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Mon, Aug. 10

School. What will it look like? 5 questions we asked local educators

A Google video platform is used to host a staff meeting for Coyote Springs Elementary School in the Humboldt Unified School District. This is the same platform teachers will be using to connect with students for online lessons through the October fall break. (Kelly Lee/Courtesy)

A Google video platform is used to host a staff meeting for Coyote Springs Elementary School in the Humboldt Unified School District. This is the same platform teachers will be using to connect with students for online lessons through the October fall break. (Kelly Lee/Courtesy)

The unanimous voice of district and charter educators in the tri-city area is the best teaching and learning occurs when students, faculty and staff are together in classrooms, labs, music rooms, media centers and on athletic fields.

Minus the COVID-19 threat.

From the countless hours invested over the summer to create variable plans for everything from academic lessons to cleaning protocols, the goal of these educators is to ensure an enriching 2020-2021 school year amid a formidable, invisible foe that last spring forced schools to close with little or no preparation. Their hope: opening schools on the scheduled start date.

Ah nope. Virus refuses to cooperate.

Cases spike. State leaders ban in-person instruction for two weeks past most school start dates in August.

Remote, or distance, learning to prevail.

Education leaders are expected to find places for children who have nowhere else to go – no easy task. Most admit they are scrambling to meet this particular state mandate. Several suggested the requirement will impact instruction options they can offer, particularly a hybrid mix of on-campus and online lessons.

“This is like building the plane while flying … and we are flying,” said Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard.

Good news. The educational community remains passionate about doing what’s right for kids – and crafting a school year plentiful with fun, promise and accomplishment. No one is grabbing for the parachutes just yet.

In Humboldt, Executive Director of Operations Kort Miner summed up his teams’ approach: “They’re in it to win it.”

THE QUERY

The Daily Courier interviewed area district and charter education leaders, teaching staff, students and parents and tracked social media commentary about the opening of the 2020-2021 school year. These are five of the top questions and answers that have emerged from those conversations.

1.) Remote or distance learning – what does it mean and how will that look for districts and charters for the 2020-2021 year?

In most districts, remote learning will require virtual lessons on computer devices with the use of such technology platforms as Google Classroom, Google Meets and Zoom. Some schools will offer pick-up assignment packets for students to do at home. Video and telephone conferences, email and even postcards will be used to stay connected with students and parents.

All leaders said their faculty will offer a mix of scheduled lessons and independent learning activities; some will be video recording lessons for added flexibility. Many will offer virtual office hours for students and parents. Some districts and schools have invoked a 24-hour return phone call policy.

Franklin Phonetic Director Cindy Franklin in Prescott Valley said her 70 staff members are embracing this new style of instruction as a learning tool.

“We’re expecting to learn some good things … we may redesign curriculum to incorporate more technology into our curriculum,” Franklin said.

In Prescott, Director of Professional Development Kelli Bradstreet showed faculty and staff a film about a soccer team on a haunted, floating island. Against all odds, they figured out how to build a playing field and win a championship.

“How do we make this work the best way possible?” Howard said of the message. “I think we have a good product. The best anyone can do anywhere.”

2.) Options for families who cannot, or do not wish, to do online lessons? Options for those who will prefer remote learning all-year?

Area educators say they intend to offer flexibility, and to be in ongoing discussions with individual students and families related to their needs. Once the state allows for a return to school campuses, most intend to continue offering a remote learning option, and possibly, a hybrid that would split the schedule of students on campus, with the caveat that districts must offer spaces for children who, when not in school, need a place to go for either childcare or remote learning purposes.

Humboldt Unified School District is the only one so far that has opted to delay in-person instruction until after the fall break. Given that, the district’s new Superintendent John Pothast is clear the remote learning plan for this year is a new model intended to be robust, rigorous and “successful.”

3.) Costs to families and taxpayers?

Public education does not require special fees for families for regular instruction. The COVID-19 implications to all public schools has prompted distribution of some federal grant funds, but long-term financial implications are not yet known. Several district leaders said the pandemic has offered a window into a “digital divide” that they hope will lead state lawmakers to consider more funding for 21st century technology for all students.

4.) When will students be able to return to school campuses?

On Aug. 7, the state Department of Health is expected to release health metrics that will be used as guidelines for a return date. HUSD has already delayed in-person instruction until after fall break; Gov. Doug Ducey and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman set Aug. 17 as the earliest date for a return to in-person instruction. Both admit that might be an ambitious timeline.

5.) What are district and charter teaching and learning expectations for this year?

Unlike last spring, all education leaders said this year’s remote and distance learning comes with new expectations of faculty and staff as well as students and their family partners. Assignments will be graded, and teachers will be devising their lessons based on curriculum rooted in meeting state standards.

A major focus for all schools with this new brand of instruction is for teachers to forge connections with students even though they will not be sharing the same space.

Remote instruction should not impede building those relationships, leaders emphasized.

Districts continue to provide computers and internet access devices as needed.

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