Superintendent John Kellogg: Westerville's blended-learning 'test drive' runs well

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Walnut Springs Middle School student Joy Carter examines a sheep's brain in a lab on Oct. 1 as part of a Medical Detectives course. Westerville students have resumed in-person instruction with a blended-learning model.

A “test drive” using blended learning, a combination of in-person and online instruction, in the Westerville City Schools has gone smoothly, according to Superintendent John Kellogg.

He visited schools the week of Sept. 21, when the district started in-person classes for the 2020-21 academic year as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“My general observations, people were happy to be back in,” Kellogg said. “People were working with standards. We had no issues with masks and social distancing. We put a plan in place and gave a test drive, and the system went well.”

With Delaware County escalating to the red from orange level in the state’s Public Health Advisory Alert System, Kellogg said, it changed the district’s attention on which county it needed to focus.

The color red indicates a “very high exposure and spread” of the coronavirus, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

While Delaware County moved to red, Franklin County maintained the color orange, indicating increased exposure and spread and advice to exercise a high degree of caution, for the start of blended learning.

“It didn’t change per the criteria we laid out,” Kellogg said.

He said he consults weekly with the health departments in Franklin and Delaware counties.

Kellogg said Delaware County authorities didn’t think the red alert was warranted.

“But it is what it is,” he said. “It didn’t change our current thinking. If conditions deteriorate, we’ll keep an eye on it.”

On Oct. 1, the Delaware General Health District website, delawarehealth.org, showed the county had 2,049 total coronavirus cases, with 1,751 confirmed; 298 probable; 1,868 recovered cases; 165 active cases; and 514 in isolation/quarantine.

Data also showed seven people were hospitalized with 52 total hospitalizations and 16 deaths.

Kellogg said the district’s attention “flipped” to Delaware County.

“Both health departments have been tremendously supportive,” Kellogg said. “They’ve been helpful in guiding us as we move along.”

Greg Viebranz, the district’s executive director of communication and technology, said Westerville has a total enrollment of 15,055 students as of Sept. 29.

Enrollment in Westerville Virtual Academy is 3,403, with 1,544 in elementary school, 872 in middle school and 987 in high school.

The remaining students, 11,652, are in a blended-learning model through their home schools, he said.

Game on

Although there is a state-ordered restriction on attendance and venue capacity at extracurricular events, Kellogg said, fans who have attended athletic competitions have been cooperative.

“In general, we’ve gotten accustomed to mask wearing and social distancing,” he said. “It’s really been nice. People realize in order for us all to enjoy this, the expectations have been laid out. Our community is good that way. We have people doing virtual (theater) shows. We have fabulous people doing incredible work in tough conditions.”

He said the district also realizes that people have levels of frustration and concern as a result of the coronavirus.

“We keep an eye on social and emotion well-being,” Kellogg said.

Lunch time

He said the district is continuing to provide food service to students who are in a remote-learning environment.

“We continue to do as much as we can that is allowable,” he said. “I received an email from a parent who couldn’t come by during pick-up time. A member of our staff dropped it off at the (parent’s) house. We have great people doing great things during tough times.”

According to a Sept. 25 press release from the district, all Westerville City Schools students can receive free school meals through Dec. 31 or until federal funding runs out, whichever comes first.

The changes came from a decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend free meal benefits, according to a press release.

As a result, meals that students eat at school will be free until the program ends.

To receive free meals during virtual instruction, families must complete the Westerville City Schools Opt-In Form for Weekly Meal Bags.

This form only needs to be filled out once and can be canceled at any time by sending an email to thomasrl@wcsoh.org.  

“I’m just so proud of how staff, students and the community have tackled this time period,” Kellogg said.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla