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'A very positive start': DeKalb 428 begins school remotely; Indian Creek, Hiawatha return in person

DeKalb 428 returns remotely, while Indian Creek, Hiawatha begin classes in person Monday

Sara Jennings, a Spanish teacher at DeKalb High School, listens to a student during remote learning Monday on the first day of school. Teachers are streaming their classes from their rooms as all students are doing remote learning at DeKalb High School.
Sara Jennings, a Spanish teacher at DeKalb High School, listens to a student during remote learning Monday on the first day of school. Teachers are streaming their classes from their rooms as all students are doing remote learning at DeKalb High School.

As DeKalb District 428 students returned to remote learning on Monday for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Interim Superintendent Griff Powell said one particular aspect jumped out to him as a success.

"We were happy to have Google Meets. Zoom was down all over the world," Powell said with a chuckle about the early-morning trouble of the video conferencing service. "So our tech worked very well."

DeKalb was one of three county districts to return to school on Monday. Hiawatha started full in-person learning while Indian Creek was fully in-person for elementary and middle schoolers with a hybrid plan for the high school.

Powell said DeKalb attendance numbers were very encouraging - from a high of 92% at Brooks Elementary to a low of 77% at Huntley Middle School. He added the attendance numbers are not official yet and are likely to rise after students who are learning in the evening log on.

"On a typical day anywhere in Illinois that number is about 92%," said Powell, adding most of the campuses were in the 80%-range across the district. "For us to be mostly in the lower 90s and upper 80s is very good. It's what we're looking for."

Powell said he was pleased from a technological standpoint, with no major technological issues.

He said he sent out a survey to the building principals to gauge concerns about day one and what needs to improve, and he said most of the answers were minor issues, ranging from parents not understanding or having Google accounts to more needing more loaner devices for students.

"Overall it was just very positive," Powell said. "My impression since you or me or no one has ever gone through a day one like this in history, it was very impressive. For being around a long time, this is a very positive start."

Hiawatha Superintendent Jared Poynter and Indian Creek Superintendent Chad Willis both called their first days successful. Both said they thought mask-wearing was going to be a concern, but said students across the district stepped up when it came to both masks and social distancing.

Poynter said it was overwhelmingly great.

"We thought mask compliance was going to be a concern," Poynter said. "But we were thoroughly impressed with how students pre-K through seniors handled themselves with being compliant with social distancing and compliant with face coverings."

Poynter said one of the biggest things to fix came with transportation. Some buses were late getting to school, a side effect of the COVID-19 self screenings expected from families. Poynter said the district is streamlining the process to eliminate the problem.

For Willis in Indian Creek, transportation was a bright spot, he said. Buses were no more than 5 minutes late on Monday.

"That's very minor," Willis said. "Things are taking longer with temperature checks and proper spacing and so forth. Overall we're pleased with how it went. And day two will be better than day one, and day three will be better than day two."

Willis said the biggest hiccup came with some minor tech problems with the high school remote learners early in the day.

"We have been one-to-one for the last four years. We're very fortunate in that aspect," Willis said. "With that said we had some issues between second and fourth hours with those students doing remote learning at the high school. We ended up resetting the system and that took care of the thing. We know it wasn't a bandwidth issue so we're not sure. We're investigating to make sure we're better. When it's working, it's working great."

Overall Willis said he was very pleased with the first day.

"I'm thankful for all the time and effort the back to school committee put in," Willis said. "They put a good plan in place and our teachers did a good job executing it. It's been a long five months out of school and it was great to see the kids' faces again."

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