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Parents offer feedback about distance learning

Parents of students in the Albert Lea school district’s Distance Learning Academy showed improved opinions about the district’s distance learning so far this fall compared to in the spring, though there were still areas for improvement. 

John Double, principal of the Distance Learning Academy, on Monday presented to the school board the results of a survey that went out to parents of the students who have opted solely for distance learning for their children this quarter. He said there are about 750 students in the academy, and the district received back 177 surveys. 

Out of the surveys that were returned, 77.4% of respondents on average said they felt supported in their child’s distance learning efforts, Double said. 

About 78.5% of parents said they were receiving a “just right” amount of communication from staff, while 20.9% said they were not getting enough and 0.6% said they were receiving too much.

Overall, 70.6% of parents said they felt their child was engaged and actively participating in their Google Meet sessions with their teachers and classes; however, that number was only at about 54% for high school parents.

Another question asked how much time their student spent each day working on classwork outside of Google Meet sessions. Almost 36% said their student was spending 2 or more hours a day, while about 29% spent 60 to 120 minutes and 35% spent 60 minutes or less. 

When asked what ways distance learning could improve, 43.5% identified academic supports, including requests for tutors and trying to get more time with teachers. The next highest area for improvement was technology at 29.9%. Other needs identified were mental health, special needs and English language learning. 

School board member Jill Marin asked what the plans were for addressing mental health concerns, and Double said they are working with the counselors at each grade level, and students who need assistance can get help on a one-on-one level by letting a teacher know of their needs during office hours or by signing on to their Google Meet early or staying on late. 

The survey also included a space for parents to offer specific comments about their child’s experience. Comments ranged from parents who thought their child was getting too much screen time, to a need for more communication and others who were impressed with the organization they saw and who commended teachers. 

Double said out of the 177 surveys, 80 different comments were submitted.

Moving forward, Double said one of the biggest things staff will work on is communication — both quality and quantity. They will also work on resolving problems with submitting assignments, expand tech hours for support and find ways to increase student engagement. 

School board member Ken Petersen commended Double for the progress seen since last spring and said he was pleased to see the focus on continued improvements. 

School board member Neal Skaar questioned whether the results were skewed based on the parents who responded to the survey, stating he suspected those parents whose students were not doing well may not have been as likely to respond.  

Double said this could be true, but noted it could have been skewed either way. 

He said he planned to send out a survey to distance learning parents in the middle of each quarter.

In addition to hearing the updates about the Distance Learning Academy, the board heard a presentation about the proposed referendum and went into closed session before coming back and approving the master agreement for support staff with the district for 2020-22. 

Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services, said the agreement was for a 2% salary increase with step and lane increases for the first year. The settlement for the second year will be determined based on the financial position of the state and school district. 

She said employees who do not use all of their vacation during the year are eligible to have up to eight hours paid out. Employees who work 52 weeks are eligible based on years of experience to earn two additional vacation days.

Look for a separate story about the referendum presentation.