When Gov. JB Pritzker first released his Restore Illinois plan in response to COVID-19, Hinckley-Big Rock School District 429 Superintendent Travis McGuire said the first thing he did was contact state health officials when he found out his district was in two different health regions.
When the modified plan was released months later, Hinckley-Big Rock was located in three different health regions and still hadn’t heard back about what to do when it was in just two regions.
But with their recently revealed return to learning plan announced last month, the district has a plan in place for each phase of the Restore Illinois plan – something that could come into play with campuses in both DeKalb and Kane counties, plus pulling students from Kendall County.
“When that came out, we asked that question right away because at that time we were in two different regions,” McGuire said. “Then they changed the regions and we were in three, and we’re like ‘You still haven’t answered from when we were in two.’ What does that mean for three?”
With the middle school in Big Rock in Kane County and the elementary and high schools in Hinckley in DeKalb County, the phase of the school’s plan will correspond to the county in which the building resides.
So if Kane County backslides because of a surge or outbreak in COVID-19 cases, the middle school will return to a mostly remote learning environment, with the other two buildings potentially still open for classes five days a week.
“At this point, it would depend on the information at that time,” McGuire said. “But in theory, yes. There’s going to be other factors, though. If we’re in Phase 4 in DeKalb County, what do the numbers look like? Where is it trending? But the way we have our plan structured, it is in line with the Restore Illinois plan.”
With the school year set to start Aug. 19, Hinckley-Big Rock students will be in a blended learning model. Split into two groups, the first will go from 8:30 to 11 a.m., and the second from 12:30 to 3 p.m. Lunch will not be on campus.
Electives, or exploratories, as the district calls them, will be done remotely while in-person learning will focus on core classes.
“We went back and learned our lessons from the spring,” McGuire said. “A lot of what we were hearing was the need for that interaction. That was a factor. And how do we maximize learning? We felt that was the best for us where we could have that opportunity, albeit for a short amount of in-person time. But we feel that’s the best for our students and their learning opportunities.”
At the high school level, classes will run for nine weeks instead of 18, with only three core classes a semester.
“There’s going to be remote learning tied into this to meet that five-hour time [requirement] the state has put into place,” McGuire said. “We’re doing things differently at the high school, where it’s usually semesterlong classes. We’re taking those 18-weeklong classes and crunching them down into a more confident time frame of nine weeks. But we’re focusing on three classes at a time.”
At first, the program was not offering remote learning options except for those with medical conditions, but that later changed to allow it as an option for families.
McGuire said about 80 families so far have signed up for remote learning in the district of more than 700 students.
In all, McGuire said formulating the plan was tricky, but he is confident moving forward.
“One of the challenges is we’re not health experts and we’re being asked to look at a lot of medical thing, and decipher and make decisions on [them],” McGuire said. “That’s a huge challenge for us in trying to make our plan.”