At-home learning ups, downs in area schools

In contrast to the widespread failure of at-home learning in the mountain region schools of the San Juan School District, the river region schools are experiencing success with the teacher-directed instruction of students at home.

The San Juan School Board reviewed reports of student success at the November 4 board meeting.

The district is encouraged by numbers in the secondary schools, where 87 percent of students are on track to pass their classes, eleven percent are at risk of failing, and just two percent are minimally engaged, which means they have completed less than half of their assigned work.

Assistant Superintendent Christy Fitzgerald says the success can be attributed to the hard work of district employees in Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain.

“The staff has had a single focus, which has allowed them to be very explicit and strategic in their approach,” Fitzgerald said. “I was actually very encouraged by this data.”

At Whitehorse High, less than one percent of students are at risk of failing, while 99 percent are on track.

At Monument Valley, five percent of students are minimally engaged, with 21 percent at some risk of failing, and 74 percent on track.

At Navajo Mountain, six percent are minimally engaged, 25 percent are at risk of failing, and 69 percent are on track.

This is in marked contrast to the mountain region schools in Monticello and Blanding. At the October board meeting, it was reported that nearly 40 percent of the at-home learning students were minimally engaged. That contributed to a decision by the district to discontinue the at-home option in the mountain region schools.

Fitzgerald adds another large factor in the first quarter success of the river region schools has been the support of the community.

“Parents are contacting the school, wanting their students to be successful,” Fitzgerald continued. “They are driving them to the school to get individualized support. It has really been a tremendous outpouring of community and parent support.”

Fitzgerald adds that performance among elementary students is not near as high as secondary students due to the developmental ability of younger children who need more guided learning.

Despite the success of secondary students thus far, the district is anxious to make continued progress on their LAN network project, which will bring filtered internet access to many of the communities served on the Navajo Nation.

Fitzgerald says having internet available for all students will allow teacher instruction to go into more depth and go beyond the essential standards being taught now. She adds there is also a social learning component that is limited without internet.

District Education Technology Director Aaron Brewer reported on the progress of the LAN project. He said the district received letters of support from all chapter houses in the district and is in the process of contacting residents in the area providing informational literature.

The project will be made up of 19 large tower sites with an additional 50 slightly smaller towers, and finally about 500 end nodes.

At the meeting, the board approved the final contract with Solectek to spend the $3.9 million the Utah State legislature set aside for the project. With the contract finalized, the district hopes to accelerate the project ahead of the end of the year.

Brewer explains the bigger towers will take longer to install, but he anticipates the 50 smaller towers can be put up in about two weeks. After that, about three or four crews will work with families to install the end nodes.

While students in the River Region schools are exclusively being taught remotely, students in the Mountain Region schools have had to make decisions about whether they attend school in-person or completely remote.

Last month, the school district eliminated the option two selection, which allowed students at schools in Blanding, Monticello and La Sal to be taught remotely by their teachers in San Juan County.

Data shared with the San Juan School Board at their October 14 meeting shows that of the nearly 300 secondary students in Blanding and Monticello using option two, about 80 percent were at risk of not earning course credit, with about 40 percent having not even started on assignments.

While option two was working well for some Mountain Region students, including about 20 percent of secondary students and a little less than 50 percent of elementary students, the workload was tremendous for teachers.

With the elimination of option two, students have to choose between attending school completely in-person for the school quarter or using a third-party online school approved by the state board of education.

Students who attend in-person school and who have to quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 are allowed to continue school work online from home.

The elimination of option two has been met with some pushback from parents who appreciated the flexibility offered by the option.

During public comment, White Mesa resident Julie Sampson shared that she had appreciated option two for her child at ARL Middle School and was disappointed to see the option leave.

Sampson said she moved her children to option three, but would like to see option two return for others. She suggested making Friday a teacher work day to make the load more manageable for school staff.

Superintendent Ron Nielson shared earlier in the meeting that some parents of students at Mountain Region schools enrolled their students in River Region schools to still have option two remote learning.

Curriculum Director Julie Holt shared data regarding students who were told to choose between option one and three.

In the Monticello schools, 49 students chose option one and 30 went to option three.

In Blanding schools, 182 students chose option one, 141 chose option three, six students enrolled in option two at Bluff Elementary, and ten enrolled in option two at Whitehorse High.

The school board approved a one-time bonus to teachers as a show of appreciation of work during the pandemic.

Teachers will receive a one-time bonus of $500 and classified employees will receive a bonus of $150.

San Juan Record

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