Educators were thrown a curve in mid-March when schools were shutdown across the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

School districts had to rapidly implement remote learning plans while teachers and students took on the difficult task of adjusting tried and true methods of education in favor of learning from a distance.

Now that the school year is winding down, Hoopeston Area School District administrators have had a chance to look at how students responded to remote learning and discussed their findings during Thursday’s board of education meeting.

Hoopeston Area High School Principal John Klaber said the high school averaged about 51 percent participation every week in remote learning efforts.

He said they started at around 45 percent participation and made it up to 70 percent participation at one point.

“It took a while for people to get used to it and then, at the end of the year, our seniors were ready to be done,” he said.

Hoopeston Area Board President Dave McFadden asked where those results fell in terms of expectations for remote learning.

“Remote learning is a difficult beast,” Klaber said.

Klaber said the results weren’t a result of a lack of effort from teachers, pointing out the lengths many teachers from all grade levels went to to help their students during the shutdown.

“I know teachers that were driving books to students, driving worksheets to students, calling home to parents,” he said. “And that’s not just a high school thing. Every school in our district went above and beyond to try to communicate.”

Klaber said teachers worked around student schedules, hosting Zoom meetings at 8 p.m. to accommodate the work schedules of high school students in some cases.

He said the numbers were slow to start and tailed off towards the end, but they were strong during the middle.

“It was just at the start and the end, we struggled to get everybody motivated,” Klaber said. “The kids that put in the work did outstanding. There were kids we had to poke and prod a little bit before they came around. Unfortunately some just didn’t get the job done.”

Klaber said they have learned some things from the data they’ve received and will be ready to take on remote learning again in the fall in necessary.

“We’ll be ready if we need to,” he said.

Hoopeston Area Middle School Principal Michelle White said remote learning went well, but added that implementing remote learning was a learning process for teachers and staff.

“Remote learning went well for our first effort,” she said. “Obviously, there were a lot of things that we learned through this adventure and some changes that we would make if we have to do this again.”

White praised her staff for going above and beyond and adapted quickly to help their students.

She said support staff went to students houses as needed and were always on-hand to help those students in-need.

“It was really great to see how everybody came together to support the students,” White said.

White outlined some of the unique projects students took on during the shutdown: using toilet paper to model distance between different celestial bodies, using sandwiches to model chemical equations and a variety of independent reading projects aimed at keeping students engaged and active.

White said she was “pretty proud” that the Middle School averaged 77 percent participation each week.

“It’s often challenging to motivate middle schoolers and when you don’t have face-to-face contact with them that makes it even harder,” she said. “So 77 percent was a big number for us.”

She said that percentage started to decline the week of May 11th and the average went down to about 43 percent.

“By that point, I think the kids were kind of done,” White said.

White said, about halfway through remote learning, the Middle School started awarding pizzas to two randomly chosen students who had completed their work each week, giving students more incentive to complete their work.

One element of remote learning White singled out as something that would need to be changed if remote learning was implemented again was structure.

“If we have to continue this in the fall, we would make sure that we had more structure,” she said.

White said this change was based on feedback from parents and would include more an emphasis on scheduling regular Zoom meetings for classes.

McFadden praised White for the Middle School’s participation rate.

Maple Principal Suzi Root praised the parents, siblings and caregivers of students for their “unwavering efforts in educating our little ones.”

“Our kids are not the ones you can just put on the Chromebook and have them do their stuff or give them a packet,” she said. “They need attention, they need somebody sitting right there to assist them. It’s not easy. I just greatly appreciate all the efforts of our families.”

Root said her staff have also gone above and beyond during this time making phone calls, visiting students, providing care packages.

“My staff has just been a rock through all of this,” she said.

Root said Maple’s remote learning engagement rate was about what was as expected and believes that the peaks and valleys in engagement likely had to do with days with nice weather versus days with poor weather.

Root plans to speak with teachers and perform surveys of parents and staff to see what can be improved with remote learning in preparation for the possibility that the district needs to implement remote learning again.

“We live and we learn,” she said.

Root also read a statement from John Greer Principal Dan Walder.

“Words cannot express the appreciation I feel for the John Greer faculty and staff during the 2020 Illinois school closure. Their professionalism, dedication and concern for students has impressed me greatly. Remote learning has been stressful and I cannot overstate my appreciation for all of them. Over and over during the last month, I have reflected on the blessing that is mine to be John Greer’s building leader, I couldn’t ask for a better group to work with.”

Following the principal reports, McFadden asked the principals to pass along a message of praise and thanks to all of their staffs.

“We had an opportunity to shine in this community in a crisis and we did that,” he said. “The personal stories I heard in feedback from the community show how much our people care about these kids. We can’t thank you enough.”

In a separate discussion, Superintendent Robert Richardson discussed the success of the district’s lunch distribution program during the shutdown.

Richardson said the program had been a huge success and that was largely due to the outpouring of support from community members, staff members and vendors giving freely of their time to help with distribution.

“The people are too numerous to list, but it is absolutely amazing how the community came together and provided food and educational packets to our kids,” he said.

He said they’ve been distributing lunches since March 17 and they started by providing lunches on a daily basis.

Richardson said there were some concerns about interactions under this method, so they switched to providing lunches on a weekly basis.

He praised the district’s lunch staff for coming and packaging lunches for each student.

“It worked like clockwork,” Richardson said. “They were absolutely amazing.”

He estimated the district provided about 3,600 meals with about 400 going out each week.

“They are champions,” he said. “So is everyone who helped with that.”

The board approved the following:

- Action to approve 2020-2021 Public School Calendar as presented.

- Action to approve the 1st reading of the K-8 & Hoopeston Area High School Handbooks for the 2020-21 school year as presented.

- Action to approve search for RTI interventionist at HAHS.

- Action to approve the Chromebook purchase from Technology Resource Advisors, Inc. in the amount of $182,000.

The board approved the following personnel matters:

- Action to approve the resignation of Brian Geiss as 8th Grade Science Teacher at Hoopeston Area Middle School effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

- Action to approve the resignation of Roberta Sue McDaniel as 3-6 Grade General Music Teacher at John Greer Elementary and Hoopeston Area Middle School with an effective date of May 7, 2020.

- Accept the resignation of Lindsay O’Brien as Classroom Paraprofessional at Hoopeston Area Middle School effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

- Action to approve the resignation of Rochelle Morgeson as Color Guard and half Musical Sponsor at Hoopeston Area High School effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

- Action to approve the resignation of Megan Weeks as 6th Grade Math Teacher and Yearbook Sponsor at Hoopeston Area Middle School effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

- Action to approve the resignation of Jena Schaumburg as third grade teacher at John Greer Elementary effective at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

- Action to approve the retirement of Julie Stump as Title I Teacher at Maple Elementary School effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

- Action to approve the intent to retire of Daphne High as Math Teacher at Hoopeston Area High School at the end of the 2022-23 school year

- Action to employ Charles Strawser pending background check as District Custodian at Hoopeston Area CUSD #11 with an effective date of May 11, 2020.

- Action to employ Tracy Zorns pending background check as Library Paraprofessional at Maple Elementary School for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to employ Chris Kelnhofer as Assistant Football Coach at Hoopeston Area High School for the 2020-21 school year.

- Action to employ Christy Etzkorn as Classroom Paraprofessional at John Greer Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to employ Samantha Russell as Physical Education Teacher at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to employ Alyson Knapp as Special Education Teacher at John Greer Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Approve to employ Angie Simpson as Yearbook Sponsor at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Jane Long from Title I Paraprofessional to Library Paraprofessional at Maple Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Kalie Zamarripa from Classroom Paraprofessional at John Greer Elementary to Classroom Paraprofessional at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Christie Pancake from Classroom Paraprofessional to Speech/Part time Classroom Paraprofessional at Maple Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Kelsey Vines from Classroom Paraprofessional to Title Paraprofessional at Maple Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Rochelle Morgeson from Choral Director at Middle School/High School and 1 & 2 Grade General Music Teacher at Maple Elementary to 3-6 Grade General Music Teacher/5-6 Grade Chorus at John Greer Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Karen Romig from Middle School Reading Interventionist to RtI Teacher/Reading Specialist Grades K-2 at Maple Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to accept the transfer of Amanda Mathewson from RtI Teacher/Reading Specialist to third Grade Teacher at John Greer Elementary for the 2020-21 school year with an effective date of August 13, 2020.

- Action to approve the following individuals as temporary Summer 2020 Buildings and Grounds Employees effective May 4, 2020:

Linda Lugo

Daniel Lugo

Sarah Tribbey

Angela Layden

Riley Wyss

Carl Ankenbrand

Taylor Ankenbrand

Nathan Crouch

Ethan Smith

Kristi Terrell

Eric Zorns

Tracy Zorns

Payton Small

Lucas Hofer

Linda Walsh

Brooke Walsh

Les Symmonds

Maya Cornelius

Andrea Glotzbach

In other business:

- Klaber reported that prom has been tentatively rescheduled for June 13.

Klaber cautioned that the date is “looking more and more likely” that it will be canceled. In that event, Klaber said prom would not be rescheduled and this year’s seniors would be invited to come to next year’s prom.

- Klaber also reported the Hoopeston Area High School greenhouse had already sold $4,356 in plants, up from a total of $3,855 last year. He said there are still several varieties of flowers and plants available.

- Klaber announced that Hoopeston Area High School is a gold medal recipient for its Career Choices program from Academic Innovations. He said the award is based on the school’s Freshmen Success program, course content and student 10-year plan.

“That’s quite an honor that the high school has gotten,” he said.

- Richardson reported the district anticipates receiving funds through the CARES Act. He estimates the district will receive $488,000.