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Superintendent responds to workload concerns of St. Johns County teachers

Forson discourages parents from contacting teachers during class time

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The superintendent of the St. Johns County School District is urging parents to alleviate some of the workloads of teachers engaged in simultaneous instruction.

“This has been the most challenging start to a school year that we have ever faced,” Superintendent Tim Forson said Wednesday in a letter published to the district’s website. “Our teachers and staff have worked countless hours to prepare for an educational model that is complex and very demanding.”

The letter follows concerns raised in an SJCSD board meeting Tuesday morning by Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association.

“We knew it would be rough,” Dillon said in an interview with News4Jax. “We knew it would have challenges. I had no idea how very challenging it would be until we completed the first week of school.”

Dillon said the challenges arose during the first week of classes, which resumed on Aug. 31, with many teachers performing simultaneous instruction wherein they will instruct students who are physically in the classroom while other students follow along or stream the course online.

“I’m glad he addressed the parents,” Dillon said Thursday after reading the statement from Forson. “I get that they are struggling with the dual platforms as well, but there’s a time and place to email the teacher with questions. The teacher’s number one priority is teaching and the safety of the students so they cannot have any more distractions than they already have. I applaud him for setting boundaries. However, my concerns about the sustainability of teaching on dual platforms has not updated. I’ll be meeting with teachers after school today and look forward to hearing from them first hand their concerns and any possible solutions. I still say that the dual teaching simply does not work.”

In Forson’s letter addressing the issue, he asked parents to understand the challenge those teachers are facing.

“Your child’s teacher is tasked with preparing variations in lessons because students are on two platforms,” Forson’s letter said. “Teachers need time to adjust to the demands of dual platforms and develop the most effective strategies that can be sustained.”

The superintendent also asked families to refrain from contacting teachers during the class periods in order to cut down on delays and distractions.

“I ask that parents use the same methods of communication that you have used prior to the pandemic,” Forson said. “Teachers cannot respond to parent communication during the school day while teaching.”

Forson also asked families to stay with the learning option they chose at the beginning of the school year and to be especially cognizant of safety protocols as high school athletic events and many extracurricular activities are scheduled to begin in the following few days.

Read the full text of Forson’s letter below:

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope that the first week of school was a positive experience for your child. This has been the most challenging start to a school year that we have ever faced. Our teachers and staff have worked countless hours to prepare for an educational model that is complex and very demanding. I am very proud of the work of our schools and know that we are continuously refining and streamlining the processes and learning platforms we are using.

Many of our teachers are teaching students in a classroom while also simultaneously delivering instruction to students at home. While we are committed to keeping all children on pace and focused on the same high standards, the way in which learning occurs will vary from the classroom to the distance learning setting. Your child’s teacher is tasked with preparing variations in lessons because students are on two platforms. Teachers need time to adjust to the demands of dual platforms and develop the most effective strategies that can be sustained.

To that end, I ask that parents use the same methods of communication that you have used prior to the pandemic. Teachers cannot respond to parent communication during the school day while teaching. The Schoology instructional platform is specifically designed as an instructional management system to be used by the teacher and the student.

The mobility of students between brick and mortar and distance learning is also a significant challenge to schools. We understand that there are times when students move from one platform to the other perhaps due to COVID-19 exposure and extended quarantine, but it is vital that families remain committed to the option that was chosen to begin the school year.

This week is the start of many activities that make the school experience fulfilling for students and families. High school athletics and extracurricular activities will allow very limited attendance for spectators. It is imperative to maintain the COVID-19 protocols at all school activities and important to understand that there may be different protocols for events in other school districts.

Lastly, I want to share our thanks to all parents for your patience, suggestions and support as we have navigated this school year. As we do not know the duration of this pandemic, we are prepared to adapt and modify as needed throughout this school year. We will continue to provide feedback including the school district COVID-19 data located on our website.

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Tim Forson, Superintendent, St. Johns County School District

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