HERSCHER — Herscher schools will be lengthening school days to six hours beginning Jan. 5, and Herscher High School teachers will begin instructing remote and in-person learners simultaneously in about two weeks.
The Herscher School Board approved this week the new school hours of 8 a.m. to 2:05 p.m.
Currently, school hours are from 8 to 11:45 a.m. for in-person learning, with teacher office hours and remote instruction scheduled from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m.
Board President Sally Sullivan said that during committee discussions on lengthening the school day, several members expressed that they wanted the full days to start in October.
They agreed to recommend Jan. 5 instead to give staff and families time to prepare, she said.
“What we know, at least from the committee going forward, is that we need to get our kids back into school as much as possible,” Sullivan said.
The district initially planned to bring students back for full days of in-person learning and allow students with a doctor’s note to opt for remote, but it changed gears in July after the Illinois State Board of Education issued new guidance stating that districts must provide a fully remote option to all students.
Board member Jason Hastings said that while the change to longer hours won’t be perfect for everyone, it is a step in the right direction toward normalcy.
“I think the Jan. 5 [date] gives enough lead time, whether it’s making classroom adjustments or getting Wi-Fi to kids that don’t have it,” he said. “Whichever side of the aisle you’re on, it’s enough time to get where we’ve got to be, because I think at some point, even to inch our way to normal [is] where we need to be.”
The change in hours will affect instruction at each building differently.
Specific information will be shared with parents and students in the near future, according to a letter from Superintendent Rich Decman.
Additional requirements for remote learners will coincide with the extension to the in-person learning day, according to the letter.
“By extending the school day, we are moving closer to normalcy which will help us provide an even better educational and social experience for all of our students,” Decman said.
To date, there have been 11 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the district, and currently 41 students/staff are being quarantined.
Herscher High School Principal Brad Elliot informed the board Tuesday of plans to transition teachers to live-streaming lessons and requiring remote learners to log in during class.
Elliot said some teachers have already begun live-streaming classes, and about 90 percent of teachers indicated in a survey they are on board with the change.
“I think it would be better for our students to have more time with our teachers face-to-face, dig deeper, ask better questions, have better discussions,” he said. “I think it would be a better learning experience for our students overall.”
Elliot said he is concerned with the number of remote learners with failing grades. About 50 percent of freshmen, sophomores and juniors on remote learning have at least one failing grade, and about a third of seniors on remote learning have at least one failing grade, he said.
Decman said he supports the change to live-streaming classes.
“I’ve actually seen it in action, and I think it’s one way that I would like to see all over the district,” Decman said.