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Preston board of ed discusses virtual and remote learning expectations

KINGWOOD – Preston Board of Education members recently discussed expectations for virtual and remote learning, and how to improve them.

Virtual/remote teaching expectations were sent out at the beginning of the school year to all teachers, Superintendent Steve Wotring said. Some staff is more adept than others at managing the technology, he said. The effort is to get them from where they are to where they need to be.

Remote learning is when students who normally would be in the classroom learn from home, using school-issued devices. Under the current blended schedule, all students are remote on Friday. Virtual learners are students whose parents have opted to keep them at home. They also get school-issued devices.

Preston’s teachers provide both virtual and remote instruction as well as in the classroom. Instruction can be asynchronous – watched by students from a recording – or synchronous – watched live.

“We’ve told people that we need to be doing live instruction,” Wotring said.

The county did not dictate the number of times per week live instruction should be done because Central Preston, Preston High and West Preston operate on more of a block schedule, so classes may not meet as many times weekly as at other schools.

Also, if a project-based assignment is given out, for example, daily live teaching may not be needed, but the teacher would be available to answer questions.

“We tried to give the teacher some leeway,” Wotring said.

Wotring said he knows there have been instances when no live instruction was done, and he told principals to handle that.

Some students can’t log onto live instruction, the superintendent said. For example, Assistant Superintendent Brad Martin visited a home Monday that is “in a total dead zone,” and cannot be serviced.

“What’s got to happen to make it better?” Board Member Pam Feathers asked.

We’re getting there, Wotring replied. It’s being refined as we go.

For example, at PHS, enough students opted for virtual learning at the beginning of the school year (about 256) that some teachers could be designated to teach only virtually. But when students were sent home because of COVID, all PHS teachers were forced to begin providing more virtual/remote content and some were less prepared.

Board Member Jeannie Dreisbach said she believes the new PHS principal, because of her background, will hit the ground running to address these issues.

Do we have too many learning programs, Feathers wondered. She referred to Facebook posts by parents who are having trouble navigating them.

Pre-k through fifth grades use the Seesaw program and other grades use Schoolology, Wotring said. They should be able to see all their classes through those, he said.

Board Member Bruce Huggins said a parent training session would have been helpful. That was limited by COVID, Wotring said.

Board President Jack Keim told about a friend’s son, a senior, who was an A/B grade student. When schools went totally remote, he fell to a D/F student. Part of the problem was assignments were “locked” in Schoology and couldn’t be accessed until an earlier assignment was done, but the assignments weren’t graded in a timely way.

“That should not be a problem going forward,” because the PHS principal has ordered those assignments unlocked, Wotring said.

Board Member Jeff Zigray said he has had complaints from parents about not getting a timely reply from teachers. We’re addressing that when we know there’s a problem, Wotring said, but board members sometimes get complaints instead of complaints going to the schools.

Keim warned other board members and Wotring that they will be the target when seniors learn they won’t be graduating. If a student is struggling, parents need to get onto that now, Wotring said. Letters were sent home recently to all students whose grades are poor.

There are plans in the works for credit recovery options this summer, Martin said.