District 65 offices at the JEH Education Center.

Some teachers are “struggling” with technology. Some students have had “obstacles to engagement.” And “the pacing for the beginning of the year has been a challenge,” which in non-education-speak means learning is not going as quickly as the district would like.

Those are among the issues outlined in a remote learning update to be presented to the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education on Monday night.

District 65 has been on remote learning since school began in August. The hope is to return to in-person classes for some students on November 16, but the increase in coronavirus cases makes that seem unlikely.

The picture is not all grim, by any means The report from Assistant Superintendent Stacy Beardsley and two other administrators says “students are adjusting to learning routines and enjoying new ways of demonstrating their learning through a variety of tech tools….”

And the youngest students are finding a way to deal with Zoom fatigue and so much time on screen: “It has been great to see how primary students are developing their stamina to be engaged in the learning longer….”

But the reality of e-learning is that it is a new way of doing things, and it is taking longer to figure out. The district’s goal is for students to have at least one year’s worth of learning, whether on site or online. But the rate of online learning is falling behind that goal, “as the time to support social emotional learning, learning of technology, MAP [standardized test] assessments, and adaptation to and learning a new curriculum has been greater than anticipated.”

And just when one solution seemed to be helping, COVID-19 brought it to a halt. Even though school is not open, 85 students were attending remote learning camps, where adult supervisors could help the children deal with technology questions. The report says “the fall camps have been a great way to bring in students who previously had obstacles to engagement….”

But after the report was written, the fall camps were cancelled as of Friday October 23 because of the increasing positivity rate and case count of COVID-19 in our area.

The report says there is every reason to believe the recommended learning for District 65’s 7,000 students can be brought up to speed, but it also says “in order to achieve our goal, we will need to engage in continuous improvement as the year moves forward….” In other words, this will not be easy.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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