Canal Winchester/Groveport Madison schools: Superintendents eager for in-person learning to return

Jack McLaughlin
ThisWeek
Groveport Madison Superintendent Garilee Ogden stands outside the high school Dec. 22. Ogden said in addition to wanting to get students back in the classroom full time, the district also is working to implement the Ohio Department of Education’s Whole Child Framework.

As they start a new year, superintendents from the Canal Winchester and Groveport Madison school districts say they will take lessons learned from COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic-inspired programs into 2021 and beyond. 

Canal Winchester Superintendent James Sotlar said returning to in-person instruction will be his district’s top priority heading into 2021, something he believes can achieved, pending COVID-19 numbers.

“We hope to get everyone back in the building five days a week going into the 2021 school year,” he said. "As soon as I think we can get kids back into school safely, we will. We’re going to have to just wait and see how things play out, but we want to end the year on a much different note than last year ended.”  

While many central Ohio districts returned to remote learning in the fall as the number of COVID-19 cases surged, Canal Winchester schools continued to use a hybrid-learning model until Dec. 9 when going to remote learning.

The reasoning behind wanting students in school is simple: District officials believe they learn better in person. Sotlar said there likely are students who have fallen behind and the district must now work to close these gaps, especially among younger students. 

Groveport Madison Superintendent Garilee Ogden believes the online-learning model adopted by her district went well last semester, but she agreed that in-person learning always will be preferred.  

“One thing I would really like to say that I know to be true now: I just think there’s never going to be a replacement for a teacher in a classroom with children in front of them,” she said. 

The district is hoping to get students back in the buildings this year, although Ogden said she doubts that a return to five day a week in-person learning will happen soon. 

She said the district will work to implement the Ohio Department of Education’s Whole Child Framework.  

“One of the biggest things that we want to focus on for 2021 – and this has stemmed from 2020 and some of the things we’ve had to deal with during the pandemic (is) we’ve really come to understand how important the whole child is,” Ogden said. 

This approach to learning encourages districts to broaden their stance on learning to go beyond academics and – among other things – provide support for students in areas such as emotional and social well-being as well as their physical health and safety.

Ogden believes this process will be a long-term undertaking but stressed its importance in addressing all the needs of students. 

No matter when the districts return to in-person learning, both Sotlar and Ogden said much of the information administrators have gathered from remote learning programs in 2020 will be carried on. 

For Canal Winchester, Sotlar said, this includes the increased blending of technology with classroom instruction.  

In the case of Groveport Madison, according to Ogden, parents will be allowed to attend parent-teacher conferences via computer. 

“As a silver lining, we’ve seen more parents show up to conferences now that they can attend them virtually,” she said. “If I’m a mom with five kids and no babysitter, of course, I’m going to dial in on the computer. So that’s really helped with our engagement, that our families are able to be more involved, and we think they will be moving forward.” 

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