SASD hears families concerns to district’s COVID response
Superintendent for Sparta Area School District (SASD) Dr. Amy Van Deuren has maintained throughout the course of the current pandemic that the safety of staff and students is the district’s top priority. To gauge how parents and staff are feeling about the district’s handling of the pandemic, a survey was sent out and two virtual meetings were held.
The staff meeting was completely optional and voluntary and over 100 staff members attended while about 120 parents attended the community meeting. There were 131 staff responses to the survey that was sent out and 441 parents responded.
One question asked in the survey was, “how would you describe your satisfaction with the district’s overall handling of the pandemic?” Of staff, 95.3 percent responded, “somewhat or very satisfied” and 4.7 percent responded, “somewhat or very dissatisfied.”
Parents were a little more evenly divided and 55.3 percent responded, “somewhat or very satisfied” and 44.7 percent responded, “somewhat or very dissatisfied.”
“I think that’s one of the things that has made this issue such a challenge is that there are so many different perceptions,” Van Deuren said.
Parents and staff were also asked what their level of agreement with the district's in-building learning model and Sparta Virtual Learning Academy option for students was.
Almost 91 percent of staff responded, “somewhat or very satisfied” and just over nine percent were “somewhat dissatisfied,” while parents were almost split 60/40.
Parents and staff were then asked to identify one thing that was going well. Some of the staff responses included that students have been more engaged than they were last spring, staff felt more prepared for virtual learning this fall, many staff found having students in building for the first three weeks of school very helpful and staff feel safer learning virtually.
Some of the parents’ responses included that they feel their children are safer at home, the virtual classes seem to work well and the teachers are doing a great job. Another common response to what is going well was, “nothing.”
“We know there are some struggles and there were enough of those responses that it merited mentioning,” Van Deuren said, adding that most parents are appreciative that the health of staff and students is being considered. “Overall they’re noting that things have been much better than last spring, which is very positive.”
Participants in the survey were also asked to identify one thing that needs adjustment or extra support.
Both staff and families said the week-by-week decision of whether or not learning will remain virtual is difficult. Van Deuren said that allowing the virus and the science behind it to guide that decision makes it difficult to predict more than a week out.
District families also indicated they need help with technology and several staff members acknowledged that as well and expressed frustration that they can’t always be as helpful as they would like to be.
“It is hard for our staff to see how difficult this is for some families,” Van Deuren said, adding that some parents responded that their child’s mental health is suffering.
The overwhelming comments from parents was that they want their students back in school. There were several comments from parents indicating they receive too many emails, their kids have too many Zoom meetings and too much work while others said there weren’t enough.
Several other families said virtual learning just isn’t working for their family, especially amongst working families.
The final question on the survey was, “What do you want the Board of Education to know?”
“Staff want the board to know that this work is hard. Teachers and staff really are doing everything they can,” Van Deuren said. “They’re working harder than they’ve ever worked.”
Staff also expressed gratitude toward the school board for considering their health and safety as well as students’.
Parents want the board to know that they want their kids back in school and that they want the board to consider planning more than one week at a time while others thanked the board for “listening to the science.”
On Wednesday, SASD received confirmation from the Monroe County Health Department (MCHD) that Monroe County is still in RED and that Sparta accounts for 63 percent of positive cases over the past seven days.
October is already the highest month on record for cases in Monroe County, with 400 as of Wednesday compared to 143 in July, 75 in August and 304 in September.
Based on the guidance from the MCHD and conditions throughout the communities that comprise the SASD, the district will be in RED for the week of Oct. 26 - Nov. 1 and will continue with 100 percent online learning in accordance with the district’s in-building learning plan.
“There is no one size fits all solution. There was lots of recognition of effort and good work but we also have some significant pinch points like technology barriers,” Van Deuren said. “Our working families are overloaded and struggling and many of our students are struggling.”
Following the survey, the district will continue to address individual student and family issues at the teacher and school level. Building principals, school counselors and teachers are currently trying to make better connections with students.
The district also plans to use some of its COVID-19 funding to put together a technology help desk for district families.
“We’re still in unprecedented times and we’re still learning as we go; that part hasn’t changed. The trajectory of the virus is still unknown, but we do have a pretty good idea that it’s not going a good direction in these parts and many parts of the country,” Van Deuren said.
“The continuing question for us is, how do we maximize safety and options within our budget and within our existing staffing? It's not as simple as anyone who wants to come into the building can and the ones that want to go virtual can because there are staffing and other issues to consider.”