NARRATOR: This is Spartan Chat — a podcast from Sycamore Community School District 427, where we connect with you to tell the stories of our community.
DAVID: Hello, and welcome to the Spartan Chat podcast. My name is David Olson, Manager of Communications and Community Engagement for the Sycamore School District 427. And I'm joined today with Superintendent of Schools Steve Wilder for our first Spartan Chat. Steve, thank you for joining me today.
STEVE: I'm excited to be here, David. Always excited to try something new and I'm not an expert at podcasting, so we're going to give this a shot and just see how it goes.
DAVID: We are, we are. So, first question for you is why was this Spartan Chat so important for you? Why are we starting it? What are we hoping to achieve with it?
STEVE: Yeah. You know, good question. And I think, you know, we've talked a lot about how important communication is both internally within the school district and outside of the school district with our community. You can never communicate enough. And you know, in today's age of technology, you know, we've done videos, we send emails, letters, all sorts of things. But with these new capabilities, you know, audio and visual, just looking for another medium to communicate with folks and hope to use this, like I said earlier, both internally within the school district, as well as externally. You know, sometimes it's easier to communicate things by explaining and talking and sometimes telling the story, which can be really hard, you know, in the written form. So I think podcasting is something new. A lot of people are taking advantage of it, whether it's on a commute, on a weekend, you know, when you're doing yard work and let it play in the background. So we'll give this a shot and see if we can take advantage of this, opportunity to just keep in touch with our community.
DAVID: Like we said, we gotta meet people where they are, so this is just another avenue to communicate with everyone. What kind of stories are you hoping we see on this podcast to bring to our community?
STEVE: Well, I hope that we really see a variety. You know, there will be times that we're sharing information that's maybe logistics, planning, you know, things that are going on within the school district. But I also hope that we're also telling stories — stories that our staff members share about experiences, the work that they're doing in their classroom, new projects, new initiatives. But also students. And I'd love to have students on from time to time. The end of the school year would be a great time to bring seniors on and give them a chance to talk about their experience, you know, kind of as a capstone to their career in the school district. Or even families, you know. A lot of our families have had great experiences, and sometimes difficult ones that turned out positive. So I hope that over time, Spartan Chat becomes something that is very broad, but at the beginning, you know, I can see where we might focus a little bit more on what's going on in the school district, especially as the pandemic winds down. And we're sharing information about what the end of the school year looks like, the summer, and then next fall. You know, maybe that that'll be the focus to start with. But in the end, I'd love to see it really cover a broad array of topics.
DAVID: Great. Yeah. I think our community will love to hear those stories, and just another way to get them out there. Our next question is, are there any specific topics you hope to cover? We kind of touched on this in the last question, but kind of like what to expect over the next, we'll say three months.
STEVE: Yeah, I think initially this could be a great tool to communicate what the planning for the future is going to look like, especially the next school. This school year, there was so much uncertainty and so much to explain, you know, I think parents were, and even staff and students were caught in kind of having to wait for the next board meeting and have the opportunity to listen. And if we can take advantage of this, get information out a little bit more regularly, as questions also come into the school district, you know, that's something that you and your department have been working on is fielding those questions and answering them. This could be another medium where we can answer some of those questions and, you know, again, people can let it play in the background, listen to it when they have time. And like you said, we can meet them where they're at. So I envision initially it's probably a little bit more school focused, and then we can transition to some of the other topics that we talked about.
DAVID: Great. Obviously podcasting is a little kind of a one-way, not necessarily our traditional way of two-way communication. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you, give feedback on the podcast, provide, you know, ideas of what they'd like to see and stuff like that?
STEVE: Yeah. Good question. So they can send that information or questions, suggestions to the communications department at the email there. But they can also send them directly to me email@example.com. And, you know, I can field those and share them with you. We can put a list together. And hopefully one of the challenges we face is that we have so many questions, topics, suggestions that, you know, it's a matter of figuring out where to put them best. But you know, if people get in touch with us via email, they could send us a note, you know, in the US mail, or even call and make a quick suggestion — email is probably the easiest. So, you know, my email address again, is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll let you share the Communications Department email address just to make sure we get that right. But we'll get that started and get a list going.
DAVID: So, like Mr. Wilder said, you can email him directly, or you can email the district at email@example.com with your feedback and what you'd like to hear from us. Is there a way we can give a quick preview of what we're expecting to see next fall? To kind of give a little preview?
STEVE: Yeah. Probably a good time to do that. You know, I know that's a topic that's on the forefront of people's minds. You know, again, students, staff, parents —just planning for an actual school year and what that's gonna look like. So again, our plan has been for a full return in the fall, to bring all students back. One of the changes that has come up over the last couple of weeks is really a push from the state Board of Education to get all students back next school year. And so that's going to be our focus — is planning for all students back, with the exception, again, with guidance from the state Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health, allowing students who are at risk for severe illness, or who live in a household where there is a household member that would be at risk for severe illness you know, making accommodations for those students to learn remotely. You know, thankfully, one of the silver linings of the last year is that we have a lot of experience now working with students remotely working, with them under a hybrid model. So we feel like we've got experience doing that now. We're developing a system where students and their parents can share documentation from a physician or a mental health care provider where they can get us that information, we can review it, and make a final decision on it, and then designate those students as remote. In the meantime, all of the other students will be identified as in-person. And so that's a big piece of planning right now is what does that look like? Some of the other challenges that we're still facing and working on is exactly how the physical space will be used in all of our schools. One of the things I shared at the board meeting was that about 30, excuse me, about 20% of our students are remote learners right now. But that number is 13% in our elementary schools, about 19% at our middle school, and almost 30% at the high school. So at the elementary schools, I feel like we've got a better handle on how we can use physical space and provide appropriate social distancing and safety protocols for students. But at the middle school and high school, you know, we have to continue to brainstorm, you know, on how that space is going to be used, how we're going to arrange desks and seating, both during classes, how are we going to manage passing time and then lunch as well? So we'll continue planning for that. We believe that we can provide a safe environment for students and staff, but still a little work needs to be done there just because the numbers are going to continue to look different in the fall. Some of the other things we're working on are lunch in specific, in how we're going to provide a safe eating environment for students. We're able to do that now, but if more students come back, that obviously is going to change that a little bit. We're using some spaces in the schools that are typically used for other things. For example, gyms. Gyms are a large space where we can use them for overflow, for lunch. We've been using those currently, but we really want to make sure that spaces are available for specials next year, like PE in all of our schools. So, still working on that, and anticipating, you know, maybe that there could be a change in guidance from IDPH and ISBE. So we'll continue to look for that and have conversations with representatives from those organizations, as well as our county health department. You know, the last piece I think that we're still working on is transportation and what that's gonna look like next year with more students coming back to school. That also has to do with start and end times for schools. So this year we've been using the staggered start and dismissal time at all of our schools. Middle school and high school start first, elementary school starts last, and under normal circumstances, high school and middle school would end first and, and elementary would end last. The elementary schools are a little, their days are a little bit shorter still this year for a variety of reasons, but we anticipate that that's going to change next year. So part of transportation is also managing the start and end times at all three levels. And we've been working on that for quite a while, but we need to finalize some things so that we can finalize our transportation plan too. So, a lot of things that we've been working on, we're in the process of finalizing and hope to get more information out to both our staff and our community by the end of the month.
DAVID: That's great. I know our families will greatly appreciate that. And like Mr. Wilder said, the intent is to get that up by the end of the month. That'll be available on the district's website and will also be emailed out to all families. I think, you know, we always want our kids back — we've always wanted them back. And, like you said, our intent is to have a full return next year, which is great, and I know our families will appreciate that. I guess, do you have anything in closing as we wrap up our first episode?
STEVE: No, I'm excited about it, I was excited to try something new and would encourage parents, students, staff, to email us, let us know if they've got topics that they'd like to like us to talk about or share information — we'll get those recorded as best we can and get them published. I'll also try to maybe get kind of a regular schedule going so that parents and everybody know, you know, maybe every Monday or every other Monday, that a new podcast is going to be coming out. So as we get rolling here, give us a little bit of time, and then we'll get kind of in a routine that people can expect. But really excited to see where this takes us and see how this opportunity unfolds.
DAVID: Yes, yes. I'm excited as well. Thanks for joining me. As Steve said, you can always email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can reach out to the district directly at email@example.com. Thanks again for joining us for our first Spartan Chat. And we look forward to you listening to us in the future. Thanks again.
NARRATOR: Thanks for listening to this episode of Spartan Chat! Connect with us by emailing your comments, questions, and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.