from the vast majority of parents was, there’s too much we can’t keep up. We in fact, had a significant number of elementary parents ask us to simply not do school for the rest of the semester, which of course we would never consider. I know there are some parents who want there to be more. There are others that think there’s already too much. This is one of the reasons why we encouraged individual teachers to go ahead and supplement for the students who wanted to do that work. It’s why we encourage students to take advantage of the additional resources that are on the remote learning website. Keep in mind there’s a daily challenge published by Library Media Services. They have done a terrific job with that. We have virtual field trips and other things that are there. It’s all part of the effort to balance for the parents who want there to be more versus the parents who already think there’s too much

Question: Will renovation projects continue on schedule? Park was expected to start this summer/fall.

Answer: Yes, the construction industry is one industry that is still moving. Scott Wieskamp and his teams have absolutely geared up with the Bond plan as scheduled. We are hopefully getting the bonds issued, so that we have the money to complete the projects. We’re diligently working on that and looking forward to that. I wouldn’t anticipate at this time that we would be making any major changes to the schedule. I think the one thing we know that may happen is there could be some supply chain problems along the way, but then those could also balance out long term. LPS being a public entity is still doing construction, but a lot of private entities are putting construction on hold. There should also potentially be an increase or a decrease in demand. So right now, we have been full steam ahead.

Park is one of them that we have done initial work on getting architects and engineers on board. We’re beginning in April of 2020, but you wouldn’t necessarily see that out at the school. That would be bringing on the design teams, the architects, the engineers to start designing the project. You wouldn’t start to see physical work in your building until potentially winter of this year.

Question: I know finances are changing for schools, I teach first grade and was wondering if there will ever be a thought of giving K-1 individual devices like Chromebooks – so it would look similar to older siblings or present material the same as older siblings?

Answer: The short answer is probably not. It’s just one of those things where we’re trying to figure out how do we sustain what we have, with the grade levels that we have.
However, if we have to continue with remote learning for the long term, we’ll have to look at all the options in order to provide more equitable access to all our students and really engage them at the primary level like the way we’re engaging them at the intermediate level. It’ll be subject to finances too.

Question: In the past, if emails to parents did not work, we could use the phone call to further communication. Some of the principals have their personal phone connected to their building phone. Some teachers would be nervous about their private cell number with student families. If emails and Zoom is not working, would there be a way to connect our phones to the school building’s phone?

Answer: Computing Services is working towards a software application that will address this. The first priority is administrators and office staff followed by Special Education coordinators and teachers. We’re aware of that issue, and we’re working on it.

Teachers are now set up to use Cisco Jabber. This software allows you to place and receive phone calls on your computer. By using this method, the call will come from an LPS phone number, thus eliminating the need to use your personal phone.

Placing calls is very straightforward and explained here. Contact your principal with any questions.

Email after the meeting
At Rousseau when doing Zoom meetings we have made a Google doc to plug our links for our future Zoom meetings so that a specialist or someone can join in if they would like. We have been making sure that a team member or a coworker is present in all our meetings so we have a second set of eyes/ears and to also help manage the muting and unmuting of students. This might be helpful to other schools when doing their zoom meetings to help prevent any students who are misbehaving etc.