Sartell-St.Stephen distance learning gets generally good marks

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by Mike Knaak

A majority of parents are satisfied with how Sartell-St. Stephen schools are handling hybrid and distance learning this fall, but results of the district’s latest survey shows room for improvement in communication. And parents and educators agree they’d like to have students back in school full time.

The district received 1,270 responses, representing about a third of all students during the survey period from Oct. 29-Nov. 13. Parents were asked to fill out one survey for each child. School board members reviewed the results at the Nov. 16 board meeting.

Because of COVID-19, the district opened the school year with a combination of in-person and hybrid instruction but as of Nov. 16 switched all students to distance learning when infections increased dramatically in the last month. Distance learning will continue until at least Jan. 8.

Almost 64 percent of responses described the overall school year as Excellent or Good, with another 28.7 percent rating it is Fair. When asked to describe the adjustment to this school year, 45 percent said they are doing well while another 42.5 percent said they are adjusting, but it has been difficult.

Along with specific responses, the survey solicited more detailed comments. Kay Nelson, assistant superintendent, said there were many notes of gratitude for the staff. She called those comments “heartwarming. The community recognizes what our staff is doing.”

This is the fourth survey the district has conducted since distance learning started in March; how to keep all students challenged and moving ahead is a constant topic.

While more than 70 percent of respondents rated the amount of homework as Just Right, about equal numbers of parents thought it was Too Much (11.4 percent) or Too Little (9.8 percent).

Some 73.8 percent of parents said homework was Appropriately Challenging while 6.5 percent rated it Too Challenging and 10.1 percent said it was Not Challenging Enough. Parents want more work for higher achieving students who appear to be easily finishing their work in a short period of time, Nelson said.

“We need to think about who we are not challenging enough as well as those who think the work is too challenging,” Nelson said.

When rating the communication with families, nearly 90 percent rated the overall communication from the district as Just Right, while the Just Right rating for schools fell to 84.6 percent and the rating for individual classrooms fell to 76.1 percent.

Nelson said the rating of 22.6 percent as Too Little for classrooms is a concern. Nelson said staff has been asked to work on improving that.

School board member Patrick Marushin said the survey results on communication mirrored his experiences with his own four children who are in first, third, sixth and eighth grades.

Board member Amanda Byrd wondered if the classroom communication rating was consistent across all grades. Byrd and Marushin speculated that parents see less communication for their students in older grades. Byrd said the communication level is about the same as in “normal times.”

Nelson said administrators need to look more closely at the survey results to see how grade level affects the communication rating.

The amount of time spent on distance learning varies from two hours to seven hours a day. The responses:

  • Two to three hours, 9 percent;
  • Three to four hours, 9.9 percent;
  • Four to five hours, 17.1 percent;
  • Five to six hours 18 percent; and
  • Six to seven hours, 22.5 percent.

The vast majority of students are doing school work during typical school hours with 97 percent studying between 7-10 a.m. and/or  between 1-4 p.m. (36 percent). Only 6 percent hit the books between 7-10 p.m.

The survey does not help answer the question of when students will return to classrooms, but current health data indicates that won’t be any time soon.

The district’s most recent average 14-day case rate is 133.6. The Stearns County case rate updated Nov. 19 is 186.33. To return all students to even a hybrid mode, the case rate would have to drop below 30 per 10,000 people.

Some of the highest case-count growth per capita is happening in Central Minnesota. Social settings are driving the spread of COVID-19 with 71 percent of outbreaks attributed to gatherings in restaurants and bars or social settings such as weddings and funerals.

The district’s COVID-19 dashboard at tracks cases of student and staff infection. It’s updated every Thursday.


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