WOBURN - School administrators promised to allocate additional attention and resources towards the district's remote-by-choice or virtual academy students after a handful of parents complained about deficiencies with the home-based learning model.
During a School Committee meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent Dr. Matthew Crowley and building principals outlined proposals to get additional reading and instructional materials to virtual academy students, as well as ongoing talks about how to improve peer-to-peer and teacher-student interactions.
The update on the learning program came after at least two parents late last month raised a number of concerns about the existing format of the virtual academy, which is the district's mandated Internet-based instruction program. Most families who enrolled in the virtual academy, which parents this summer allowed to opt into lieu of Woburn's hybrid learning model, include younger elementary-school level children .
In late October, an unidentified parent who addressed the School Committee during the citizen participation phase of the meeting agenda explained that her daughter was having terrible difficulty remaining engaged while logged into her remote classroom.
According to the local resident, who is herself an educator, she expected her kindergartner would have some trouble staying focused in a computer-based learning setting, but she feels the district could do better job in facilitating interpersonal engagements with classmates.
The local citizen also suggested that administrators consider sending home books and other physical instructional tools and have teachers give instruction about assignments — as opposed to uploading documents with written instructions that young children are incapable of reading.
"She has no meaningful interaction with her peers. There are no morning greetings or casual hellos. She has not been able to ask her [classmates] simple questions like, 'What did you do over the weekend?' or wish them a happy birthday," the parent explained.
"She has not read a single word. She has not held a single book…What I'm asking is that you close the gap between the virtual academy and hybrid learning," the speaker later respectfully pleaded.
After the unidentified parent addressed the committee, a second individual reportedly emailed the School Committee in the middle of the meeting to echo the speaker's sentiments.
Some specific virtual academy changes being sought and contemplated by school administrators include:
• Sending home library materials and literacy books;
• New opportunities for one-to-one teacher check-ins and supervised learning sessions;
• The implementation of a better system to give directions for student assignments.
According to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Dr. Michael Baldassarre, after being appraised about some of the parent concerns, he immediately contacted the speaker to address her concerns.
School Committee members, happy with that outcome, later asked for updates on what's being done to improve the virtual academy setting.
"If there's issues that have been raised [moving forward], maybe we can explain [what's being done at future meetings]," said School Committee member Dr. John Wells.
"We don't want them to feel like we're not paying attention," later agreed School Committee member Patricia Chisholm.