East St. Louis schools superintendent discusses calendar extension

With COVID-19 keeping classrooms closed for weeks and then months, some states and districts suggested extending the school year to help students make up for lost class time. Few of those plans have materialized for this year, but East St. Louis School District 189 plans to postpone the final day of school for nearly a month until the end of June.

The district and the east. The St. Louis Federation of Teachers has signed a memorandum of understanding, and the school board approved the plan to extend the school year this week.

The Belleville News-Democrat interviewed Superintendent Arthur Culver about details of the district’s plans. Here are his answers:

Question: The agreement with the teachers’ union states that the extended school year is voluntary for the staff. Do you know if there are enough teachers on board to meet your staffing needs?

Superintendent Arthur Culver: “We did it voluntarily because we really didn’t make this decision in a vacuum. We talked to teacher groups and had a committee to do this. You really understood from student performance metrics that an extended school year is needed.

“The reason we did it voluntarily is that we have a summer school every year anyway, and if we don’t have enough teachers to teach the summer school, there were teachers in the surrounding districts that we would hire. It felt like we had enough between our teachers and local teachers to meet our students’ needs.

“We did a survey and so far we have a very high percentage of employees, especially teachers, who have signed up. I was told that all but 30 of our teachers signed up and said yes, they wanted to. Our teachers really care about our students and they know our students are way behind due to COVID. “

Q: Are there any concerns that the extended school year could lead to burnout for students or staff?

Culver: “We thought about it, and both parents and staff asked me that. They say you know they need some time off. We just felt we couldn’t afford to take this time. Children also need help with socio-emotional matters, just live in the environment they live in and experience the things they have seen.

“We don’t go to school until the third week of August. You will have another seven weeks off.

“We knew this, if you factor in the loss of learning and time lost in class (through virtual learning) and mix that with the natural decline in student performance that occurs in the summer when they are absent for two and a half years about months later, it would become a really steep one Become hills to make up for the learning losses from COVID and just leave for the summer. “

Q: The current agreement with the teachers’ union is to extend this school year, but you said you plan to extend the next two school years as well. What is the schedule for making these decisions?

Culver: We’ll do that in advance. If we look at our proposed calendar, which we will negotiate with the union and the board, we will propose a calendar that will last until June. I want to do this for both the 2021-2022 school year and the 2022-2023 school year and then look at the evaluation data and the teachers’ input and see where we are. I really believe this would be the best thing for our students for the next two years.

“I have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning and I know that it is really best for them to have the opportunity to study longer in the summer and to have this opportunity for our students.

“We cannot do the best politically. We cannot focus on what is best for adults or what adults want. We’re in this business to do our best for students. That’s why we signed up, and I think we need to stay true to that and remember that when it comes to making tough decisions. “

Q: How will the school district pay for this extension?

Culver: “We use money from CARES funds. We have approximately $ 78 million from the CARES bill, which is more than enough to support this. This is one of the things that the Department of Education as well as the Illinois State Board of Education expect. They expect us to look for ways that have a direct impact on students and ways that directly overcome the learning loss caused by COVID and virtual teaching. “

Q: How many students are physically in class now?

Culver: “Our children hadn’t gone to school in about a year and we only got about 50% of them back. We’ll only have about 50% back this summer period, but we’re going to prioritize and the kids who need it most are the ones we want to be in school. The children who are better off will be busy with virtual lessons.

“Some parents are not yet comfortable personally. You are concerned about the other strands and whether these might be causing a spike. They are still rightly busy with it so they said they want to go ahead virtually. We will encourage them and do everything we can to get them to come in person if they belong to that group that does not do well academically, but if they refuse we offer virtual classes. “

Q: Community partners have helped students gain Internet access for distance learning. Will it stay that way during the extended school year?

Culver: This will continue. We have already spoken to our centers – the Griffin Center, the Christian Activity Center, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, these are the big three – and they plan to continue providing services to students over the summer. “

Q: Do you know what the school will be like in the fall?

Culver: I wish I did. We will plan for everyone to come back, but we will also have a Plan B that is personal for 50% of our students and virtual for the other 50%. Then we also have a Plan C, a hybrid where all students can learn both virtually and in person. “

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