Green Bay school board discusses more in-person learning for secondary students
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Green Bay school district students have been back onsite in blended and cohort learning models for less than two weeks, and there is already a push for more in-person learning.
During the district’s school board meeting Monday, March 8, some board members stressed the need for a transition to more onsite days for secondary students sooner rather than later.
Currently, kindergarteners through fifth-graders are attending school in-person four days a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – while secondary students follow a cohort model divided in two groups with two days a week of onsite instruction – either Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday.
As of now, there is no plan in place for when or how secondary students will return for more in-person days.
“I’m not comfortable not having some sort of definitive, concrete direction to say we need to know by this time, how many schools are going back and if not, why not?” said Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau. “Just some sort of transparency on that would be great.”
Superintendent Steve Murley said while the overall transition to onsite learning in the blended and cohort models has been relatively smooth, there have been obstacles, especially with staffing.
Murley said there are currently 161 substitutes actively working in the district.
“We did struggle last week,” he said. “It’s a bit like musical chairs. When the music stops, one hopes that you have enough adults to fill the seats. Unfortunately, that was not always the case last week. You may have had parents that told you that their art, music or PE (physical education) classes did not occur last week as they should have on all days.”
Murley said the district had to put some art, music and physical education teachers in the regular education classrooms.
“There were also many days that we had principals that spent all or part of their days in classrooms substitute-teaching, and also certified staff here in the district office building that we had to deploy out to buildings to fill those roles,” he said.
Murley said those obstacles could continue, or even increase, when secondary students return fully.
“There is some stress in the system right now with not having any field experience with this to know exactly how it is going to work out,” he said. “And (there is) some concern about moving forward with a second phase without seeing what’s happening in the first phase, what we need to learn from and modify and change as we move forward – not knowing where the challenges may lie, because it is just starting.”
Board Treasurer Andrew Becker made a motion calling for a vote at a special board meeting Monday, March 22, with specific direction for the administration to provide the board with proposed dates for a four-days-a-week return for secondary students.
“To leave here tonight with something that doesn’t have a more specific direction, something that just hands control over to the administration, I don’t see how I could get behind that,” he said. “It comes back to the age-old question – if you didn’t make a motion, did you do it? And the answer legally to that question is, no.”
Becker said he favored a formal motion for something of this importance.
“Do I think that without this motion this meeting would happen and the same thing would be provided at it, yeah,” he said. “But I am done governing by informal consensus at the board table anymore. I will never do it again.”
Some board members said a motion isn’t needed for the administration to do its job.
“I understand the need for a special meeting,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, board president. “I’m not going to pass a motion that tells the administration how to do their job. They are very clear. They are listening to this conversation. I am not going to support that motion because that is going to happen, and they don’t need a motion to tell them to do that.”
The motion failed 4-3.
Some board members said there simply isn’t enough information available yet to make a decision.
“We are going to learn a lot this week,” said Dawn Smith, board member. “I’m assuming that is going to be really important information for you (Murley) and your staff as you are trying to figure out how we return everybody to four days a week.”
Smith said only one of two groups of students in grades 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12 returned for one day of in-person instruction as of Monday’s board meeting, with the other group not scheduled back in the classroom until Thursday, March 11.
“How do we know what went well, and how do we know what we need to fix?” she asked. “How do we know what solutions we need to come up with for the issues that arose, because they have only been in one day?”
The board is set to continue the discussion at its March 22 meeting.