As district takes ‘test run,’ working parents search alternative places for students

By Steven Spearie
The State Journal-Register

Posted Aug 31, 2020 at 6:51 PM
Tiffany Mathis acknowledged that parents are having to make tough decisions, especially since the School District 186 board of education voted to start with an all-remote model, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We knew there would be a huge need for parents who are working or whatever their unique situation is to have a safe place for their kids to be,” said Mathis the CEO and executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois. “There’s a lot going on right now, so we’re just trying to best meet the needs of people in the community.”

Mathis said the Boys & Girls Clubs’ main facility at 300 South 15th Street is enrolling a maximum of 75 students from kindergarten through 12th grade for all-day learning.

Mathis said she hoped to see its eight other sites housed in District 186 schools around the city open up in the next couple of weeks, possibly for all-day learning.

Monday marked the first school day for District 186 students, though it was more of an opportunity to test drive some technology and have Zoom meetings with teachers.

There were orientation sessions for new sixth graders and and ninth graders, with Franklin Middle School reporting an 80 percent virtual turnout, according to Superintendent Jennifer Gill.

Gill, who tested positive for COVID-19, marked her last day of quarantine yesterday.

Monday marked the first day back to classrooms for Ball-Chatham students through eighth grade who chose the hybrid/blended model. Glenwood High School students are starting the academic year remotely.

The eight sites, Mathis said, were typically open after school for three to four hours last fall and enrolled between 900 and 1,300 students.

“We’re looking to set an opening date here shortly,” said Mathis, who is also the subdistrict 5 representative on the board of education. “We’re continuing to work with (District 186) about how we can best support students in the district and families by having our programs in the school buildings.

“Once they let us know how much space we actually have to work with, then we’ll be able to set enrollment numbers based on how much space we have so we can follow social distancing practices.”

Another day camp option, Children’s Corner, which was being run by the Springfield Park District, was postponed. The camp for kids ages five through 12 focused on “remote learning and creative play,” according to a description from its website.

An assistant director of recreation for the Park District didn’t immediately return inquiries from The State Journal-Register.

Gill characterized Monday as a bit of a test run for Tuesday when synchronous, or live remote learning begins.

“It was designed to be a check-in, to make sure we’re getting our technology glitches worked through and to make sure we had any questions family had answered,” Gill said.

The superintendent also praised district teachers “for the work they’ve done over the summer, but especially over the last two weeks intently to get prepared for today.”

Kevin Simonson of Springfield, whose daughter is a freshman at Springfield High School, said he thought some of the communication from teachers could have been clearer.

“People need lists, people need simple things, people need little breakdowns of this is what you need to do and this is where you need to do it and this is when you need to do it by,” Simonson said. “That said, we’re asked to temper all of this because none of us has really done this before.

“The level of organization that has to take place inside the entire hierarchy of the administration and support staff and teachers and parents is just a massive undertaking. By and large, things worked today. There was confusion and a little frustration, but I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to engage in some productive learning.”

Aaron Graves, president of the Springfield Education Association, said teachers still had plenty of questions over the weekend about how things were going to work and how well things were going to come together before Tuesday.

“Make no mistake, teachers are excited about being back with students, even if it is remotely,” Graves said. “But it’s like starting a marathon with your shoelaces not quite tied correctly.

“The telltale sign is how parents and students feel about it tomorrow.”

Mathis of the Boys & Girls Clubs said its summer program would usually attract about 125 students, but this time it was limited to about 30 students because of COVID-19, though operated with the same number of staff members, around 15.

The main facility can hold pods of students in the gym which is normally used for the summer session, so Mathis said she expected the 75 slots to be filled by next week.

“We already knew,” Mathis said, “the community voice was pretty loud about, hey, I work three jobs, I’ve got multiple kids in different schools. I can’t manage this. We knew we would have to step in like we always do and ease the burden on families.

“We want to as helpful to parents as possible. The need is real for families.”

Contact Steven Spearie: 622-1788,,