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Catholic Board pleased with early stages of virtual learning

Huron-Superior school board strives to virtually educate, entertain students
Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board office. James Hopkin/SooToday

If there have been any major problems with virtual learning for the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (H-SCDSB) during this COVID-19 era, they certainly weren’t mentioned at the board’s regular monthly meeting held Wednesday evening.

“There’s much to celebrate.”

That from Joe Chilelli, H-SCDSB superintendent of education, speaking to administrators and trustees Wednesday, in reference to the work done so far by the board’s Virtual Academies educators. 

“As we continue to learn and utilize ongoing feedback from parents, students and staff, we continue to refine and improve our virtual programming and procedures,” Chilelli said, crediting the board’s human resources, physical plant, information technology, curriculum and special education departments, teachers, support staff, and administration for coming up with a virtual learning program for students with little time to prepare going into the 2020-21 school year.

Numbers received from the Huron-Superior board last weekend show 493 elementary and 98 secondary students within its system have chosen remote learning so far for the current school year.

H-SCDSB Virtual Academies, which launched Sept. 14, include 33 elementary teachers in 21 virtual classrooms (two additional classrooms added at the end of September due to increased interest in virtual learning), three early childhood educators and a support staff of 12, including educational assistants and clerical support workers, stretching from Sault Ste. Marie and across the Algoma district, said Kristen Coulter, Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary Virtual Academy principal.

Coulter was accompanied by Andrea Greco, Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary Virtual Academy vice principal and Domenic Rosso, St. Mary’s College Virtual Academy principal, at a presentation given to the board Wednesday. 

Interestingly, the former Mount St. Joseph College site, which was never intended to be used again for educational purposes after its closure, is now home to 25 staff running the H-SCDSB Virtual Academies.

Greco said a virtual school day is as close to traditional classroom learning as possible, including the singing of O Canada.

“We have to say we have another success story we should be proud of. Although it’s early, and just over a month into school, I believe we are way ahead of the game if you compare ourselves to other boards in the province,” said Tony Barone, a parent of H-SCDSB students at both elementary and secondary levels and an active parent council member.

“As far as parent feedback for the months of September and October (is concerned), a lot happened. A virtual parent-teacher night was excellent, a virtual open house…virtual Science North Day, our son loved it. Talk about being creative in this (virtual) environment. We had a virtual tour of the Old Stone House, and again, what a unique idea and great experience for our children.”

“Our goal is to provide equal support and experiences to our virtual online students as our in class students have. Although we are not out of the woods yet, there will be challenges that we will face in the future but we remain positive that we will be able to address those issues...we look forward to the remainder of the school year,” Barone said.

“We really tried to mirror and parallel our two schools so that students who are virtual and students who are face to face are getting a similar experience,” said Domenic Rosso, St. Mary’s College Virtual Academy principal.

There are currently 10 teaching staff and two support staff members at the virtual secondary school level, Rosso said.

There are 15 students in virtual Grade 9, 19 in Grade 10, 28 in Grade 11 and 36 in Grade 12 in the current quadmester, Rosso reported.

“We’re working together as a team so that we can offer a wider selection of courses for our students...there are more courses being offered,” Rosso said.

“I see a future for virtual schools,” said John Caputo, H-SCDSB trustee after Wednesday’s presentation.

“Until this pandemic completely ends, or if it ever does completely end, and until government direction changes, we can anticipate remote schools will remain...e-learning has been around for quite some time,” said Rose Burton Spohn, H-SCDSB director of education.

Burton Spohn said, moving forward, she envisions “a spectrum” of online learning in place, a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous approaches (synchronous learning done in real time with a teacher and a group of students, asynchronous involving a teacher and a student agreeing on a program in which a student learns at his/her own pace). 

Both of the area’s English language school boards (the H-SCDSB and Algoma District School Board) have sent messages regarding transition deadlines to parents, asking whether they and/or their children wish to switch from classroom to remote learning or vice versa, the H-SCDSB requiring a decision by Oct. 30, the ADSB by Oct. 28.

Huron-Superior parents must notify their local school principal or vice-principal of their desire to switch. 

Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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