Niles High School prepares to cease in-person instruction for three weeks

NILES — Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dan Applegate feels more ready for this round of remote learning than he did in the spring.

Applegate has been meeting with area superintendents, the Berrien County Health Department and continuing to learn more about what the school system can do to not just slow a learning slide during remote learning, but actively help students progress in their education.

After Sunday evening’s address from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which included a pause for students in grades nine through 12th to continue their studies remotely, Applegate said the governor’s information matched the district’s.

“The governor came out and said the rate of transmissions is low in schools, and it’s showing up in community spread,” Applegate said. “It was everything we were already talking about. It was reaffirming.”
Applegate said at Niles High School, there had been COVID-19 positive cases impacting the students, mostly by way of quarantine and isolation periods after a family member tested positive. The staff and students were experiencing a higher rate of being out of the school building in recent weeks, due to those exposures. The biggest issue Applegate saw was keeping staffing levels up, and ensuring students who had to quarantine were able to continue learning.

“Some other area schools had to close due to not having enough staff,” Applegate said. “Staffing was a big concern.”

With that in mind, Applegate said the administration and educators had already begun a conversation around what going remote to help lessen the spread and alleviate staffing pressures could look like.

“We had already started to move down that line of thinking. We were ready,” he said. “We had already been thinking about it and putting plans together, and already taken feedback during parent-teacher conferences [about challenges with remote learning].”

Unlike in the spring, Applegate feels more confident on the remote learning options students and educators will be utilizing through the next three weeks.

“Back in June, we had already started thinking about what different [remote learning] plans look like,” Applegate said. “We tried to come up with as many different scenarios as we could among the administrative teams. I have a group of superintendents I meet with who make plans, and we try to poke holes in each others’ plans to test them.”

As remote learning begins for the Niles High School students on Wednesday, Applegate said the school system will continue to monitor, debrief and meet to continue to improve the remote learning system. Applegate said the school system and board’s primary focus is in-person instruction for as long, and as safely as they can provide. In the meantime, they will continue improving their remote learning to keep step.

“We will continue to always get better for the benefits of the kids,” Applegate said.

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