MURRAY — Teachers from Calloway County High School asked the Calloway County Board of Education during the board’s November meeting Thursday to consider adding a non-traditional learning day, or NTI day, for all students and staff.
English-Learner Director and Spanish teacher Sarah Loveless told the board the NTI day would give teachers the opportunity to get in contact with full-time, at-home learners who are struggling. Loveless said out of her 120 students, 70 attend class in-person and 50 are online. She said about 40% of those who learn online are failing. She said she teaches for the majority of her day, but by the time she gets to her planning periods, there are numerous at-home learners with whom she needs to touch base.
“I have emails, reminder messages and voicemails that have got to be addressed,” Loveless said. “Some messages come from kids at 8 a.m. who are still waiting on a reply from me. But, when I get to planning I have to plan for my in-person students, because they will be in my class every single day. Then we have to design lessons for our internet learners, and then create paper packets for students who don’t have internet access. With one distance day a week, we would be able to contact the students who are being neglected right now because our schedule doesn’t allow us adequate time to contact them.”
Calloway County High School Assistant Principal Steve Smith told the board teachers are “fighting an uphill battle every single day.” He said about 50% of Calloway County High School students are at-home learners and out of all of their students with failing grades, about 80% of them are online and paper packet only. He said he has spoken with teachers and administration from other districts and decided an NTI would be the best way to operate successfully. He said McCracken County Schools switched to a four-day, in-person schedule with an NTI day on Monday. McCracken has since switched to all online instruction due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Smith said Wednesday would be ideal for an NTI day, and gave a clarification to the board that it would be like a regular school day, with students returning with a finished assignment on Thursday.
Board members responded with doubts about how much of a difference an NTI day would make for struggling students.
“How many people are we really going to reach on Wednesday that’s going to change that?” Vice Chair Van Pittman said. “Because we both know the ones who are hiding from the phone, they’re not taking personal responsibility in doing their work that they agreed to do, and I don’t know how much you can beg them into doing it.”
Smith said that “even if we can get 50% of them (students), that number goes from 300 to 150.” He said he believes reaching half of at-home learners is an attainable goal.
Superintendent Tres Settle said that although one NTI day a week seems temporary enough, he believes at-home instruction is here to stay. He cited concerns about how many people will get the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available and if parents will want to send students back to school. He said he has spoken with other superintendents in the area who started with a four-day school week and are now having issues going back to five days a week.
Settle also said he is concerned an NTI day would be difficult for middle and elementary school students whose parents might have to be at home to supervise them. He also said it would be unfair to give an NTI day to only the high school, because middle school teachers receive less planning time and are dealing with an equally difficult workload.
“I’m not telling you I’m against it, having an NTI day a week, but I also don’t want you to sit here and think it hasn’t been discussed in depth at the central office … we want to look at it holistically, how it applies to Calloway County, what the ramifications are and how we can benefit from it,” Settle said.
The board also voted unanimously to allow in-person classes to resume today, Nov. 16. This came after being presented data about the spread of COVID-19 in Calloway County by Director of Pupil Personnel Josh McKeel. Settle suspended in-person instruction two weeks ago when the COVID-19 incidence rate in Calloway County rose to critical levels. Board Chair Jay Housden said the board believes in-person instruction is what is best for the students’ education, as well as their health.
“At least when we are in-person, in school, kids are temperature checked every morning, and between 7:30 to 3 o’clock, they are in a clean building, being monitored, masked-up – and in our opinion as the board –safer,” Housden said.
During the attendance report, McKeel said the calendar committee plans to present a draft of the 2021-22 school year calendar during the board’s December meeting, which will go to a vote to be approved at the January meeting.