Jason Groendyke talks virtual conferences

East Elementary principal Jason Groendyke speaks during the Sheldon School District Board of Education meeting last Wednesday. He, along with the other building principals, told the board virtual parent-teacher conferences went well overall.

SHELDON—Sheldon Middle School principal Cindy Barwick recalled getting a text from one of her teachers the first night of parent-teacher conferences saying how much they enjoyed the virtual format of the meetings.

“All in all, it was just so much more relaxed for whatever reason,” Barwick told the school district board of education during its meeting Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Barwick, along with East Elementary principal Jason Groendyke and high school principal Sherrie Zeutenhorst, reported successful parent-teacher meetings that took place remotely Nov. 3-5.

Groendyke said there were only nine families with elementary students who were not able to participate in the virtual conferences held over Seesaw but that teachers were in the process of rescheduling with them.

Otherwise, he said his staff had a positive experience with the online meetings. He also noted the virtual format allowed for a more relaxed environment for the teachers.

“It seems kind of crazy to say that, but they felt like they didn’t have the student work to really share with the families. They felt like they could have more of a conversation, ‘This is how your child is doing. Here are areas I’m seeing them struggle. Here’s maybe what you can do at home to help,’” Groendyke said.

“It was a good conversation. Some of the staff members that I thought maybe wouldn’t necessarily like it, they came in and said it was awesome.”

Special education, Title 1 and at-risk teachers at East Elementary particularly appreciated the virtual conferences because it meant they did not have to run back and forth between different rooms in the building as they normally do.

“We just share the link with them and they’re able to join in and they’re right there,” Groendyke said.

Zeutenhorst said her staff was able to complete conferences with about 95 percent of families and teachers likewise enjoyed the experience. She also pointed out the conferences gave families a chance to see up close how their students use Google Meet for school.

Board vice president Susan Rensink asked if there were any issues with parents being able to connect to the online chat program for conferences.

Groendyke said there were only a handful of instances when that happened, and when it did the teachers reached out to families over the phone to talk to them instead. Zeutenhorst said there were a few similar cases at the high school where parents did not answer the Google Meet call and were instead contacted by phone.

Barwick said one family at the middle school did not have Wi-Fi and another that did not wish to do the conference virtually. In each of those cases, the families came into the building to meet in person.

“That worked out really nice as well,” she said.

Board member Steve Waldstein, who took part in the virtual conferences for his children who attend the district, said he liked the way it went. He also heard from several teachers and parents who passed along their praise for how the meetings were conducted.

“On the high school side, we had all the documents we needed and the teacher could say, ‘Hey, pull up this document.’ We had it all right there,” Waldstein said.

He also suggested the principals consider virtual conferences as an option in the future as it could help families that may otherwise not be able to attend in-person conferences.

Groendyke said some teachers in his building also asked him about the possibility of doing conferences virtually.

“I said, ‘I don’t know — it’s a conversation to have,’” he said.