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Reopening Update- Leyden to start year with remote learning

Dear Leyden Community:

This evening our team presented the Board of Education with an amended plan and approach to the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Leyden High School District 212 will be moving to a fully remote learning approach at the start of the year. We have made significant changes to the remote plan to ensure an enhanced student experience compared to what we did at the end of last year. This was a hard decision, and we spent countless hours analyzing each scenario to determine the best possible option for our students and staff at this time.

I’d like to start by being very candid and honest. Those who know me well, also know that I haven’t been sleeping well since March 13, 2020. That was the last day that our students were in attendance at Leyden last year. I wake up nearly every day at 3:00 am with my mind spinning about our students, our staff, our processes, and our next steps. Only in the past couple days have I realized that I might actually have been going through the grieving process the whole time.

What I’ve been grieving is the loss of so many parts of what makes Leyden an amazing place. It’s the loss of our kids being taught and mentored in person by a teaching staff and support staff that is second to none. However, for the sake of our students and our staff, we finally needed to move on to the acceptance phase, and be okay starting remotely for a period of time. I don’t like this decision. However, an enhanced remote learning experience is what’s best for kids at this time.

In all that we do, our primary focus remains on two things: the safety and wellness of our students and staff and the continuity of education for our kids and community. Over the past months, we have built a robust system of protocols and supports to these ends. We have followed all state and national guidelines to mitigate risks to the greatest degree possible, knowing that we can never fully eliminate risk.

Leyden’s enhanced remote learning experience will follow a Block 3 + PE approach which allows us to implement an instructional model that promotes the safety and wellness of all students and staff while providing equitable learning opportunities and maximizing engagement.

In the Block 3 + PE model, students will take three courses at a time each quarter, but they will take them in a Block format. Instead of taking classes for the equivalent of 45 minutes per day, they will focus on those three courses for the equivalent of 90 minutes per day. This will allow them to complete a semester’s worth of work in those courses over 9 weeks. Then, during the second quarter, they will take their other three courses, with PE running virtually as a common daily experience throughout the year. This block approach will be maintained all year and we can flexibly use this approach when fully remote, or when we bring back 25%, 50%, or 100% of our students at a time.

Last year, like school districts everywhere, we had kids fall through the cracks. In some cases, students accessed their online work very rarely or not at all in the spring. We cannot let that happen again. In this model, students have fewer courses to focus on at a time and increased opportunities for feedback. Research supports the block model for improving course completion and GPA. This is a flexible model that is designed to increase focus, feedback, and relationships.

Even while we are operating remotely, we feel that our buildings are safe places to be. Our schools will be available to students who would prefer to use the school district’s internet, need a quiet place to work, or to just maintain routine in the day. We will also continue to serve meals.

With students being either fully remote or mostly remote during the year, that means they are much more free during the day to connect with our counselors or our social workers via phone or via video chats. We want to maximize those contacts to support the social-emotional health of our students.

As soon as we move to our 25% or 50% model, we will be running some specific programs either four days per week or on modified schedules. Those programs include LIFE High School, the Bridge program, the Transition program, and our English Learner Program Level 1. When that time comes, those families will be contacted directly with specific details. We will also continue to provide hot spots to families who need them and have technology support available at the high schools should issues arise.

As of today, we have not heard a ruling from the IHSA about what will happen with sports in the Fall or for this upcoming year. Earlier today, the Illinois State Board of Education released a new 103-page guidance document regarding remote learning. We may need to make some amendments to our plan based on what that document contains. We are also closely watching to see what the Governor might do with the 11 regions in the state and the 5 possible phases.

We will be updating our FAQ document on the website to reflect these changes as well as some additional points of clarity. We will also be scheduling multiple online Town Halls for students, staff, and parents to hear directly from our building and district administrators.

We know that we need to remain flexible. As of today, we believe this will be our approach on August 17th when students start up again. We also know that we may need to monitor and refine our plan. As necessary, we will continue to provide you with updates.

I look forward to seeing you at the virtual Town Hall meetings. Until then, take care and thanks again for your partnership.

With #leydenpride,

Dr. Nick Polyak