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District makes changes in response to COVID-19 pandemic, more work to be done | Superintendent's Corner

Series: Coronavirus | Story 121

Last updated 5/13/2020 at Noon

If you imagine public education as a large freighter, steady and strong, but typically slow to change course, the last two months have put rocket boosters on the back and converted it into a large wave-riding speedboat. We have changed the way we provide services. For a district who had not yet gone "one to one," or provided a computing device for each student, or provided devices for students to take home, we had hurdles to jump.

To date, technology staff has distributed over 7,500 devices to students to support learning at home, more than double what we initially anticipated. There were many learning programs and filters that needed adjusting and updating for students to use the devices at home. We have even pushed the limits of the district phone system as we tried new ways for staff to connect with families.

Those changes all had to take place in a matter of weeks rather than the months or even years we would typically plan, pilot and implement them. And the work is not yet done. We are now transitioning to a phase of maintaining, repairing and replacing devices for students and staff as their use increases.

Teachers are now providing new content to students through distance learning. While that may involve online platforms like Zoom or Google Classroom, teachers are using a variety of methods to connect with students who may have different resources available to them.

We grappled with what attendance reporting would look like. We now have a districtwide system in place. We tackled grading and, with some guidance from the state, have developed a grading approach appropriate for different grade levels.

No student will "fail" a course this spring. If a middle or high school student is truly not engaged in learning or not able to show the needed skills to pass a class, they will earn an incomplete and be given options to make up the class. We are fashioning a completely new ship design – more flexible and adaptable to the needs of today.

High school seniors have been passengers in this transforming boat and missing out on the dream cruise they had envisioned for their senior year. We are planning a commencement ceremony that will allow graduating students to walk across the stage in their caps and gowns, with diplomas in hand, one at a time to follow physical distancing guidelines. We are partnering with a company to capture each of those moments on video and, along with the school speeches and performances, premiere the "virtual" commencements at graduation time.

We are working on additional ways to celebrate our seniors and other students including videos, student virtual performances, virtual assemblies and student recognitions. This is not the spring anyone had hoped for, but staff are busy finding ways to safely honor students and create special memories.

Many school staffs have collaboratively created and shared videos with their students and their families to boost spirits and stay connected. Parent groups and neighborhoods have also collaborated and made videos or community efforts to say thank you to staff.

I recently saw a quote attributed to Damian Barr that says, "We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm." I am surer of this now than ever before. We continue to provide services for students and their families who are in very different boats. It is reassuring to know there are so many community members and partners who are right there with us and supporting us throughout this storm. Thank you for being part of this journey.


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