St. Clair Shores officials reflect on pandemic-era school experience

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 17, 2023

 All three school districts in St. Clair Shores reported that their student performance and test scores were starting to rise again since the lockdown in March 2020.

All three school districts in St. Clair Shores reported that their student performance and test scores were starting to rise again since the lockdown in March 2020.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Three years into the pandemic, school officials in St. Clair Shores can reflect on school life before, during and after the COVID-19 lockdown.

South Lake Schools Superintendent Ted Von Hiltmayer said the pandemic experience was difficult for administration, teaching staff and students.

“When the kids and the students returned back face-to-face, it was difficult, just different expectations,” Von Hiltmayer said, addressing the differences between online learning at home and in-person instruction. “There was some adjustments that needed to be made as students came back and were back into being, you know, with their peers all day long, with their teachers.”

Lakeview Public Schools Superintendent Karl Paulson said the pandemic forced the district to get better acquainted with technology.

“Our kids and staff have gotten much more comfortable with technology,” Paulson said. He added that the transition required by the COVID shutdown, which forced educators to find a way to do some things differently, allowed the district to move its whole system more quickly to incorporate the use of technology.

All three districts reported student performance taking a hit due to the pandemic. This was a statewide occurrence, with many school districts experiencing the same thing, the superintendents said.

Lake Shore Public Schools Superintendent Joseph DiPonio attributed this to the uncertainty of the pandemic itself with students in and out of classes because of the virus and also learning from home. He said the district made it a point to take the students’ and teachers’ home lives into account as well.

“There was also the psychology of the child that, if you know if they’re home and they’re in an impoverished situation, they might not want to have their camera on, if they’re just rolling out of bed, they might not want to have their camera on,” DiPonio said.

He recalled an occasion where he stepped into a virtual English class and most of the students had icons instead of their camera on, showing their faces.

“When you don’t know who’s on and who’s paying attention … if I’m teaching a class, I can call on you and say, ‘Hey, tell me what you’re learning, tell me what you understand and what you don’t understand,’” DiPonio said. “When you’re doing that through a computer and you don’t know the level of engagement on the other end of it, it’s very difficult to measure what they’re obtaining in the instruction and what they’re not.”

Lakeview reported a smaller gap in test scores due to a hybrid system they set up, Paulson said. This hybrid model, also used in Lake Shore Schools, allowed for half of the students to come to class for the day while the other half stayed at home. At this time both school districts were one-to-one where there was a laptop for every student.

“So, the fall of 2020, we opened our doors and a lot of places did not, and I think it was the right decision for us because, again, the gap our kids demonstrated was smaller and the arrival coming back to where we were before, the success we had before, we’re almost there and I think this year we probably will be,”  Paulson said.

Von Hiltmayer said in an email that all South Lake students were learning online when the pandemic initially hit in March 2020. During the 2020-2021 school year, elementary students were in person from October through June, while secondary school students were online with live synchronous instruction for the first semester and in person the second semester.

Lakeview also had an online school that was set up before the pandemic. This online school has a different curriculum, teaching staff and is its own school. Paulson said the class sizes in the online school went from about 60 students to 900 students when the pandemic hit. The class sizes for the online school have since gone down to a little fewer than 100 students.

All three school districts reported that their student performance and test scores were starting to rise again since the lockdown in March 2020.

The technology relied upon during the lockdown is still used in all three school districts, with videoconferencing and livestreaming coming in handy for meetings and school events.

“We’re back to doing in-person things, assemblies, you know, concerts, games, all of the things where you bring crowds together when COVID is no longer a factor, those things become a more commonplace,” Paulson said. “But you still have that ability behind the scenes of technology to use technology in allowing for people to participate so you can video stream a game or a concert.”

A couple of things that stuck around in South Lake were frequent disinfecting and hand sanitizer, while Lakeview now uses air filtration systems in every classroom. Walking around Lake Shore schools, students can also find hand sanitizing stations.

All three school districts had no issues with school board meetings. There were some people who disagreed with the choices the school districts were making, but nothing got out of hand.

“We were pretty fortunate and again going back because I think our community and our families were receptive to the way we were handling things and the decisions that were being made,” Von Hiltmayer said. “We didn’t experience some of the things that other districts experienced with, you know, regarding masking mandates and whatever it may be.”

Things are improving; however, it has been a challenge for administration and teachers,  and especially for the kids. DiPonio said he’s seen the change in kids through participation rates and other means of testing.

“There’s no doubt that this has had a significant disruption on kids’ psyche and how they operate, participation rates and other activities,” DiPonio said. “It’s like this big prolonged timeout of their life and getting kids going again has been a challenge.”