ITHACA, N.Y. — October’s first Ithaca City School District Board of Education meeting allowed teachers to present some of their experiences during the first week of in-person classes, highlighting the wide range of problems and solutions they’ve encountered so far.
Joined by newly elected student representatives who will be contributing to the meetings going forward and a pair of teachers selected to discuss their coronavirus era teaching methods, the board heard a pointed but balanced assessment of the district’s chosen path forward so far, which began with online learning on Sept. 13 and started in-person classes on Oct. 5. You can watch the entire meeting at this link and see the meeting agenda here.
Inside the Classroom
Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown began by effusively praising the job that teachers have done under the conditions, noting that he was pleased that the feedback from parents during that night’s public comment section had been primarily aimed at administrators and decision-makers who aren’t in classrooms every day as opposed to instructors.
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“(Teachers) have been asked to change their instructional delivery model overnight (…) and they’ve done it and they’ll get better each and every day,” Brown said. “If you are one of those folks who choose to still criticize and choose sides and blame and judge, please continue to do that at me or administration, because our teachers deserve your support and empathy at this moment.”
District Deputy Superintendent Lily Talcott presentation on distance learning, the results of a review by the district’s curriculum committee. She recounted the smaller and larger extra elements that have been implemented during the first several weeks of school and tentative ways they plan to continue expanding those services. Those have included blended learning professional development, partnering with TST-BOCES, the simultaneous blended learning teacher pilot program (to assist with synchronous learning schedules), enhanced technology for virtual learning delivery, real-time in-building tech support for teachers, and more, plus collaboration among teachers throughout the district.
Talcott then invited Cayuga Heights Elementary teacher Kathy DeLucia and Ithaca High School teacher Matt Prokosch to speak about their experiences. Both were frank in their assessments, admitting that there have been frequent roadblocks to their lesson plans, but that they have been able to modify their procedures on the fly.
“We’re not doing anything that we knew we were going to do, we started from scratch,” DeLucia said, complimenting the flexibility of the school’s new principal in allowing teachers to be creative with their lesson delivery plans.
DeLucia detailed a day in the life of her teaching during the pandemic, taking the board through the students logging on or coming into school and each lesson taught by her and her fellow teacher Sierra Meyers. Prokosch followed DeLucia, partially praising the hybrid learning model for allowing him to have students in person at times. Yet he made a point to emphasize his wish that better methods are cultivated going forward, asking (or, perhaps more accurately, wishing) that either fully in-person or fully online learning be employed to allow him to more effectively teach.
He said juggling in-person and virtual learning has been the most difficult part of the new school year, particularly because students who are in the classroom must still be logged onto the online learning platform in order to engage with the lessons. He also talked about trying to cater to students’ social and emotional needs by inviting them to share good news at the beginning of classes or bring their pets on camera with them.
Both teachers fielded questions from the board about how they can be better supported and more nuanced specifics about their efforts to keep students engaged during the next several months. The hope, obviously, is that schools will be able to return in the spring, but that seems very tenuous as cases begin to rise again locally. Another survey will likely be distributed to district families prior to that time to re-check their feelings about whether or not their children will attend in-person classes or opt for distance learning.
The board approved a coronavirus-centric addendum to its code of conduct, making adjustments that they hope will better adapt to the current learning environment under the pandemic and the social needs of students in the district. The addendum specifically aims to address inequities that have arisen or been highlighted as a result of the distance learning protocols that have been put in place. It implements changes to attendance policy, homework, mask-wearing, dress codes, academic participation metrics, homework assignments and athletics, with varying degrees of specificity. The full addendum can be read here.
“The culture has no chance of changing if the policy isn’t changed first,” Brown said.
Eversley Bradwell noted that historically, codes of conduct are written in order to protect school districts from potential litigation, but that this addendum has a different focus.
“What we’ve tried to do is write an addendum that is not to protect the school district, but is to support students,” Eversley Bradwell said.
The update passed unanimously.
A data security policy was also introduced to little debate or discussion, and passed unanimously. It requires the district’s third-party partners to guarantee the security of student data via contract, something mandated by New York State.
- Brown announced the advancement of the district’s Advisory Council on Critical Race Theory and Ethnic Studies, saying the council would be meeting in November to examine state standards and how they interact with the district’s current policies, with the ultimate goal of “engineer(ing) a more meaningful experience for all of our young people when it comes to these critical issues.”
- The Board approved the sending of a letter to local media providing an update to the public on the school district’s financial standing and how it might be impacted if New York State withholds 20 percent of its annual aid to school districts, which has been widely discussed.
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