Greencastle-Antrim parents weigh in on virtual Wednesdays

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

The Greencastle-Antrim School Board will see a new proposed 2021-22 school calendar on March 18 after nearly 1,000 comments on the district's latest "drop anchor" survey.

The district has had several "drop anchor" designated dates for assessing how the school year is going amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest survey went out after the possibility of continuing virtual Wednesdays was presented at the Feb. 18 board meeting in relation to next year's calendar.

The survey asked parents about how, given the circumstances, their children's year has been academically, emotionally and in terms of health and safety, as well as their overall satisfaction with the district.

Some took issue with the survey not asking specifically if they favored maintaining virtual Wednesdays, and many of the 995 comments involved just that topic.

The district's elementary students have been in school full days four days a week all year. The secondary students have had several hybrid schedules and are currently in school in person four mornings a week and in class online in the afternoons.

All grades have been virtual Wednesdays all year with asynchronous learning — with instruction available online, but not in real time.

Most Greencastle-Antrim parents indicated their children feel safe attending school the latest "drop anchor" survey.

Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, said the benefits of the virtual day include freeing teachers up to meet with parents, do collaborative planning with other teachers and give feedback to students — anything that takes them out of the classroom — on Wednesdays. In the future, virtual Wednesdays would eliminate the need for early dismissals and in-service days.

Another benefit is providing students with the skills they will need in a world with more and more virtual interaction, Hanks said in February.

At the Feb. 18 meeting, several board members said virtual Wednesdays do not work for everyone — including some of their own children.

The majority of the parents who answered the survey feel the same way, saying virtual instruction has not been the best for their children, some in great detail. Their main message is they want their kids in school as much as possible.

However, other parents said virtually learning has been good for their children.

The best time to ask people how satisfied they are is in the middle of a controversy, said Hanks, who noted the 995 comments indicate 995 different ways to educate children.

The reworked calendar proposal presented at the March 18 meeting will reflect the best interests of the students, what the district wants to accomplish and what the community needs, Hanks said.

The meeting is not open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, but will be live-streamed on the district's YouTube channel. A link can be found under the school board tab on the district website gcasd.org

Greencastle-Antrim parents indicated how their children have done emotionally on the latest "drop anchor" survey.

What parents said

The comments ranged from high praise for the district, the administration and the teachers to calling for the superintendent and the school board to resign.

Here is a sampling of what parents wrote:

- I DO NOT think that virtual Wednesday's should be part of any future schedule at GASD.

- Kids should be in school 5 days a week. Period. Opportunities to interact with teachers and peers has been greatly diminished.

- My daughter has grown so much this past year. Virtual Wednesdays work well for my daughters anxiety. It gives her a break in the middle of the week. She is more prepared and motivated for school knowing that she has Wednesdays to work at her own pace.

- This year has been challenging for everyone. I appreciate that everyone is doing the best that they can in these circumstances. My lack of support for virtual days in no way indicates a lack of support for GCASD as a whole, the board, or the staff, I just truly do not believe it is in the best interest of the vast majority of students.

- I support virtual Wednesdays for secondary students. My oldest son is in college and the majority of his work is online. We are entering a new age of education. Students need to continue to grow with this technology and they need to learn time management. Virtual Wednesdays provide a ‘baby step’ into that reality.

- The district did the best they could this year with what the circumstances they had. However I don't think this should be the new normal. Children need interaction with each other and social skills. Sitting at home on the computer is not good for anyone.

-Full in school days would be wonderful if ever possible again. 2 of my 3 children do not do well with virtual learning. Everyone is doing their best with this situation.

- There is no adequate substitute for in-person instruction. Personal interaction with peers, teachers and other authority figures is crucial in helping children to develop into healthy and responsible adults. It builds intelligence and character, and assists our community and society at large in reaching the higher goal of living and working well together. Where the rest of our society and the world is influencing people to become more and more withdrawn and isolated, we still have a chance to counter that by offering our children every possible opportunity to personally come together in healthy and productive ways. Please consider looking past whatever is the current trend in education, and look to the larger good for our families and communities in the coming generations. Thank you for wanting the best for our students and for reading my comments and others' comments. God bless you, and may you enjoy the rest of the school year

- I appreciate everything the district has done to keep our kids in school as much as possible. You've done well!! But please don't make this year the norm for years to come. It's too much stress on the kids and families. Thank you.

- I firmly believe in 5 day a week in person instruction. In that being said I feel my children’s teachers have done a great job with the task at hand. I appreciate and respect the job they doing. It is vital for children to get back to school full time. Our children are not getting the quality of education they deserve and that our qualified teachers can provide.

- Virtual school is ensuring that my child fails and she will be a dropout.

- I am beyond thankful to the district for opening its doors at the start of the school year. I am beyond satisfied with the district vision and my child's teachers. The ongoing nature of the virtual Wednesday is inappropriate. To propose it continue into the following year is nothing short of careless and negligent to the needs of the community and its children. We expect better from the district.

- Our children depend on Wednesdays now. At the beginning of the year, they were less enthusiastic about it. Now, we are in the routine, and they look forward to it. We feel as though this may be a design of the future, where our district can embrace change and be more progressive. We’re not sure the 4-day week is suitable for primary children, even though we do not have children that age.

- Virtual Wednesdays work well for our family but we recognize that this is not the case for everyone. We are so grateful that the kiddos have spent most of the year in school!

- I understand why we are using virtual days due to the pandemic. But I don't believe that my child will benefit from it as much as in person learning.

- 5 days a week in person should be the end of Pandemic goal!!!

- I understand the importance of collaborative planning for teachers. But surely that was done BEFORE the pandemic, in a way that still allowed instruction 5 days per week. I'm exhausted and frustrated by the BUSY WORK given EVERY week, half of the time not even relating to current instructional learning goals. Bring back the days off for teacher planning/grading. Don't assign my kid hours of busy work instead.

- As a family we are very satisfied with how proactive and creative GASD planned and responded to the current (and future) situation. We would like to emphasize how important we feel continuing the virtual component is in our son’s education. The hybrid model has been a success. Thank you.

- I know the school district is doing their very best during this difficult time however, my child has suffered immensely during this. He needs social interaction and needs help with all the work. He is not a virtual learner and is struggling with the virtual. Very frustrating for everyone involved. Sorry I am not helpful in the fact that there is no good answer — someone is going to be mad no matter what. 

Greencastle-Antrim parents indicated how they feel about their child's academic success.

Other survey results

The district has just over 3,000 students and just under 1,700 parents responded to the survey.

Other parts of the survey indicate that while children feel safe in school, their academic and emotional experiences have not been as positive.

- Considering the limitations placed on the school district this year, do you believe your child has had a successful year (made growth) academically?

Yes: 1,110, 65.68%

No: 580, 34.32%

- Considering the limitations placed on the school district this year, do you believe your child has had a successful year emotionally?

Yes: 954, 56.45%

No: 736, 43.55%

- For students attending in-person: Under the current circumstances, and pertaining to our health and safety plan, does your child feel safe attending school?

Yes: 1,535, 95.70%

No: 69, 4.30%

Greencastle-Antrim parents indicated their satisfaction rate with the school district on the latest "drop anchor" survey.

Satisfaction level

- Rate your satisfaction with the Greencastle-Antrim School District this year:

Not at all satisfied: 6.15%

Slightly satisfied: 12.25%

Neutral: 20.30%

Very satisfied: 38.22%

Extremely satisfied: 23.08%

Full days favored

Parents of secondary students were asked if they preferred to keep the current hybrid half-day schedule or return to full days Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays if Franklin County's positivity rate declines.

The majority, 1,128 or 76.84%, want to see full days resume as soon as possible vs. 340, or 23.16%, who want to keep the current schedule.