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Survey: Distance learning here to stay, snow days gone, attendance up

Target 12

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The process of distance learning was a lesson in itself for everyone involved, and a survey of superintendents shows there’s still more to learn from the past four months.

Nearly half the 24 superintendents who responded to five questions from Target 12 indicated the biggest challenge was the lack of face-to-face interaction between students and teachers who “missed each other,” according to one educator.

As the state closes the books the current school year, work is underway to improve the process.

Coventry Superintendent Craig Levis said one factor was how rushed the planning was after COVID-19 shut down schools.

“We planned this in a week,” Levis said. “We know there will be some distance learning, but it has to be different. Our staff is drafting a policy around distance learning to clearly outline process and expectations.”

Assessments were another challenge, according to several superintendents, including Smithfield’s Sara Monaco.

“We have had to rethink the way we assess students and have already modified our schedule for the fall so that we can obtain updated information on student progress,” Monaco said.

We also asked about screen time requirements.

Many districts did not mandate how long students met virtually with their teachers on platforms such as Google and Zoom.

East Providence Superintendent Kathryn Crowley responded to the screen time question with, “Brevity encouraged.”

Middletown Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger said the district started with a 40-minute minimum for students but changed that after surveying parents.

“We wanted to strike that balance between what was appropriate for a kindergarten student, verses a 12th grade student,” Kraeger said.

Before the state announced snow days were history, 17 out of the 24 superintendents who responded predicted the winter time tradition would end.

“That would be great,” Scituate Superintendent Carol Blanchette said.

Still, there are concerns about power outages pulling the plug on the idea, and concerns about be able to make technology access to everyone.

“We have to make sure we have chrome books in the hand of students to make sure their learning under those circumstances,” Cumberland Assistant Superintendent Tony DeManna said. “But we should be able to do that.”

Kraeger said she understood the reasons for snow days to stop, but lamented the probable loss.

“Kids should get to play in the snow,” she said.

Many of the responses to the survey came before Gov. Gina Raimondo announced plans to reopen schools at the end of the summer.

Twenty-two of the 24 responding superintendents said there would be distance learning in the fall, and now many are planning for a worst-case scenario.

“Not only are we preparing for 100 percent of the students coming back, which isn’t going to happen by the way,” Cumberland Supt. Robert Mitchell said. “Even if it does, we have be prepared to turn on a dime if there is an uptick.”

As expected, virtual attendance was up accross the region, with 19 out of 24 surveyed saying it was better.

North Kingstown’s Philip Augur pointed out attendance was “similar, but not defined the same way.”

As of a few weeks ago, Providence attendance was “slightly lower in most schools,” according to a district spokesperson.

Levis reported attendance was up at the beginning of distance learning but down more recently.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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