Troy officials report success in keeping students engaged

| April 24, 2020 8:32 AM

Prior experience with online tools gave teachers and students at Troy Public Schools a leg up with remote teaching, but the move out of the classroom has presented challenges, said Superintendent Jacob Francom.

“Our staff members have been trained quite a bit in technology. Teachers have had that kind of Google Suite training for the past five or six years pretty regularly,” Francom said last week. “It’s still new when you’re jumping right into it 100 percent.”

Like districts across the country, Troy’s schools closed mid-March per Gov. Steve Bullock’s order in the face of the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis. News of the governor’s directive came as the district’s board of trustees met in a Sunday afternoon emergency session discussing what remote learning would look like.

In the following days, Troy administrators rolled out a hybrid program designed to serve children with and without reliable Internet access. Teachers have given live lectures and recorded classroom lessons for students’ consumption at home.

To get teachers ready for the sudden transition, the school district repurposed the March vacation week for training purposes and brought in a specialist to help teachers adjust. Experts remain on hand to help when educators run into bumps with online learning, Francom said.

They also are encouraged to draw on each other for help, inspiration and tips, he said.

“Our teachers are not on an island alone,” Francom said. “We’re in communication with them and they’re also getting some training with outside people. They are collaborating among themselves about best practices.”

Francom said the district is seeing about an 80 percent completion rate for assignments. That’s up from nearby Libby, which reported receiving about 60 percent of assigned work earlier in the month. Officials have since said the completion rate has moved upward to about 76 percent.

In Troy, Francom said there was a slight lag among students immediately following the March break, which he chalked up to a few families treating the closure as an extended vacation. Since then, he’s considered the hybrid, though largely Internet-based, curriculum a success.

That success is dependent on keeping open lines of communication with students and their families, Francom said. District staff members contact students weekly, checking in on them and determining whether they need additional support.

“We’re following up on any issues or concerns,” he said. “We want to know about them so we can figure out a way to remedy that.”

The district also has hosted digital school assemblies, broadcasting well-known guests like Scott Backovich, a youth motivational speaker from southern California. And administrators organized a social distance Easter egg hunt earlier in the month that students could participate in via automobile.

“I think we feel like it is important to not only focus on academics but emotional issues, being as we are isolated and out of our regular routine,” Francom said.