by Mike Knaak
After the first three days of distance learning, Sartell-St. Stephen school leaders evaluated how the district is handling the coronavirus pandemic during a school board working session April 1.
While technology issues early in the week were a concern, school board members discussed deeper and long-term challenges of continuing education with schools closed.
Schoology, the software the district uses to create, manage and share materials, essentially ground to a halt nationwide as usage skyrocketed on March 30. Problems continued through April 1. Schoology usage jumped 400 percent nationwide, according to Kyle Breitkreutz, director of technology.
For households that don’t have high-speed internet, the district acquired 40 hotspots so families that either can’t afford or don’t have access can connect.
“We are in a major learning curve. The most exciting thing that’s happened this week is the thrill of kids connecting with their teachers and each other,” said Kay Nelson, assistant superintendent.
High school students created this video to thank their teachers.
Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert asked each board member to share what they’ve experienced as parents and what they’ve heard from the community.
The board agreed parents and staff have been positive in a very stressful time. Common comments included where to put everyone in families with multiple students at home, how the district can help parents supervise their child’s work and how to provide student-to-student communication, especially for older students, who are more likely to ask a friend for help rather than a teacher.
Board member Patrick Marushin would like to see feedback from parents and staff.
“What are we adjusting as we go along?” Marushin asked. He said he wants to see continuous improvement.
The district has served about 1,500 meals a day that are picked up at the Middle School, according to Joe Prom, director of business services.
Marushin, who works at home and has children at home, said the free meals have been a huge weight off of him and other parents. In addition the district is delivering about 100 meals a day.
Schwiebert described the attendance this week as “incredible,” Schwiebert said. The Middle School had three kids who didn’t connect on Monday.
“It’s going well in the first week” Schwiebert said. “What will it be like in week six? How can we keep kids motivated and enthusiastic? What will happen over time?”
The board and Schwiebert also want to come up with ideas to help seniors mark their final year in school including traditional events like awards ceremonies and graduation if the school is still shut down.
Schwiebert said a decision on graduation has to wait until Gov. Tim Walz makes a decision. Now schools are shut down until May 4 unless Walz issues another order to extend distance learning.
“How do we recognize kids in their final year and bring the community back together?” Schwiebert asked.