distance learning

Is there a safe way to open TE Schools on August 31? What will our schools look like (or what should they look like)?

To go back or not to go back – that’s the question on many T/E School District parents’ minds as we inch closer to August 31 and the beginning of a new school year.

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the District into a crash course in online education. And from what I have heard from parents, “remote learning” did not go well, to put it politely. Parents did a yeoman’s job in supporting the learning needs of their children while trying to balance their many other responsibilities during this very challenging time. However, it appears that many kids did not get close to what they needed during the shutdown and parents have reported student progress stalled significantly during that time period.

Distance learning placed a strain on all involved – it’s seriously second-best to real, in-person instruction. Ask any teacher, student or – maybe most of all – parent who tried to make it work.  Keeping kids home and teaching them remotely is feasible for the short term. It is not, for the vast majority of families, a state of affairs that can continue indefinitely without causing serious strain. Most households simply aren’t set up to home school for extended periods of time. Remote learning is a poor substitute for in-person teaching and by most accounts; America’s great remote-learning experiment was a failure.

Too much learning has already been lost because of the abrupt school shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Students have lost ground and schools need to reopen. More kids will do better if schools reopen than if they continue online-only classes.

From the TESD website, “At the end of the school year, the District conducted a survey of parents, students in grades 5-12 and teachers to collect feedback on their experiences during spring 2020 distance learning and their thoughts related to future programming. … The District received 2,822 responses to the survey from verified parents, 743 responses from students and 282 responses from teachers.”

The TESD Distance Learning Survey results dated June 8 indicated that of the parents responding to the survey, 66% were interested in their children returning to school when it reopened (assuming safety protocol is followed), 18% preferred home schooling and 17% were undecided.  As the countdown nears for schools to reopen, it would be curious to know where parents currently stand on the issue.

The New York Times recently reported that, “New research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind where they would have been if they had stayed in classrooms, with some losing the equivalent of a full school years’ worth of academic gains. … Racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections and direct instruction from teachers.”

As parents anxiously wait for schools to reopen, the biggest questions on everyone’s mind are how that can happen safely. At the last TESD school board meeting on June 29, the public was told that the District was working on reopening details for the 2020-21 school year; and that there was a plan for students to return to school or to continue to learn remotely.

Although specifics on the reopening plan were minimal at the June 29 meeting, the administration confirmed they were working on the details and that the plan would be available by the July school board meeting.  It was then surprising to learn that the administration held a preemptive secret meeting this past week on Thursday, July 9 at Valley Forge Elementary School regarding its reopening plans. Although a select group of school district parents was invited to attend the small meeting, the criteria for their inclusion was unclear. TE school board president Michele Burger also attended the meeting.

The special meeting to discuss reopening plans was not listed on the District website, no agenda was published and attendees were asked not to videotape.  However, one of the parents who attended the secret meeting provided a Zoom online update for Valley Forge Middle School parents later in the day (with an estimated fifty interested parents logging in). It would be helpful if parents who attended the in-person meeting (or via Zoom online) could provide us with the District’s update on its reopening plans.

With many parents anxious for updates on the District’s plans – you have to wonder why the secrecy. We know the reopening of TESD schools will follow the guidelines of the state as set forth by CDC (Center for Disease Control) — just not sure, that hand-selecting attendees for a secret meeting was the state’s intended process or approach.  Inclusivity, communication and transparency are critical if the District is to safely reopen its schools.

How many of you remember the transportation fiasco when schools opened last August? With new delayed school start times, parents endured late buses, repeated changes in schedules, poor or non-existent communication from the transportation department and/or administration and some of those problems lingered until December. The TESD community cannot afford a similar outcome if the District schools are to successfully reopen on August 31.

To reopen schools during the coronavirus pandemic is extremely challenging and parents need reassurance that the classrooms are safe. The “Devil’s in the details” and how well the District’s administration and school board communicate the reopening details is key to success!

From the TESD website is the following schedule regarding the District’s reopening plans:

Week of July 20, 2020  TESD will present a draft of the fall reopening plan and will provide additional opportunities for input from stakeholders.

Week of July 27, 2020  The Board will schedule a special virtual meeting to consider approval of the final fall reopening plan.

Early August 2020  Families will make the decision and commitment either to attend school following health and safety guidelines or to participate in distance learning. School officials will begin implementation of the Board-approved plan.

August 31, 2020  Scheduled First Day of School for grades 1-12.

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In TESD, Say NO to 2.6% Tax Increase & Say NO To Eliminating ERB Testing in the 2020-21 Budget

There is a virtual TESD finance committee meeting tonight at 7 PM (click here for agenda).

Across the state, school districts are approving 2020-21 budgets with zero tax increase, why not TESD.  As it now stands, the District budget includes a 2.6% tax increase; the largest permitted by the Act 1 guideline. Should the school board move forward with this tax increase, it will mark the 16th straight year of a tax increase to the District’s residents!

School board, how can you raise property taxes to people who are losing their incomes?

The entire world has been turned upside down. Because of the Covid-19 crisis, we are all suffering; residents have lost their jobs, local businesses are “hanging on by their fingernails” and almost all of us are in worse financial shape. Now is not the right time to raise property taxes.

We understand that freezing property taxes at their current rate is challenging but now is not the time for a tax increase as our residents struggle in the midst of an uncertain future.  To avoid a tax increase in 2020-21 budgets, other PA school districts are utilizing a variety of savings solutions such as freezing wages for its employees for one year, scaling back or putting projects on hold or increasing its fund balance transfer amount.  What is TESD current fund balance … 40 million?

One of the cost savings contained in the proposed 2020-21 budget which I DO NOT support is to eliminate ERB CPT testing for a one year savings of $85,000.  A form of assessment to guide instruction and reading, ERB testing has been used in the District for many years to measure students’ progress.

With Covid-19 requiring the closure of schools and the launching of distance learning, ERB testing becomes MORE important as a consistent tool for families to review the progress of their children.  There has been much discussed about the District’s distance learning program during these last few months with the consensus not entirely positive, particularly in the lower grades.  Although it remains unclear what the TE schools will look like in September; there is a real possibility that some form of distance learning will need to continue.

Having the ability to measure the impact of Covid-19 on the District’s students is serious; making the ability to review and analyze the ERB testing data critical. With the continuance of distance learning a real possibility and to better prepare its students, now is not the time to eliminate ERB testing.  Budget savings should not come at a cost to our students.

In you OPPOSE a 2.6% tax increase and/or if you OPPOSE the elimination of ERB testing in the TESD 2020-21 budget, you need to act now. Please send your comments with your name and town to Virtualfinancecomment@tesd.net by 6 PM tonight.

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