A Message from the Superintendent
Three Weeks In
Dear District 153 Family,

On August 31st, thousands of laptops and iPads were being opened all over town as District 153 began the 2020-2021 school year learning from home.

Despite the predictable first days' technology glitches, I am proud to report that our staff has done a remarkable job supporting their students, their students' families, and each other in this new, less than ideal learning environment.

Nonetheless, I am concerned about sustainability. Undoubtedly, adjustments will be needed in terms of the length of the day, screen time and like. We need to guard against staff, parent and student burnout.

As we hit the three-week mark, the school district will be sending out a check-in survey to both parents and staff in targeted emails. The data will be used to help us make improvements in our remote learning program going forward.
A recap of how we got here
After the Aug.10th Board of Education meeting, District 153 was ready to implement a dual educational program allowing parents to choose between an all remote learning option and a "hybrid" option in which students attend school two days a week and learning from home the other three days.

However, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) released revised safety guidance for schools on August 13th--guidance District 153 did not feel it could meet. (For more about this, see Letter from the Superintendent and School Board President, Aug. 15, 2020) Moreover, there was a worrisome increase in COVID-19 cases in surrounding communities. It was therefore decided on August 15th that District 153 schools would open with all students learning remotely.
How long will we be learning remotely?
We think we have addressed the issues presented by the Aug. 13th IDPH guidance. Some issues, like quarantine mandates, were clarified by IDPH. Others, like the requirement for fit-tested N-95 masks for nurses and custodians, were resolved when we finally procured a mask shipment and one of our school nurses completed required training to fit them.

Yet guidance from IDPH, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH) is constantly changing. In addition, the debate over the long-impacts of COVID-19 on children and adults continues.

Barring some miracle in which we are able to transition to Phase 5 in the Restore Illinois plan, District 153 is convinced that the best option for providing consistency in education is to continue remote learning at least through Dec. 18th. We will continue to monitor, update, and adapt, as needed.
What's next? Facilitated Distance Learning Academy
It has become clear to teachers and administrators that some students need more support than can be provided via remote learning. Therefore, District 153 schools will begin to bring in a small number of students who are experiencing some kind of hardship with remote learning for specific support and resources. We're calling it the Facilitated Distance Learning Academy (FDLA). Students will be invited to attend their school's supervised distance learning environment based on teacher and administrator recommendations.

FDLA students will be required to follow all IDPH and CDC safety guidelines including mandatory mask wearing while inside the building and social distancing. More information is available here.
Good news! District gets grant for more technology
District 153 has been awarded over $139,000 from the state's Elementary and Secondary Relief/Digital Equity grant program.

We used federal grant money and donations from Foundation 153, Homewood PTA, Canadian National and Woodlands Community Church to add tech devices and services. We were able to provide a laptop to every 3rd-8th grade student for remote learning. However, we couldn't guarantee every one of our youngest students at Willow School a more age-appropriate iPad device. This new grant money will get us very close to providing every Willow student with an iPad.
More good news! Community helpers rally around our schools
Mr. Rogers always advised children to "look for the helpers" in times of distress. Students in District 153 didn't have to look very far for the helpers in their community as they prepared to return to school during a pandemic.

We are so grateful for the "Community Engagement Committee" of our Remote Learning Task Force and for the online community named "Homewood 153 Helper Bees." Together, they planned and implemented community-building events to raise morale and collected, sorted, and packaged needed school supply donations.

District 153 couldn't do what we do for students and staff without the help and support of parents and community residents. We are richly blessed.
The Community Engagement Committee sponsored a drive-by, back-to-school parade on August 28th featuring the Willow Wildcat, Churchill Bulldog, and James Hart Panther.
In addition to collecting donations for school supplies, the Helper Bees matched donated computer monitors to teachers who needed them for remote learning set-ups.
While we are disappointed not to be able to see our students face-to-face every day, there is much to be thankful for.

Students are learning, and most Homewood families are safe and healthy. We need to continue to do our part to keep it that way.

I hope you'll keep reading to learn more about what's happening in your schools. Thank you for your support during this highly unusual school year.

Dr. Dale Mitchell

A Little Bit of the Old Normal
The outdoor fall sports of softball, baseball, and cross country are continuing cautiously at James Hart. Above, Panther first-baseman Evion Rodriguez stretches for the ball.
Even during pandemics, parents want to mark the passage of time with an annual school photo. Student pictures were taken this week in the HF Sports Complex.
A Little Bit of the New Normal
With that first chance to meet the teacher face-to-face, back-to-school open houses are a highlight of the school year. Open houses turned virtual or drive-by this year.

Although the morning announcements cannot be broadcast from the Panther TV studio in the James Hart SmartLab, the show must go on! Student broadcasters are recording segments from home. You can watch episodes here.
The tried and true tricks in every teacher's bag of tricks are getting turned on their heads all over the school district. Above, Mrs. Fonner's kindergartners show off their homemade coconut trees after a class reading of the classic children's book, "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom."
Only One Week Left to Register!
Did you know that the laptop computers your children are using for remote learning were funded, in part, with a donation from Foundation 153?
Foundation 153's annual Fund Run is a big reason why this parent-led organization is able to donate funds to meet the needs of students and teachers in District 153.

And it's never been easier to participate--this year the Fund Run is VIRTUAL! Click here or the logo above for more information and to register online.

Register by Sept. 23rd for the chance to win a Fitbit Charge 4!

Get out! Get healthy! Support your schools!
District 153 is screening for preschool program
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