Springfield, IL - The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) is helping districts adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regional superintendents have been working diligently with educators to create safe options for districts choosing in-person learning, as well as the transition to remote and online classes.
IARSS President Matt Klaisner says the regional offices have three areas to focus on: compliance, professional learning, and programming for students at risk. He says the compliance aspect of planning includes health-life safety policies and certification for schools holding class in-person. Still, one of the most important parts of their transition was helping with professional learning for teachers moving to remote classes.
"Remote learning is not teaching to a classroom and doing it through a computer. It's something very different," Klaisner said. "How are you going to engage students remotely for five hours or two and a half hours synchronously? That's really tricky."
He says teachers need to be empowered in order to have the skills they need to help students remotely. Superintendents are also trying to find the best option for students at risk for truancy or lower grades.
"If things were challenging in the other environments, these mixed or remote environments will be even more challenging," added Klaisner.
A helping hand
Every district is also wrestling with the balance between the desire to have local control and universal decisions from Gov. JB Pritzker's office. The regional superintendents work in the middle ground to help districts choose the safest plans for their students and staff.
"Districts are reaching out to us and asking about PPE and quarantine situations, sanitizing protocol, and things like that. So, we're trying to help connect the dots for our districts on a micro and macro level to open safely in whatever means."
Teaching during pandemic
Illinois constantly deals with a teacher shortage, and Klaisner is afraid it could be worse this year. IARSS found the state had 4,200 unfilled positions between administrators, teachers, and paraprofessionals.
"We have realized the potential problem is there that anybody maybe two or three years away from retirement and is feeling vulnerable is probably not likely to put themselves in jeopardy, or perceived jeopardy, that close to retirement."
However, he notes this is much more than an age situation. Many younger teachers may deal with diabetes, asthma, or immunocompromised systems. The regional superintendents are concerned because this could be a challenge beyond fall classes. Klaisner says remote teaching may help more educators stay in their roles.
Safety will continue to be the top priority for every school district. Klaisner says districts have asked important questions over the last six months. He knows this will be a learning process for everyone.
"If there's a case where a student is symptomatic or becomes symptomatic during the day, what does the quarantine space look like? What about the classmates and the teacher? These conversations are going on seven days a week, and I continue to be impressed at the creative ideas people are coming up with."