Akron Public Schools superintendent looks to tap into hybrid learning's potential post-pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote learning brought many challenges to K-12 schools, but it also unearthed new opportunities for how to better meet students where they are, particularly in public schools in underserved communities.
That was the central point of Akron Public Schools superintendent Christine Fowler Mack’s speech at the Akron Roundtable Thursday.
Hybrid learning should be the new norm, Fowler Mack said. While remote schooling was not ideal for all students, some kids reported better learning outcomes when completing tasks on their own time.
But in order for this learning model to continue, more work needs to be done to increase Internet access in some of Akron’s poorer neighborhoods, Fowler Mack added.
“It should not take a global health crisis to make the Internet a public utility,” she said.
Akron schools are working to implement a more flexible school schedule, she said, and she even mentioned the possibility of year-round schooling, noting the “summer slide” learning loss that often happens when students are out of school for the summer.
Many school-age students are still dealing with mental health challenges that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fowler Mack added.
That’s the number one concern they’ve heard from both students and teachers, she said.
In response, school officials placed guidance counselors in each school and are working with local organizations to increase mental health programming in schools.
“We’re in the process of training our students on first aid mental health strategies so they also can be a resource to their peers,” Fowler Mack added.
Fowler Mack is in her second year as superintendent in the district. Her first year wrapped up with some controversy after several board members made scathing comments in her evaluation.
Some members called Fowler Mack “insubordinate” and a “failure” in her first year on the job, which sparked outrage from some in the Akron community. It led Mayor Dan Horrigan and Akron City Council to back a resolution expressing support for her.
Fowler Mack said her relationship with the school board is improving.
“We’re working really hard to, you know, just strengthen our relationship so our full focus is on our children, on our families, the staff, those sorts of things. So, I think it’s progressing,” she said.
She was humbled by the support from community members and city council, she added.
“I just took it as a reminder of how important the schools are to the school community, and I think they just wanted to express that they want to do all they can to support leaders in making sure students have every opportunity,” Fowler Mack said.
Fowler Mack is due for another evaluation soon.
You can hear her full Akron Roundtable remarks on WKSU on October 27 at 8 p.m.