Returning 6th-12th Grade At School Learners to 5 days a week

TO:            Superintendent’s Update to SPS Students, Parents and Guardians

 

FROM:      Dr. Tad Everett, Superintendent of Schools

 

DATE:       March 26, 2021

 

SUBJECTS:      Returning 6th-12th Grade At School Learners to 5 days a week

 

Returning 6th - 12th Grade At School Learners to Five Days a Week

At Wednesday night’s board of education meeting, I informed the board that I have made the decision to return all of our 6th through 12th grade At School Learners to five days a week. The following is a FAQ we will use to communicate this information.

Who does this decision impact?

This decision is only for CMS and SHS students who attend At School Learning.

Those students who are currently in our At Home Learning program will remain fully remote for the remainder of the school year. Additionally, since they already attend five days a week, this decision does not change anything for our PreK-5 elementary students.

When will the 5 days a week schedule begin?

Our CMS & SHS At School Learners will begin coming five days a week on the Tuesday after Easter Break. That date is Tuesday, April 6, 2021. 

Will this change the daily schedule?

No, we will remain in our current schedule, with each school maintaining its same start and end times. We are doing this so that we can continue our stringent daily cleaning protocols after students exit the building.  

 

Why was this decision made?

At the February 24, 2021, Board of Education meeting, I publicly commented that I wanted to look into the possibility of having 6th - 12th grade At School Learners attend five days a week. Since that time, I have been gathering data and soliciting stakeholder’s feedback, all for the purpose of determining if this is an appropriate decision. Specifically, I focused on the following four questions to make this decision: 

  • Does our current health data support us returning to five days a week?

  • Is there any student academic data that would support us needing to return to five days a week?

  • Do our CMS and SHS Staff Members support this decision?  

  • What do our students and parents have to say about returning to five days a week?

Over the last four weeks, I have been able to answer these four questions. The following details the information I gathered, which led to the rationale for my decision.

Does our current health data support us returning to five days a week?

Yes, our data definitely shows evidence that we have a healthy environment for students to return to learning five days a week. We collect and report four pieces of Covid data, daily. This data can be viewed on our school app, or on our website at this live link: SPS Covid-19 Data

All four areas of our Covid data remain to be extremely positive. Here’s a summary of that data:

SPS’ Student Positivity Rate:

  • We are in our 14th straight week of “Green”

  • Average rate since January 1st is .11>#/p###

SPS’ Student Quarantine Rate:

  • We are in our 14th straight week of “Green”

  • Average rate since January 1st is 4.69>#/p###

SPS’ Staff Positivity Rate:

  • We are in our 4th straight week of “Green”

  • Average rate since January 1st is .2>#/p###

SPS’ Staff Quarantine Rate:

  • We are in our 27th straight week of “Green”

  • Average rate since January 1st is 2.36>#/p###

To add to this health data, SPS has been very aggressive with its Covid staff vaccinations. To date, 292 of our staff members are either completely vaccinated, or have had their first dose and are awaiting their 2nd dose on 3/26 and 4/9. 

Is there any student academic data that would support us needing to return to five days a week?

Unfortunately, yes there is data that supports this return. I asked SHS Principal, Mr. Jason Austin, to compile data on the number of SHS Students who are currently failing at least one of their core academic classes. He provided the following information:

  • 11% of SHS’ Students are currently failing their English class

  • 14% of SHS’ Students are currently failing their Math class 

  • 16% of SHS’ Freshman are failing one of their required Core classes

I also asked CMS Principal, Mrs. Lindsy Stumpenhorst, to compile the same data and she provided the following information:

  • 10% of CMS’ Students are currently failing their English-Language Arts class

  • 9% CMS’ Students are currently failing their Math class 

  • There are 348 total F’s at CMS during 3rd quarter

 

The significance of this SHS and CMS academic data is enormously important. It shows that we have a number of students who are failing their ELA and/or Math classes. Though not shown, we also have a high number of students failing their Science and Social Studies courses. The reason this information is so important is due to the fact that this directly impacts our most important piece of student data, our high school graduation rate. If students are falling behind, and not on track to promote or graduate, it has a direct negative impact on their ability to graduate high school. The national research on this topic could not be more clear. If interested in seeing this research, here is a peer reviewed journal article on this very topic: Keeping Students on Track to Graduate: A Synthesis of School Dropout Trends, Prevention, and Intervention Initiatives. 

 

My hope and desire is that we will spend the last eight weeks of this school year getting our students who are struggling academically the support they need to pass their classes. Having them here five days a week, instead of two or three days a week, gives those students a much higher chance of being academically successful.    

Do our CMS & SHS Staff Members support this decision?  

Though not unanimous, there is definitive CMS & SHS Staff support for returning to five days a week. Evidence of this fact came from our two secondary principals who solicited feedback from their staff members. 

Mr. Austin and his team did not formally survey staff, but they talked to staff members in their PLC (professional learning communities) meetings and followed up in a whole staff meeting. He reported the following results:

  • 100% of staff were in favor of moving to 5 days a week

    • 64 SHS Staff Members provided their opinion on this topic   

Mrs. Stumpenhorst conducted a google survey with the CMS Staff. She reported the following:

  • All but four staff members were in favor of moving to 5 days a week

    • 44 CMS Staff Members completed the surveyed

      • 9% responded, “No, I do not support moving to 5 days a week” 

      • 32% responded, “Yes, but I have some reservations”

      • 60% responded, “Yes, I support moving to 5 days a week”

 

What do our students and parents have to say about returning to five days a week?

After this topic became public on February 24th, students and parents started sending me their feedback and opinions. Though I did not ask for this formal feedback, in the last four weeks I have received 84 parent emails and approximately a dozen phone calls on the topic. Additionally, I received 43 student emails pertaining to this particular topic. 100% of this parent and student communication supported moving back to a five day school week. To be honest, that surprised me. It is a rare occasion where I do not receive communication on both sides of an issue, but to date, that has not occurred. 

Another item that surprised me was the large number of these parental communications that referenced why they wanted their child to return to a five-day school schedule. There was one theme that emerged over and over, and that was that parents were seeing significant social-emotional issues in their children. Parents repeatedly stated they had never seen mental issues in their children and were now seeing anxiety, anger and depression. Many talked about having to seek professional and pharmaceutical assistance for their child. I mention this, because even though it is anecdotal data, it is a very important piece of this decision. Our students are struggling socially and emotionally, and going back to school five days a week will help them battle these SEL issues.

 

Changes to IDPH’s School Guidance

Though I was not pursuing this information, earlier this month the Illinois Department of Public Health lessened its restrictions on social distancing in schools. Under the previous guidance documents, schools were limited to a minimum number of students and/or adults in one setting. Under the new IDPH school guidance, “Capacity limits for in-person learning and associated activities are now determined by the space’s ability to accommodate social distancing -- not a set capacity limit number or percentage. For in-person learning, schools can now operate at a social distance of no less than 3 feet, but still must ensure universal masking.” 

 

This new language provides us the opportunity to once again have normal size classes, where in the past it really restricted this scenario. If interested, all of IDPH’s new school guidance can be found by visiting this page on their website: School Guidance | IDPH

Summary statement

As the superintendent of schools, I have made the decision to bring our 6th grade through 12th grade At School Learners back, five days a week starting Tuesday, April 6, 2021. The reason for this decision is based on the following items:

  • The SPS Staff supports it

  • The SPS Administrative Team unanimously supports it 

  • The SPS Covid data has been good for the entire semester, and shows evidence that it is a safe environment in which to return

  • A high percentage of the SPS Staff are fully vaccinated with even more receiving their 2nd doses by April 6th

  • The CMS & SHS academic data shows that students are failing their classes and need more academic support. Returning five days a week will better provide that support. 

  • CMS & SHS Parents support it

  • CMS & SHS Students are struggling with SEL issues, and coming back to school five days a week will better support them.

Closing Comments

I have received lots of staff communication from students and parents over the last few

weeks. I greatly appreciate those who have taken the time to express their views and opinions. If you still have questions or comments for me, and would like to convey those, please feel free to email me at your convenience. You can do so at teverett@sps5.org.  Go Warriors, Tad