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Galena School Board reviews e-learning plan

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GALENA–Galena School Board members got an overview of the district’s new e-learning plan, a response to the COVID-19 school closures, during a special meeting Wednesday, March 18 in the Galena Middle School commons.

Board members, sitting at individual tables to practice social distancing, had plenty of questions for Steve Bianchetta and Craig Mathers, interim superintendents, about the plan that will move ahead full force if school remains out of session indefinitely.

The plan was forwarded to the Regional Office of Education in Freeport, and then to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) for approval.

Bianchetta explained that the 10-page document was based on a template from Tim Vincent, who will assume superintendent duties in Galena on July 1 and is currently director of curriculum in the DeKalb School District.

Bianchetta also noted the Galena Federation of Teachers (GFT) was great at collaborating with administration in rolling out the plan and offering to assist teachers who may not have a strong background with the technology aspect.

The number-one priority from the state, Mathers said in explaining the situation, is that there be a continuity of education to stop the student “brain drain.” E-learning plans were initially intended for snow days, certainly not for extended periods of time.

He added that details from ISBE of how districts should handle this pandemic situation change daily, but the overall message has been for districts to do what works best for their community.

Although the plan indicates five hours of work should be pushed out each day, that requirement has been relaxed; students will not receive that much work, Bianchetta said. The challenge for staff will be to hit the “sweet spot,” with assigning enough work but not too much.

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Attendance will be taken daily, Bianchetta said, mostly as a way to check in with students and make sure they are doing okay.

All staff–certified and non-certified–will continue to receive their salaries and benefits. Some staff will report, such as custodians, while others will remain at home, Mathers said.

Bianchetta shared how teachers would log-in to the system from home each morning at 8 a.m. and then have assignments posted by 8:30 a.m. Teachers will be available to answer questions from students and teachers until 12:30 p.m. After a lunch break, there is time for collaboration with colleagues until 2 p.m. Parents should be aware that teachers will respond to emails as soon as possible; the response will likely not be immediate.

The plan also lays out duties of counselors, specialists, special education-related services, principals, the school nurse and secretaries. Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings for students will continue to take place.

Mathers noted that Jamie Schubert, food service director, is finalizing plans for a grab and go breakfast and lunch plan that will be offered free to all students.

Staff will report to assist with the food preparation out of the high school kitchen. ISBE has indicated the cost to the district for operating that program, as well as any transportation costs, will be reimbursed.

One office will remain open each day, per the state, Bianchetta said.

Bianchetta emphasized that an e-learning plan is certainly not a substitute for face-to-face classroom instruction, and it will likely be better for middle and high school age students and more difficult for the primary level students. At the primary level, work will likely be more review of already-presented concepts.

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