Learning, not tests or grades, is focus of remote instruction, Maher says

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The learning will continue outside the classroom for students in the Sioux Falls School District; it just may not be the kind of traditional learning the public is used to.

“Teaching Pathagorean Theorom is not my biggest goal,” district superintendent Dr. Brian Maher said in a Monday news conference.

Instead remote learning is more about how students and staff adjust and persevere in this new form of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maher said.

The key to successful learning is the relationship between teacher and student and the ability to keep students engaged, he said. The method to do that will be different over the next several weeks.

The district has closed buildings and will use remote learning until at least May 1 as Maher said today the district will follow Gov. Kristi Noem’s recommendation. Noem announced the closures at a news conference this morning.

Maher said he was pleased the testing assessments have been waived because of COVID-19 because the focus can’t be on data and assessment during the next weeks or months.

“I’m not at all worried about semester exams,” Maher said. “These won’t be about A, B, C,… (grades) for the foreseeable future.”

The district has been distributing learning packets to students, which include pencil and paper materials and technology.

The district has about 24,000 students and not all of them have access to technology. Some students will be learning with computers or other devices while others will use pencil and paper.

Sioux Falls also has 4,000 students on Individualized Education Plans (IEP). Providing remote instruction to those students “is a real challenge,” Maher said.

Deb Muilenberg-Wilson, the director of special services for the district, said the special education staff met in one-on-one consultations with parents on how staff can remotely deliver education that can meet the goals of IEPs.

Special education staff includes teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists and others.

“Our goal is to make individual support goals in children’s IEPs,” Muilenberg Wilson said. “I don’t believe it will be the same as when we are face-to-face but we will give it our best shot…”

Maher expects that as remote learning continues, staff will be learning along with students.

“Imagine how teachers will grow from today to March 30,” Maher said.

Sioux Falls and other school districts had to swiftly adapt to change when COVID-19 became a pandemic. Noem asked on March 13 for school districts to close for one week. That request was followed by another to close for an additional week.

“Remote learning this week is different than we anticipated what it would it look like a week ago,” Maher said. “I suspect things will look different (in future weeks).”

Maher said the staff, including administration, cooperated quickly to make good decisions about remote learning.

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

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