BIG TECHNOLOGY ANNOUNCEMENT
As we wind down a school year that can only be described as unparalleled, I want to express my sincere gratitude to all of you. You were put in a situation you never dreamed you’d be in and became the facilitator for your children’s education. You stepped up to the plate, partnered with your children’s teachers, and made the very best of an extremely difficult situation. Thank you for everything you’ve done over the past three months! I know it wasn’t easy, and at times it was downright hard. I know I speak for our entire staff when I say we truly appreciate you and everything you’ve done to help us continue the educational process. Thank you!
I also want to share my thoughts about our current situation, how it has changed education, and the bold plans our district has committed to going forward. The last few months have been difficult. I am often asked what our greatest challenge has been throughout this situation. My response is always the same...trying to make plans for the unknown. I wish I had a crystal ball and knew what was going to happen in the future, but I don’t. Not knowing what the social distancing requirements are going to be at any particular time in the near future has made planning a hard task.
THOUGHTS FOR NEXT YEAR
What does the next school year look like? Will everything go back to “normal”? Is it prudent for us to believe there won’t be another disruption at some point in our school calendar? If we do have another long-term closure, do we have a good plan for moving content and curriculum forward for all students in ALL subjects? If we are still under some form of social distancing requirements from the state, how does that affect what we do? How will we transport our students? How will we feed our students? How can we manage these challenges and still look out for the health and well-being of our students and staff? How do we plan for all of these scenarios and do what is best for our kids?
Right now we are working on three plans: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.
Plan A is returning to “normal” school. This is everyone's greatest hope. We want to see our kids in the halls of our schools again. We want to see their faces, and we want to interact and develop close relationships with each of them. We are all praying for Plan A to happen.
Plan C is 100% virtual. This is for EVERY subject. From P.E. at our elementary schools to fine arts classes at middle school and junior high to career and technology classes at the high school--every subject we currently offer our students at each campus must be taught virtually and digitally.
Plan B is a combination of Plan A and Plan C. If the state still has social distancing requirements in place during the next school year, we will be forced to go to Plan B. A typical classroom in our district is approximately 700 square feet. A six-foot social distancing requirement means that we can only place 12 to 15 students plus one teacher in a classroom. We do not have enough classrooms or teachers to make this work on a daily basis. For us to operate under these restrictions, we would be forced to look at some sort of hybrid model. As an example, we could look at having half of our students come to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other half come to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and everyone would have classes virtually on Fridays. The Monday/Wednesday cohort would have virtual classes on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The Tuesday/Thursday cohort would have virtual classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Again, this is just one example of what it could look like.
I know the situation we’ve been in has been difficult for many of our teachers, parents, and students. Our administrative team met several weeks ago and began a brainstorming session to focus on a solid plan for moving forward that would enable us to be better prepared should we face another scenario like we did this spring. The ideas began to flow! What if we try to place our own internet equipment on existing towers and/or install new towers and partner with an existing internet service provider? What if we provide drive-up wifi locations at targeted areas of the district? What if we provide hotspots to all students and teachers? All of these were great ideas! But each has its limitations: time it would take to install, ease of access, or feasibility of keeping up with multiple devices.
But then we had one idea that was free from each of those concerns. What if each student and teacher had a device that was equipped with LTE service? This option would ensure that every student has access to the internet and to virtual learning. This option would allow our teachers the ability to conduct their classes virtually and connect with each of their students daily if we were ever forced to go to Plan C. We all agreed this would be our best option moving forward; however, this plan would require us to purchase these devices for all teachers and all students before August. It would also be a huge financial commitment and our school board would have to not only buy into what we were trying to accomplish, but they would ultimately have to approve the plan. At our May board meeting, after a lot of questions and thoughtful discussion, our board voted unanimously in favor of this initiative! I am so proud to be part of a district that is forward-thinking, aims to be at the forefront of instructional technology leadership, and prioritizes actions that lead to equitable education for ALL students.
Here is our plan of action for this initiative:
- Kindergarten through 5th grade - Each student will be assigned his/her own iPad with LTE service that they will be able to take home each night.
- 6th grade through 12th grade - Each student will be assigned his/her own touchscreen Chromebook with LTE service that they will be able to take home each night.
REVISED ACADEMIC CALENDAR FOR 2020-2021
We know there is a lot to learn before school starts up again next year. We also know that having every teacher prepared, knowledgeable, and comfortable conducting their classrooms virtually will be critical to our success as a district.
With this in mind, we have altered our school calendar for the next school year. This calendar was also adopted and passed by our school board last night. Please see the attached calendar. We moved our starting date for school from Thursday, August 20th to Thursday, September 3rd. This allows us to move all of our professional development days to the start of the year. Our plan is to use those three weeks to train our teachers on how to effectively instruct in a virtual setting and time to actually practice these skills and get comfortable with them before students arrive. We have also built days in the calendar for teachers to meet with their students and parents before school starts to go over the expectations with the new devices and how parents can help in the event we have another school closure.
We are excited about these changes and what they mean for our district and our kids. We know this is not a perfect solution. There will be issues that we will have to deal with and work through, but we feel like the equity this gives ALL of our students is worth it. Not all kids come from families who have the means to provide internet service for their homes. Should our education system discriminate against these students and only provide them a paper-based curriculum in the event of another closure? I am proud to say that our school board does not believe so. These changes level the playing field for our students and give all our students equal access to a robust education. They also give us the ability to be nimble in troubled times. If we are ever faced with another long-term school closure, we will be prepared!
Again, I want to thank you for everything you do to support our district. It is now time for some rest! I hope everyone will continue to stay healthy, enjoy time with your family and loved ones, and relax before we start again in September. Have a great summer break!