TAWAS CITY – Citing conditions created as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, several Tawas Area School (TAS) teachers expressed concerns and frustration at the electronic meeting of the TAS Board of Education on Sept. 14. 

The responsibilities of online teaching in addition to traditional in-person classroom instruction, as well as between-class cleaning chores which include disinfecting student desks, have had a negative impact on class preparation, the teachers said. They stressed that their main concern was the quality of education provided to their students.

Katy Jagelewski, president of the Tawas Area Federation of Teachers (TAFT), addressed the board in a prepared statement during the public comments segment of the meeting. Jagelewski acknowledged that they are all working “in an environment where there is little precedent to base our decisions on,” and added that the number of online students was far greater than she originally expected.

“One of the concerns our staff wants to express,” Jagelewski said, “is the challenge of teaching our virtual students under our current model.” She said that TAFT was asking the Board to see if they can find a solution to offer teachers some help in working with these students. “Many members are feeling very overwhelmed as they take on this challenge, and have been concerned that they cannot adequately meet the needs of the online Tawas students to the level that they would like,” Jagelewski shared.

Several other TAS teachers echoed their union leader’s comments. Melissa LaJoice commented, “as a 24-year teacher, never in my wildest thoughts would I have ever dreamed that I would be teaching two jobs, virtual and face-to-face.” LaJoice went on to ask for a solution to “this madness of virtual learning.” She expressed concerns about assignments coming in late, if at all, and opined that some work was actually being done by parents. Her class preparation time, LaJoice said, has been severely cut back by issues related to virtual learning, and fears that her in-person students may also suffer for it. “I do not feel like a good teacher,” she lamented.

Jolene Grusecki referred to the current situation as “the most frustrating and exhausting start of my teaching career.” Teaching 230 students per day, including 52 virtual pupils and one flash-drive student, Grusecki said that she is forced to teach quickly, as she is also responsible for cleaning the surfaces in her classrooms between sessions. 

“We need more time,” she said, adding that the current situation is “almost impossible. We really need to figure out how to make this better.”

Cady Mounts reiterated the need for more time, stating that she recently graduated with her master’s degree in instructional technology, which gave her “a basket of new tools” to use. However, she said, she can’t use those tools because she has no time to develop them.

Cathy Gronda said she never thought that she would be wearing a mask at school, wiping down tables, trying to get bathroom breaks in, and teaching students both in the classroom and virtually. “It sure has been a whirlwind,” Gronda said. She stated that the material required for virtual classes takes longer to prepare than for in-person learning, and repeated the concerns about lack of time to make those preparations. Gronda also noted that a “burnout factor” was being discussed among her peers.

Kindergarten teacher Robin-Marie Loucks, who said she has 25 in-person and 10 virtual students, expressed concern about the progress of her virtual pupils. “They need hand-holding and support,” she said.

Nichole Plank noted that, in anticipation of the hybrid teaching model, she spent many days of her summer vacation on preparation, sending her own children to day care during that time. She expressed concern about the overall size of the fourth-grade class.

Retired teacher Tracee Lentz, who said she was “doing virtual kindergarten” with her granddaughter, added that she understood the frustration with Google Classroom. Lentz suggested “designated virtual teachers” to help parents navigate through that program.

TAS Superintendent John Klinger announced that he would be meeting with trustees on the board’s personnel committee and union representatives to try to develop solutions to the matter.

At the same meeting, the board accepted the resignations of two teachers, a social worker, an educational assistant, and the district’s athletic director. Middle School science teacher Todd Kaems announced his retirement as of Aug. 25 after 24 years with TAS Middle School literature teacher Wynne Erickson resigned as of Aug. 19 to spend time at home guiding her own children through online classes. Erickson spent 14 years with TAS.

Citing her daughter’s medical needs, social worker Danielle Whalen resigned as of Sept. 25. Middle School educational assistant Thomas Gilbert left effective Aug. 25, expressing concerns that he and his family are in that group which is vulnerable to COVID-19. Athletic Director Matt Unke submitted his resignation, which has been previously reported in the Iosco County News-Herald.

Stephanie Graves, who has a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from SVSU, was hired to teach middle school science. Pete Scott was approved for hire to teach seventh grade literature. Scott holds a master’s degree of education in literacy and a bachelor’s degree in English and social studies.

Amanda Jungquist was hired as a long-term substitute teacher at the high school for special education. She is working toward her certification at SVSU. Monica Peach was brought on to be the K-4 social worker.

The custodial vacancy created when Shelly McArdle retired will be filled by Johnny Crouse, while Janet Macha and Terri Trinklein were hired as cook’s helpers.

Jennifer Dzuris will replace Thomas Gilbert as educational assistant, and Jen Busch was recommended to EduStaff for hire as the freshman volleyball coach.

Cindy Scott from Stephenson & Company P.C. presented the audit report for 2019-20. The district received an “Unmodified Opinion” from the audit firm, which indicated the “highest level of assurance” that the district’s financial records are accurately disclosed.

By a 7-0 vote, the board approved the District’s Extended COVID-19 Response Plan. The measure puts TAS into compliance with recently-passed legislation and, as such, the district will be eligible to receive state aid for 2020-21.