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Ohio school district pioneering permanent blended learning

Nicole Mays

As schools across the state grapple with heightened teacher burnout and turnover, one district is taking a novel approach.

Starting next school year, students at North College Hill City Schools in Cincinnati will study from home every Monday, giving teachers a full day each week to use for planning. Students will be back in the school building as normal for the rest of the week.

North College Hill is the only district in Ohio to adopt what’s known as a blended learning schedule on a permanent basis.

Superintendent Eugene Blalock, Jr. said the district was inspired by schools in western states that had made similar changes to the school week.

Like many Ohio districts, Blalock said North College Hill has been struggling to find an adequate number of substitute teachers, resulting in teachers having to cover classes for their peers.

“You can imagine, the teachers never have an opportunity to stop, take a breath and try to plan. It was just causing them frustration, mental anxiety and burnout. Teachers were spending long hours after school, they were working on the weekends, and we heard that loud and clear,” Blalock said.

While many students across Ohio regressed in their studies during remote learning brought on by the pandemic, Blalock is confident that won’t be a problem with the district’s new schedule. By supporting the teachers, he said the district will be supporting the diverse needs of its students.

“We believe in ‘every student, every day’ and the only way our teachers can accomplish that is if they have ample time to prepare lessons to customize and also individualize lessons to meet the specific needs of those students,” Blalock said.

The district is also working on plans to meet the nutritional and childcare needs of families who might not have a parent or guardian who can be home with kids on Mondays.

“Also, in North College Hill, being a small district, we have childcare providers that have already reached out to parents, and they're reaching out to me to talk about how they can meet the needs of our parents,” Blalock said. “They say it takes a village, and it will be the village coming together to support our families.”

Blalock said he's fielded questions from superintendents at other districts across Ohio and the United States who are curious about the changes the district is implementing.

He's hopeful North College Hill will serve as an example to other districts that, as he puts it, could "save the profession."

"I'm betting on my teachers," Blalock said. "If those teachers are well-prepared to go in that classroom, those students will get exactly what they need and they deserve, and I believe our student achievement will go up."

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.