More than 100 Northfield seventh and eighth graders failed at least one course during last spring’s distance learning period, and nearly 50% of failing grades came from students of color.

Northfield Middle School Principal Greg Gelineau, who expressed dismay at the numbers and attributed those statistics to different factors, laid out a plan Monday to ensure students can succeed during distance learning.

“There are many reasons for this, but the two main pieces were the high number of students we could not get to engage regularly and the large number of families that trusted their students could handle distance learning on their own, when they could not,” Gelineau wrote in a memo to the board.

An estimated 47% of failing grades came from students of color, a statistic Gelineau said speaks to the need for Northfield Public Schools to teach and enact programming in a more equitable way. Another troubling statistic Gelineau cited was that 60% of Middle School failing grades came from students who were receiving free and reduced-price lunches. Those disparities were also seen at Northfield Elementary Schools.

However, in statistics released last month, Director of Instructional Services Hope Langston noted 174 Northfield Middle School students received a total of 325 failing grades during the fourth quarter of the 2018-19 school year. In comparison, at the end of distance learning, 123 middle schoolers received a total of 297 failing grades.

“This statistic only confirms what we were most worried about,” he said. “Students who did not have consistent support at home struggled and could easily check out from distance learning. We were not prepared to deal with this and need to make a change moving forward.”

He noted only 51% of students surveyed felt supported during distance learning. Also, 44% of surveyed students said they felt confident in their learning, 55% said they were overwhelmed, and 37% admitted feeling anxious.

“This is not surprising given the short notice and lack of preparation time we had to set students up for success,” Gelineau wrote to the board. “We did the best we could, but reality was that we did not meet the social-emotional needs of many students.”

“Our schedule did not have enough structure and could be confusing for families to stay on top of their students’ academics.”

He added though work with the Middle School’s Prepared, Respect, Integrity, Dependability and Excellence Program was key, “we struggled to get a large number of students engaged on a regular basis.” At some points, Gelineau said representatives of the Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes and Northfield Police Department had to check in with students to ensure they were participating in distance learning.

2020-21 goals

Gelineau said his goal is reducing the number of failing grades compared to last spring by 25% in sixth grade and 50% in grades seven and eight. In addition, he is striving for students who receive either free or reduced price lunches to have the same passing rate as those who don’t.

During Gelineau’s presentation, he announced Northfield Middle School aims to have conferences with at least 75% of families twice during the 2020-21 school year. He is striving for participation in a program intended to help students meet their college goals. Also, Middle School staff are expected to participate in anti-racist work at least once a quarter during the school year.

School Board member Rob Hardy agreed, adding that administrators must make sure eighth-grade students who fall behind in algebra receive help to ensure a successful transition to ninth grade math.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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