Fall semester a ’mixed bag’ for schools, students
The 2020 spring semester for local schools was chaotic ( just like it was for the rest of the country) with a mad dash to quickly transition to virtual learning.
However, going into fall, school districts formulated a plan for the non-traditional school year. Now that winter break is over, local schools have sat down with the Tribune to reflect on how students are performing.
Incline High School principal Andrew Yoxsimer said the semester was a “mixed bag,” for students.
“Some are doing well, but many are really struggling,” Yoxsimer said, adding that he’s not really seeing a trend in which students are doing better. “Our absentee rate is way up as are our Fs. Some straight A students in the past are now struggling academically and emotionally. Those who were struggling before are now really struggling, while a handful are doing really well. Some kids from strong families with all the support in the world are dropping off the radar and parents are at a loss as to what to do, while others are doing just fine.”
Yoxsimer said engagement is the biggest issue and while operating in a hybrid model helps, it’s no replacement for in person learning.
One parent of a South Tahoe High School student said just like for parents working from home, the novelty of remote learning has worn off.
“The difficulties with remote learning are what anyone would expect,” Kristie Nauman said. “Not being able to lean over to ask a classmate for clarification of something that a teacher explained, not having the ‘team feel’ of being in a classroom, not being able to linger after class to ask questions, not having a personal connection to a teacher that you’d have if you knew them in-person, not being able to vent to your buddies between classes so you’re refreshed and reset for the next class, not being able to look forward to lunch time to reconnect to your peers, being distracted by their home-life activities that they wouldn’t have access to if they were at school.”
Nauman said there has been a compounding of issues; she’s also working from home and feels disconnected from her students’ work because of her own workload. There have been technical issues, both with the school’s systems and with home internet. Overall, it seems like her student’s grades are lower than usual.
Despite all of the issues, she said she does not see this as a fault of the school district.
“This is all unprecedented and everyone (district staff, IT, school staff, teachers, students, parents) is doing the very best they can in circumstances that have been out of anyone’s control,” Nauman said. “I feel like they’ve rallied to get this off of the ground in record time, and any difficulties (technical or otherwise) should not only be expected, but deserve a gracious reaction from end users who only see a small portion of the issues that they deal with constantly.”
Lake Tahoe Unified School District Superintendent Todd Cutler said despite the less than ideal circumstances, he’s proud of how well the students and staff have adjusted.
The elementary schools and middle schools had transitioned into hybrid learning when cases in the county spiked again in November, leading the district to quickly move back into remote learning.
Cutler reported to the South Lake Tahoe City Council during their Jan. 5 meeting that one of the main reasons for going back to virtual and remaining that way was because of staffing issues. The day he presented to the council, eight staff members had tested positive.
“This is not what we planned for and yet, our staff has worked hard to make this the best possible situation,” Cutler said.
Cutler said he doesn’t want the focus to solely be on grades. Because of how much adjustments students, parents and staff have had to make this year, he doesn’t think D’s and F’s are a good indicator of how well students are actually doing.
South Tahoe High School principal Carline Sinkler is focusing on other successes.
“Adjustment is part of the learning process, these are the types of experiences they need to be successful in life,” Sinkler said. “They’ve demonstrated a level of problem solving, independence and resilience.”
Annamarie Cohen Director of Special Services at LTUSD says she’s seen that success not just at the high school, but all the way down to the preschoolers.
According to Cohen, mental health services have pivoted to become more proactive, preschool programs have created activities for families to do together and special education programs are running effectively.
“COVID gave us the opportunity to engage and shift our practices,” Cohen said.
Cutler also sees some positives to come out of COVID.
“We have the opportunity to look at gains and think of new ways of learning and engaging,” Cutler said.
Douglas County lake schools have also seen a positive boost because of COVID, especially in terms of enrollment.
“Enrollment is increasing at the Douglas County lake schools during COVID-19, possibly due to the in-person option we have compared to a hybrid or digital school model,” said Shawn Lear, principal of the lake schools. Douglas moved into in-person learning before other districts in the area and remained there.
Lear said Zephyr Cove Elementary School is up to 169 students and George Whittell High School is at 118 after starting the year at 107.
“Although our high school enrollment is down from pre-COVID-19 levels, we are seeing students return from other options and seeing some students new to the area,” Lear said. “We currently have 34 students in sixth grade that will move up to Whittell next fall. Our elementary enrollment has continued to grow in spite of COVID-19.”
Both Yoxismer and Cutler said they’d prefer to be fully in person and Douglas County is the poster child of why being in person is good.
“We are working diligently to meet all students academic and social needs and taking advantage of new technological resources from our district such as our teacher landing pages, Learning Plans to guide instruction, 1:1 chromebook ratio, Clever portal, i-Ready interventions for math and reading, and opportunity to teach students face-to-face each and every day,” Lear said. “We offer a monthly support group for students at Whittell and have new elective offerings available digitally via Edgenuity and our partnership grant with Lake Tahoe Community College.”
Still it’s not all rainbows and butterflies for the Douglas lake schools. Lear said they’ve experienced higher than usual staff turnover. They are in the process of hiring a full time K-12 counselor to serve both schools and an additional part time teaching assistant at ZCES. They are also still looking to hire a part time kitchen cashier at ZCES and additional bus drivers.
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