Schools ready to open for online and in-person students

Laura Freeman
Kent Weeklies

TALLMADGE – The buildings are ready, and the teachers and staff are ready to welcome students for the 2020-21 school year.

The Ohio Department of Education has approved the district’s remote learning plan and parents will have additional time to choose online learning for their children.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson at the school board’s Aug. 19 meeting said the ODE required more documents for remote learning as part of the requirement for this school year. The documents spell out how the district would use remote days, the structure and the details.

“If the Blue/Gold days were shut down, if we have to shift to remote instruction days, this plan gives us the power to do that,” Ferguson said. “It is the way we would count minimum hours for a school year.”

The plan would cover snow and calamity days, making snow days no longer a day off but a day of remote learning, he said.

“This is something moving forward,” Ferguson said. “You’ll see this plan adopted by the state each year for those remote learning possibilities.”

“You’ve just ruined the future of snow day,” said school board president Rick Kellar, referring to the tradition of children enjoying snow days as a day off from school.

“They will have to get up and log in for school,” Ferguson said.

Kellar said he and Mayor David Kline toured the three schools and met the teachers who were preparing their classrooms for the opening of school. The elementary school was never occupied by teachers or students because of COVID-19, and teachers were becoming familiar with the new building.

“Most teachers were grateful to be back and were wrestling with changes,” Kellar said. “This is our folks new to being back to work. The excitement was real. They want to see their kids.”

Shelley Monachino, director of teaching and learning, said the teachers are getting their classrooms ready and preparing if they have to go remote.

Online registration was closed Aug. 18, and 550 students have chosen to learn online but parents will have another chance to choose online for one week beginning Sept. 7 for students who feel anxious coming back to school.

“We will want a commitment for the semester and then, in December ,revisit everything,” Monachino said. “They can rejoin [online learning] or come back to the building.”

Counselors have given schedules to the 550 online students and high school counselors have contacted every student to make sure their online classes are the same as in school, Monachino said.

“It’s an interesting endeavor,” Monachino said. “In more than 30 years I never thought I would have to do online learning and it’s something new. I’m proud of everyone.”

Chief operating officer Steve Wood said shifting eighth graders to the high school and fifth graders to the middle school has paid off to bring the number of students in each building to about half of the capacity and enable physical distancing.

The high school has a capacity for 1,100 students and will have 550; the middle school has a capacity of 600 students and will have 300; and the elementary school has a capacity of 1,100 and will have 600 students.

Busing required parents to sign up their children. Normally 60 students can be on a bus and Summit County Health allows 50 on a bus, but through shifting around, Tallmadge will have 25 students per bus.

“That will be great physical distancing,” Wood said. “We’re thrilled with that.”

The schedules and protocols are in place, said Roy Zeman, director of student services.

“We’ll be ready to go in person and online,” Zeman said. “Teachers will reach out to students online and in person.”

Kurt Gwin, director of technology, said teachers are becoming familiar with the new technology in the buildings, and high school teachers are redeveloping how they deliver instruction and being more flexible if they have to adjust to remote. Chromebooks will be distributed to online students and they expect a delivery of new chromebooks in early to mid-September.

The board was impressed with the work by the staff and teachers and thanked them.

“Your team has put together this plan,” said board member Mark Fairhurst. “There is a lot of apprehension out there but in Tallmadge, your team is right on point. I hope teachers and parents and students appreciate everything you’re doing. It’s wonderful compared to everyone else out there.”

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com