District 99 Board approves e-learning days as replacement for emergency days

As+part+of+Theis%27s+yearly+update+on+the+diversity+initiative%2C+board+members+watch+a+short+video+on+bias+in+hiring.

Luc Alvarez

As part of Theis’s yearly update on the diversity initiative, board members watch a short video on bias in hiring.

On Oct. 21, 2019, the District 99 Board of Education held a board meeting where they discussed topics including but not limited to updates to e-learning, the ongoing diversity initiative and the recognition of students enlisting in the military at graduation. 

E-Learning

The board approved a resolution to implement e-learning days as a substitute for emergency days added to the end of the school year. These days will be capped at five days per school year and are designed to provide students with “five hours of learning activity in some form.” E-learning days may go into effect 30 days after the new protocol is communicated with the community and taught to teachers.

Director of Innovation in Teaching & Learning Dr. Robert Lang outlined things necessary for the e-learning days to be effective including available materials for students such as internet access, adequate notification of the e-learning days, and proper training for teachers. Lang also outlined some of the benefits of e-learning days.

“[E-learning days] gives us an opportunity to pull that missed day back into the same semester,” Lang said. “The other thing too is an opportunity that gives them an opportunity to practice their executive functioning skills.”

Flexible Learning

As part of Lang’s presentation on flexible learning, he brought with him four teachers that shared their experiences with various aspects of the new learning methods.

First was DGN math teacher Sally Heiwig who spoke on her experiences with differentiated instruction, the teaching method in which students are given different tasks to complete based on their individual strengths, which she described as largely positive because “[differentiated instruction] gives [her] a chance to work with students who might be struggling and get their attention to work one-on-one and help with their understanding.”

Instructional coordinators Isabelle Menke and Lisa Lichtman spoke on their experiences with flex learning, the practice where students don’t necessarily report to class and instead are given work to do at a time and place of their choosing.

Menke shared feedback from students with one saying, “I really think that this is going to be a fun and useful experience for me” and another saying, “this is really helpful for me since I don’t have a free period during the day to get help and my schedule outside of school is busy as well.”

Diversity Initiative

Also discussed was the ongoing diversity initiative to bring in more staff members from diverse backgrounds. Pete Theis highlighted steps taken to increase diversity in District 99 staff including the addition of an equity and inclusion tab on the district website, more aggressive recruiting to potential hires at universities and beginning the application process with a video interview rather than a paper resume to eliminate bias.

Theis showed how these seemingly small steps have already have had an impact on diversity hires. In the one year since this initiative began, annual diversity hires have doubled from four to 8 and the number of diversity candidates hired has also increased.

Military Recognition

Parent Kathy Reiselt brought up to the board the lack of recognition that goes to students enlisting in the military. Reiselt pointed out that currently at graduation recognition for enlisted students is absent and asked that at the very least an asterisk should be put by students’ names in the graduation program.

“We’re recognizing our athletes, we’re recognizing our academia and we are not recognizing these young men and who lay down their lives to protect our country,” Reiselt said.

DGN Fine Arts Grant

The District 99 Education Foundation presented a check for $1200 to Dianne McClellan and Beth O’Riordan of DGN for the purchase of 20 ukuleles. These instruments will be used to give nonverbal students the ability to participate in the DGN All-Access Choir.

Insurance

The board unanimously approved increases to insurance premiums for the 2020 calendar year.