It’s not easy, but remote teaching is working

PW-S District’s technology prepared it for shutdown but official says resuming regular classes even for a short time would be beneficial if state allows schools to reopen

THE STAFF of Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington used photos of themselves holding signs to create a collage for students that delivers a message of support. It reads, “Hello TJMS students. We hope you and your families are staying safe. We miss you a lot and hope to see you soon. You are awesome, amazing, resilient, funny, insightful, hard working, enthusiastic, caring, flexible, and we know you can do this. We believe in you. Love, the TJMS staff.”
Ozaukee Press staff

One month into the unprecedented shutdown of schools, the Port Washington-Saukville School District is effectively educating students at home thanks in large part to the investment it made years ago in the technology and training to facilitate remote teaching, officials said Monday during a school board meeting held via video conference. 

“What we had already been doing in this district has made it a lot easier here than in other districts that have struggled more with this,” School Board President Brenda Fritsch said. 

For years, all students in third through 12th grades have been issued laptop computers and teachers have used educational management software to communicate with students. That technology has now been augmented with applications that allow for new ways of teaching ranging from daily video lectures to real-time classes held via video conference. 

“It’s going extremely well,” Supt. Michael Weber said during an interview. “Our teachers were about as prepared as they could be going into this virtual learning situation.”

Online education, however, is not a substitute for traditional classes, and the district would likely resume regular classes before the school year ends on June 5 if Gov. Tony Evers does not extend his Safer at Home order, which as it stands now will keep school shuttered until April 24, and it is deemed safe for students to return to schools, Weber said.

“Even if classes can resume for just a few weeks, we’re prepared for that,” he said. “I think it would be very helpful if students and teachers can get back together, but that is all predicated on how the virus spreads or doesn’t spread and whether this country has it under control. It’s still too early to tell.

“For now, our buildings are closed but our schools aren’t. Learning goes on.”

Learning now, however, is significantly different. Instructional time has been reduced and educators continue to grapple with workloads for students.

“An assignment that for some takes 30 minutes for others takes an hour-and-a-half,” Director of Instruction Chris Surfus said. “This is an ongoing challenge for us.”

Weber said, “The challenge is pacing things for students and their families because students learn at different rates.”

Port Washington High School Principal Eric Burke said teachers have had to make tough decisions about what elements of the curriculum are essential.

“The teachers are narrowing in on the most important information, then they’ll determine what has been missed and how we can make that up.

“It’s been as good as it can be. We’re trying to stay as positive as we can be for our students and our parents.”

The high school continues to use its normal grading system and has not yet decided whether to adopt a pass/fail system as some other schools have done, Burke said. 

“I think it’s too early to make that call,” he said.

Weber said administrators are discussing graduation ceremony contingency plans in the event a normal commencement cannot be held.

“No decision can be made until we know the status of the governor’s order,” he said. “We’ll do something; we just don’t know what it will be yet.”

Summer school is also in limbo, Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said. Although the board on Monday approved the hiring of several summer school teachers, the district has yet to open class registration.

“Right now we’re on hold,” Froemming said. “We can get it going in short order, but we’re waiting for a little more information from the state before we start collecting fees.”

If summer school is held, it may be smaller than usual, he said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we pared some of the classes down if it turns out some parents aren’t comfortable with their kids going to school yet,” Froemming said.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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