Don’t cue up the Alice Cooper classic “School’s Out” just yet: Officials at the South Dakota Department of Education continue rolling out the education, despite everyone at home.
With the newest announcement from Gov. Kristi Noem, schools are closed until May 1, but learning is still a thing, especially in the capital area’s schools.
“I commend educators for the myriad ways I see them confronting the challenges posed by these sudden, extended school closures,” state Department of Education Information Specialist Ruth Raveling wrote. “They have eagerly stepped up to do the best for their students in this unprecedented time.”
Both capital area districts, Pierre and Stanley County, are working to make sure their kids all get the same message and care.
“I can tell you that the staff members on both sides of the (Missouri) River have been working hard to prepare relevant education opportunities available,” Pierre School District Superintendent Dr. Kelly Glodt wrote. “Our staff, from food service, custodial, support staff, teachers, principals, and directors have been amazing and continue to impress as they adapt quickly to all challenges they face.”
Across the river, in unison and functioning under the same stated singular purpose, Stanley County School District Superintendent Daniel Hoey echoed Glodt’s message.
“It is no surprise that I am in complete agreement with Dr. Glodt,” Hoey wrote. “The ferocity of change and the ramp-up to get to where we are has been nothing short of incredible. Though our districts serve the same functions educationally, our fundamental size difference produces unique opportunities for each. I have solid faith that each will address and work through things in a professional, fundamentally sound and caring manner.
The Capital Journal asked both superintendents and some principals about the new conditions and situation going on in response to closures. Each administrator received the same questions regarding distance education, technology, assessments signposts and what the future looks like.
Below are the responses, so far, from Georgia Morse Middle School, T.F. Riggs High School and Hoey.
It is still a developing situation, like life sometimes, where skill sets are expanded while physical distances are contracted.
No matter the side of the river, the discourse is the same. Teachers miss their kids and parents wonder how the teachers deal with their kids every day, along with their neighbors’ kids too.
Pierre School District
Georgia Morse Middle School Principal Dr. Kyley Cumbow
Pierre T.F. Riggs High School Principal Kevin Mutchelknaus
Q: 1. Are you having trouble rolling out the distance education programs in your middle/high schools?
Cumbow: “I have zero concern with my staff being able to do online instruction. Their ability to do this has been incorporated into our middle school for a while now. The challenge, though, is making sure that 100% of our students have access to online instruction. Midco is doing amazing things for some of our families but getting all of our 700 students connected is quite a feat, but this is where our focus is right now.”
Mutchelknaus: “We have very few hiccups and feel like we have jumped to a good start. As the closure continues, the challenge will be to sustain momentum.”
Q: 2. How are middle/high school teachers adjusting to teaching online? Are there any issues?
Cumbow: “Refer to the above answer. My teachers are rock stars with technology.”
Mutchelknaus: “Teachers have adjusted very well and are going above and beyond to ensure that they are providing meaningful learning experiences for our students.”
Q: 3. What is the biggest challenge middle school teachers face going forward?
Cumbow: “In all honesty, it will be not having that physical contact with their students. We are educators and in the teaching profession because we are people persons and having that taken away so drastically is hard for the teacher’s heart. I talked to my staff today and acknowledged that they put their heart and soul into what they do and that this is nowhere near an ideal situation for them to try to do what they need to do with our students, but I do not doubt that the staff will rise to the occasion.”
Mutchelknaus: “We have always prided ourselves on the level of rigor that is expected from our teachers and students. We continue to maintain high expectations during this challenging time and have most certainly placed our focus on meaningful learning experiences and not so much on assessment. By focusing on learning and not assessment, we can assure that students own their education and will be ready to move forward academically next fall.
Q: 4. How are you making sure the level of education gets out there? While the test-out at the end of the year if not going to happen, it has been waived, and it will be hard to make sure standards are met, what level are you setting for your middle school kids? What will you expect from them regardless of the state’s final say?
Cumbow: “I guess from our perspective, we use the different assessments, including the state assessment, to determine our accomplishments and where we still need to go. With that being said, our teachers have worked so hard and focused on the essential standards for three quarters that this is not the “end of the world.” Although not ideal, we will make it work. I think in a time like this, the school system needs to look at it just like that, as a system where this current state of affairs will more than likely result in some gaps in learning but our teachers will be ready to make that up in the fall. Looking at it as a process instead of a one year snapshot helps keep things in perspective.”
Mutchelknaus: “At this point, we have asked teachers to prepare to deliver electronically for the remainder of the year and if we are fortunate enough to come back in May, we will make the adjustment back to the regular classroom.”
Q: 5. What goals are you setting for your middle/high school kids and teachers to achieve?
Cumbow: “I have tried to communicate with our families and parents, because we know that this is considerably more stress on our parents to all of a sudden be more responsible for the education of their child, that we do not want to overwhelm them or their student. Our first goal is that our students remain mentally and physically healthy. We want their family units to become stronger because of this. Not everything is graded with a letter grade, and there will be some great skills developed because of this experience. I appreciated the post that was shared about students that experienced the last couple hurricanes in America and how they have also become successful and happy adults.”
6. Are there signpost goals set for each week, or just to make it to May for the middle/high school?
Cumbow: “Not sure what this one refers to, but we have daily learning activities that are being shared with students through multiple online programs, the most popular being Googleclassroom. Because the (middle school) teachers have prioritized what standards our students absolutely need to have in their foundation for the next grade level, that is where the focus will be. On a side note, googleclassroom was used almost daily for most students at GMMS before all of this.”
Q: 7. What do you think May will look like for middle/high school?
Cumbow: “Hopefully, sunny and social.”
Q: 8. Are any of your middle/high school teachers or staff quarantined or infected?
Cumbow: “Not that I am aware of… as far as official, but we have plenty of staff that are self-quarantining because they are in different groups that are more at risk right now.”
Mutchelknaus: “I have not heard from any teachers experiencing symptoms or quarantined outside of what the governor has recommended. I do not know of anyone being tested for the virus.”
Stanley County School District
Stanley County School District Superintendent Daniel Hoey
Q: 1. Are you having trouble rolling out the distance education programs in your schools?
Hoey: “As with any new challenge, there is a learning curve involved. A classroom teacher’s first year is typically not as effective as their fifth, 10th or 20th. The teaching staff is making incredible strides and is “all in” to continue the delivery of the teaching/learning experience. All that has changed is the method of delivery.”
Q: 2. How are teachers adjusting to teaching online? Are there any issues?
Hoey: “The attitudes and responses have been nothing short of staggering. Is there a learning curve? Yes. Has it been at times, a sharp one? Yes. And, it bears repeating, the Stanley County staff has stepped up in a phenomenal effort to continue to provide for the students and families of our district.”
Q: 3. What is the biggest challenge you face going forward?
Hoey: “Simply adjusting to a new model of deliverance. The resources are available. The staff is poised to serve. Now the challenge is to deliver. And quite simply, we miss our kids.”
Q: 4. How are you making sure the level of education gets out there? While the test-out at the end of the year if not going to happen, it has been waived, and it will be hard to make sure standards are met, what level are you setting for your kids? What will you expect from them regardless of the state’s final say?
Hoey: “From the onset of the present challenge, we have worked toward the expectation that the rigor present before will remain present during and after. Again, same expectations remain. Teachers are continuing to monitor and deliver instruction based on the South Dakota state content standards. Quality input produces quality output. Our staff provides no less; our students will respond in kind.”
Q: 5. What goals are you setting for your kids and teachers to achieve?
Hoey: “Constancy and regularity of contact is a big one for us. School is, beyond the educational aspect, a social experience. Daily maintenance of relationships are vital for both students and staff.”
Q: 6. Are there signpost goals set for each week, or just to make it to May?
Hoey: “Goals and waypoints are vital for all in the educational process. Goals will be set at appropriate intervals as the time passes.”
Q: 7. What do you think May will look like for school?
Hoey: “I would be remiss to hazard a guess. The constancy of change and the speed at which things have been updated is staggering.”
8. Are any of your teachers or staff quarantined or infected?