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More USD 428 students returning to in-school learning
Remote learning poses challenges
school board Nov 2020
Superintendent Khris Thexton, left, and school board member Susan Young are shown at Monday’s Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education meeting. Everyone wears masks and maintains social distance at the District Education Center.

More than 200 students in Great Bend USD 428 are using the remote learning option made available at the start of the fall semester, but some students have since returned to in-school attendance, Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reiser told the school board Monday.

On Aug. 31 there were 250 GB Remote students and on Nov. 6 there were 223, with some elementary and middle school students returning to their buildings. But the number of high school students using the remote option grew from 88 to 120 during that time frame.

It is more difficult for high school students to transfer to on-site learning because of how credits are earned, she added.

“From Aug. 31 to now you can see that our elementary numbers have gone down significantly, from 108 on Aug. 31, now to 60,” Reiser said. GBMS went from 54 remote students to 43. 

Great Bend Remote teachers at GBHS include Brandon Wells and Bill Maddy from the Integrated Learning Center and special education teacher Teresa Frieb.

“They meet every Monday with the counselors and with the administration and they talk specifically about our Great Bend Remote learners,” Reiser said.

One GBHS counselor told Reiser that all of the seniors on her caseload are on the road to graduation and they’re taking the remote classes seriously.

“You know there’s that urgency there for our seniors – not so much for the underclassmen,” Reiser said.

She also shared recent comments from Park Elementary School Principal Phil Heeke, concerning remote learning at that school.

“Park school’s remote teachers work very hard for the safety of their remote students and their families,” Heeke told her. “Many times our Park teachers stay until six. Several of my teachers put together extended projects for science and social studies to help maintain passing grades. My remote teachers are heroes and go above and beyond.”

“He’s so positive,” Reiser said. “Even though Phil said that, I know that each principal would say that about their own buildings.”

Reiser also quoted Eisenhower Elementary Principal Joann Blevins. “She said that there are some really strong family-teacher relationships among our Great Bend students and teachers.”

Parent support is crucial to a successful remote program, Reiser said. 

“If it’s going well it’s going very well. If it’s not going well, it’s not going well at all.” Students have different situations at home, she concluded. “Maybe we should look into something more formalized next year and add something like a virtual school just to help meet the needs of those families who (have) a legitimate reason why they don’t want their kiddo on-site.”

Rising COVID-19 positives and quarantines

Superintendent Khris Thexton also talked about how the school district is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Numbers continue to climb throughout the state, now throughout the country; COVID cases are increasing and we’re not immune to that. So, we continue to make sure that our staff are keeping up on their cleaning protocols and ensure they’re following their practices,” he said.

“Right now, we have roughly 164 quarantines — students and staff — and of those total, 16 actually are positives. You see that there’s a strain on staff and students; it keeps them out of school,” Thexton said. Finding enough substitute teachers is an issue, and the district could use more if anyone is interested. Assistant Superintendent John Popp added that potential subs would be vetted.

“We continue to try to find ways to get creative with (staffing), in order to keep those classes running,” Thexton continued. “The best part about the quarantine issue for our teachers is they’re able to remote into their classrooms and actually run their classroom, and the sub is in there. We were in a classroom last week and we saw the teacher up on the screen teaching the class, and the aide was in there and kept control of the kids. The kids are fantastic, and did a great job in there and didn’t miss a beat,” he said.

Thexton said he saw students helping each other when there were issues related to technology, such as something not coming up on a Chromebook screen. “It’s interesting to see that kind of that collaboration effort,” he said. This may be one of the best practices in teaching teamwork and collaboration, he added. “It’s definitely an interesting process to watch and I appreciate our staff doing what they can to make this work,” he said.

The district wants teachers in the classroom as much as possible, Thexton said. “This is helping us keep those teachers, even when they’re in quarantine, working with the kids and continuing to move them forward. And that has definitely been a positive that we’ve seen out of this,” he said.

“Not that I want to repeat it for much longer,” he added, “but it’s one of those things where you’re actually seeing the possibilities that we have in education.”

As for remote learning, Thexton said the thing that would most likely cause USD 428 to switch to remote-only would be a shortage of staff.

“There’s a district in the county that’s in remote right now,” he said. “You know, at any point in time, any of us can be at that point.” The size of USD 428 gives Great Bend some flexibility, he added. 

“We’re flexible enough that if we need to close a certain building, we don’t have to do it for the whole district. We can be flexible and pinpoint what would work best and let us serve the needs of our kids and families,” he said.

“If we ever decide we have to go to remote – I’m not saying that we are at this point – we’ve got our plans laid out, ready to go.”