Letter From Dr. Rinehart - COVID Update

Letter from Dr. Rinehart - COVID Update
Posted on 04/13/2020
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Dear West Platte Patron,

Last week, as many of you know, Missouri Governor Mike Parson ordered school closed through the remainder of the academic year.  Schools are ordered to provide educational and food services through that time, which for West Platte is May 21, 2020.

Since the closure we have focused on reviewing previous material.  The reason for that has been two fold: 1) We were in a position to, literally, reinvent our model of instruction.  It did not seem wise to ask kids and families to adjust to the dual-prongs of new instruction and new content. 2) Many of our families were, and are, experiencing economic distress as this crisis unfolded.  Increasing the pressure on those families with new content and the expectation of traditional grading did not seem particularly wise.

Beginning April 6, teachers were advised to proceed cautiously with new material, if they felt that could be accomplished with minimal pain.  I trust our staff with those decisions. If they feel their students have progressed enough to merit promotion to the next grade, next class, etc., then our students have made enough progress to merit those decisions.

Some teachers may not venture very far into new ground for a variety of reasons.  We are lucky in that if we are to miss a full quarter of the school year, that this pandemic descended during the fourth quarter.  We generally take two full weeks to administer MAP and end-of-course assessments to a multitude of grade levels and courses. Many teachers wisely provide review time in the run-up to the testing window.  Three of the nine weeks of the fourth quarter are generally consumed by review / testing, where it is rare if new material is broached.

Fourth quarter in a normal year is filled with field trips, contests, track meets, baseball games, plays, and any number of co-curricular activities that pull kids from the building during the regular day.  Many instructors, wisely, are reluctant to push a great deal of new material to half-full classes on a given day. At best, progress in new content is by fits and starts, during a regular fourth quarter.

We have heard from parents about concerns of content coverage.  While I am not going to pretend we will end up at the same finish line as we would normally, the deficits some of you fear will not require Herculean efforts to bridge. We simply lose a lot of instructional time to testing and co-curricular activities in the spring.  If we are mandated to start late this coming year (that has not been indicated at this point), content coverage issues will become much more acute.

Some of you have inquired about grades.  We have been consistent with calling the work we send home “supplemental”.  Four weeks ago all our kids, in a given class or course, had the same instructor, and the same access to academic support and/or enrichment.  That simply is not the case today. The loop between question and answer, virtually instantaneous a month ago, can take several days now—depending on how a family is situated for dependable internet.  Even with the school providing hotspots, some portions of the District are unreachable. Alternate methods are used, but they are time intensive.  

Because of those discrepancies, which are largely beyond the control of the school, it is not fair to expect the same standards of all kids anymore.  The main function of grading, contrary to popular belief, is to provide feedback to the student so they can continually improve. When the time loop expands, the teachable moment is lost, the opportunity to absorb new concepts quickly is lost.  We are not going to assign grades based on the efficacy of your home internet.  

Having said that, it is fully within our purview not to award credit to those students who refuse to do the work they receive.  Even in a pandemic, it is hard to get something for nothing.

Some have asked about a possible recurrence, and what our response would be in that event.  We just now learned what we are doing out to May 21. We have been going at two to three week intervals before that.  Projecting out four or five months with any degree of certainty requires powers beyond whatever gifts I may possess.

The “why” to that is the simple fact that no one in government, health care, education, or most anywhere else has dealt with this situation before.  I depend on information from various sources to make decisions relevant to our school. When I hear “I don’t know”, it is difficult to translate that into something tangible for you all.  If we are put out again I am confident our staff will be even more adept and creative, especially if we are given some lead time. But, many of the problems described above will still be with us in the fall.  We’ll do our best should we get a repeat.

There have been questions about summer school.  The current answer directly from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is still unknown.  If there is a reasonable way to provide summer school, we will take a long look at it.

We will make every reasonable attempt to host a graduation ceremony.

Most of you have been patient during this time.  Thank you for that. We understand what a trying time this is for many of you.  We are willing to help in whatever way we can. Please be on the lookout for new information from the building and teacher level in regards to academic concerns.  We will also have to devise a way to return student belongings from desks and lockers and to retrieve our books and technological hardware for summer.

One thing that needs to be said publicly is a recognition of our top-shelf teaching staff.  They are often told that many are called to West Platte, but few are chosen. From the continuance of top-notch instruction, to delivering meals, to lending a helping hand to the maintenance staff, and going out of their way for kids on a daily basis, it goes without saying this pandemic would be much more challenging without their living up to the ideal of a West Platte teacher.

We also should appreciate our custodial and maintenance staff.  We were able to hang in as long as we did because of their meticulous hard work to keep the building clean.  

Our partners with OPAA and Apple Bus have been indispensable preparing and transporting student meals.   

Someday this crisis will be over and we will settle into whatever will pass for normal going forward.  We are fortunate that West Platte is positioned to ride through these challenging times and emerge in good shape.  We are blessed with resources, to be certain, but more so by the tremendous people and students who constitute our school.

Please stay safe and well.

John Rinehart