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Feedback and flexibility: Two keywords for one district’s goal for fall

Decisions surrounding fall school openings are complicated, to say the least--here's what one district is doing

As the newly-installed Director of Student Information at Barrington School District in suburban Chicago (IL), a district with 9,000 students and 13 schools, Phil Hintz has an added challenge to an already impossible situation—discover unprecedented solutions in an entirely new environment.

In this conversation with eSchool News, Phil details how the district is reinventing itself through data collection, making tough logistical decisions, and inspiring both faculty and parents to stretch their imaginations when it comes to instruction.

ESN: What a year to be the new guy.

PH: Five days in! it’s a different role that allows me to do different things than I’ve done before. For the past 14 years, I was in the CTO role and had to manage all of the technology. Now I’m only managing an aspect of technology for the school district, which is pretty awesome.

ESN: So how is planning going?

PH: We already sent a survey to our parents in the spring asking them, “How do you feel about going back to school? What are your thoughts?” And from that survey, we realized that about 80 percent of our parents want their kids to physically be in school.

So next week we’ll send another survey that fine-tunes the question. If you have multiple kids in your family, are some of those kids going to stay home? Maybe you have a child with special needs or special health concerns, and you want to hold them back but your other kids can go. Or maybe there are younger children you want to hold back.

Then we can start to plan transportation. We need that decision process so we can plan our routes. Who’s going to be riding and not riding? How many buses are we going to need in service all the time? Those two pieces of information are critical right now for us.

ESN: Sounds complicated.

PH: These are tough decisions. If a parent says, “I don’t want to send my kid to school in person. I want virtual instruction instead.” Then we, as a school district, are going to say, “Well, your child is not going to be in Ms. Johnson’s class because she’s teaching all the in-person kids. You’re going to have teacher XYZ because they are the virtual teacher.” So we’re going to run a kind of blended schedule, where the kids who have opted out of in-school face-to-face instruction will still get a full instruction by a teacher. It will just be virtual. So while this is giving flexibility to either being remote or being in-person, there will be restrictions in terms of which faculty. Not every classroom is going to have a camera in it.

ESN: How do you see instruction differing between these two scenarios?

PH: There’s an opportunity to have a flexible learning environment in the virtual sense. Just like with in-person instruction, we are always trying to tailor every student’s education to their unique needs. But virtually, we also want to take advantage of the manipulatives and the things that are not typically in schools. For example, shoveling snow gets your aerobic heart rate up. So therefore that could be your PE class. If you’re teaching a math lesson and it requires fractions, a virtual lesson could lend itself to the materials at home, which could be chocolate chips and measuring cups and flour. Hey, we’re going to produce a chocolate chip cookie and that’s part of the lesson, but we’re going to learn math in that process.

ESN: Do you see these things as a stop-gap or is this moment where we truly do reinvent things?

PH: I honestly believe it’s a reinvention, a revolution in some ways. Look at higher education—Harvard just the other day made the determination that all classes will be online and if freshmen want to come on campus, they can but they’re still won’t be physical classes. They’re still going to have to do it virtually, whether they’re sitting in their dorm room or sitting back at home.

I think that’s a positive. We have a unique opportunity to meet the social and emotional needs of students in a different way. And we will be able to supply them with resources, whether it be virtual or in person. We can tailor every student’s education. I’ve always been a proponent of the idea every student needs an IEP. They all need an individual education plan, whether they are special education students or not. I think that this allows for that to happen. We always talk about the differentiation of instruction, but this situation is forcing the issue.

Coming next week: A conversation with Sandra Paul, Director Of Information Technology at Township of Union Public School (NJ) Does your district have ideas to share? Send them to

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