With some bumps, eLearning in Wilton continues

The Wilton Board of Education met Tuesday night to discuss possible budget cuts and what to do with an anticipated $3-million surplus from this fiscal year.

The Wilton Board of Education met Tuesday night to discuss possible budget cuts and what to do with an anticipated $3-million surplus from this fiscal year.

Jarret Liotta / For Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — It’s an imperfect excursion into unknown waters, but the Wilton School District is sailing forward with its eLearning initiative in response to COVID-19 isolation restrictions.

For the second time this month, the Board of Education held an online video conference meeting — ironically with many more attendees than it would ordinarily see — and heard updates from school principals, administrators and even parents on how things are faring.

“Each and every family is experiencing this differently,” noted Andrea Leonardi, assistant superintendent for special services, with some entire families falling easily into new online practices and others frustrated or confused, especially those with children in different schools.

“Some kids, they’re having trouble adjusting to this new learning format,” she said.

She and others emphasized that parents — in particular those of students with special needs who have not had direct contact with their case managers — should reach out to the relevant school officials themselves.

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said, “I think our staff was fully aware that the onus was on them to reach out, (but) if you have a worry … then you shouldn’t wait for a teacher to reach out to you.”

“This is a partnership,” he said, “and we are figuring it out together.”

Even one Board of Ed member — Gretchen Jeanes — shared her confusion over the disconnect between what she was hearing from her child and the report coming back from their teacher.

“I just want to make sure that all parents are engaged,” she said.

“My concern is parents can go onto Google Classroom and check things, but I feel that if there’s a little bit of a gap, how are we supposed to know as parents if kids are doing everything they’re supposed to be doing?”

“How are we supposed to know if our kids are actually connecting to all of their teachers and getting everything they’re supposed to be getting?” Jeanes said.

Toward that end — to gather more information on concerns and questions — the school system is sending out a survey to parents in the next several days about their experience thus far with online learning.

In public comment, two parents shared a desire to see more “live interaction” with teachers and students online.

“Whether it’s Zoom, like this,” parent Doug Freeman said, referring to the computer program used to teleconference the school board meeting itself, “or other avenues for live conversations with the students,” in particular kids at the primary level.

Parent Susan Rappaport said she “wanted to hear more about the future capacity for more live interaction with teachers, especially at the high school.”

She noted the disparity between different teachers, with some apparently adept at working with the new online formats, while others were “struggling a bit more” to get up to speed.

While school officials acknowledged there were issues, they strove to paint a rosy picture, including each of the four principals, who gave reports on their individual schools.

“The staff have been amazing,” said Middlebrook School principal Lauren Feltz, noting they were striving to prioritize the social and emotional health of students throughout the process.

Others, likewise, praised staff for their efforts.

“Everyone is going above and beyond,” said Fran Kompar, director of digital learning. “It’s just an amazing feat.”

She spoke of how worldwide use of online resources has sometimes taxed the infrastructure, but the district was persevering, striving to find a balance between activities that were more individualized and those that could be used for blanket education.

“Screen time is actually a concern for me,” she said, noting it was a difficult balancing act to engage the technology without gluing students to the screen.

“We have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time,” Chair Deborah Low said.

“E-learning is a work in progress,” she said. “We will get better as it continues.”

At the same time, Low emphasized keeping educational needs in perspective in relation to health and safety needs in the community.

“That’s got to be our biggest concern … Let’s not expect school issues to be addressed immediately,” she said.

“Everyone’s going to do what we can, but … we’re operating in a much larger backdrop,” she said.

Smith concurred and noted he was meeting with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice Friday morning to talk about the plan to set Miller-Driscoll School up as a shelter.

That discussion, he said, highlights the priority of safety in the community over educational details.

“That’s our first priority as well,” he said.