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Tue, Sept. 21

Stressing flexibility: Area education leaders emphasize patience as students, families, teachers adjust to distance learning

RIGHT: Faculty and staff at Territorial Early Childhood Center in the Chino Valley Unified School District get together and form a photo collage with students to send out warm wishes. Instructions include washing hands, learning new things and their abiding affection for all. (CVUSD/Courtesy)

RIGHT: Faculty and staff at Territorial Early Childhood Center in the Chino Valley Unified School District get together and form a photo collage with students to send out warm wishes. Instructions include washing hands, learning new things and their abiding affection for all. (CVUSD/Courtesy)

When it comes to educational expectations around the quad-city area, education district administrators, teachers and parents agree this is a time for “maximum flexibility” when it comes to expectations.

Even students need to give themselves a break when they feel overwhelmed or confused.

No one signed up for the distance learning required because of the COVID-19 global health scare.

“We need to be flexible in how we handle individuals,” declared Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent John Scholl. “There are kids and families experiencing food insecurity, financial insecurity, parents who may have lost jobs, and school may be the last thing the family needs to, or should be, dealing with. We need to be flexible … we may need to modify our expectations.”

His colleagues in the two neighboring districts concur.

“These are totally different times,” said Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard. “We have to find a balance.”

All of these educators want to do whatever possible to ensure academic instruction continues throughout the remainder of the school year.

To that end, they require paid faculty and staff to work with technology, social media and old-fashioned methods of communication – telephone and snail mail – to stay connected with their students and families. Online instruction and pick-up hard copy packets of lessons are all part of the new academic formula teachers are expected to follow.

What these administrators admire most is that the expected of teachers is not their expectation. Most teachers are going above and beyond the requirements to be certain no student or parent is left without encouragement and support, they said.

If students cannot gather for Google Meet conferences, but can answer text messages the teacher sends them messages throughout the day.

If a parent needs a tutorial on a math lesson, the teacher will do that whether it’s a video chat or a step-by-step phone instruction session. If families just need a cheerleader willing to support their decision to turn off the computer and skip rope outside, teachers are happy to be that encourager.

Superintendents to school secretaries are striving to keep the big picture of education in mind as they champion a new way of doing business for students, families as well as their district educational team. From meals to computer devices, area educators are committed to helping students weather this strange time in world history.

With such a smorgasbord of opportunity, Howard suggested many students will not only stay on track but excel in ways beyond all expectation.

National data predicts this forced independence will reap rewards for some children who might otherwise never experience the autonomy to stretch their academic, social and emotional wings.

In all three local districts the stay-at-home policies are written such that no student will be punished for not completing assignments. Prescott High is offering a pass/fail option for the fourth quarter.

Students in all grades who do continue to complete their lessons, though, could improve their final grades. High school students eligible to graduate prior to the forced closing will earn a diploma.

“It’s really hard to do nothing,” Howard said of his expectation that the majority of PUSD students will meet or exceed expectations. “But we are offering a lot of flexibility.”

PARENT PERSPECTIVE

Humboldt Unified parent Megan Hutcheson has three children in her household – daughter Lexi, an eighth grader at Glassford Hill Middle School; Jackson, a fifth grade gifted student at Lake Valley Elementary and an almost four-year-old preschooler enrolled in speech therapy classes.

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Kindergartener Charles Wildman from Lincoln Elementary works on his Chromebook doing distance learning. (PUSD/Courtesy)

She is quick to say managing the academic and social demands of children with different needs and learning styles has proved quite the challenge.

One craves independence with patient guidance; one needs a schedule and structure to stay focused; one requires lessons be masked in creative play.

In the midst of that are daily chores, adult college classes, and time to breathe.

As she is not a teacher, Hutcheson said she often worries she is not capable of offering her children the guidance they require to stay on track. She is lucky both of her oldest are academically advanced students and adhere to a schedule to complete their online assignments, she said. But she admits is a daily juggling act.

“I am happy they (district leaders) are being lenient, but I do have concerns about their preparations for next year,” Hutcheson said. “They miss school. They miss their friends. They want to go back to school. “It’s a hard situation all around.”

STAYING THE COURSE

At Territorial Early Childhood Center last week, Scholl said teachers arranged a drive-through opportunity so families could come and pick up belongings left behind before the extended break. Scholl said that proved a cathartic experience for all.

Beyond assuring “kiddos” keep “trying their best,” Scholl said to him the key focus of this time is maintaining bonds between students and their teachers.

In a letter to district students and families, Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent Dan Streeter was clear connections with students are as important as any academic tasks.

“While the expectation is that our students continue to progress in learning, we recognize that some of our students may be dealing with variables beyond their control,” Streeter wrote. “We know that both parents and staff are working through new challenges during this time, and we want to be sensitive to this reality,” Streeter wrote.

All of the superintendents agree this is all a learning curve for everyone.

“This is hard,” Howard said. “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.

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