When the COVID-19 pandemic closed physical classrooms, schools had mere days to get up and running online. And not only did they have to meet students’ academic needs, they had to meet their social and emotional needs, too.
With a light at the end of the tunnel and plans to open in-person this fall, three superintendents are sharing lightbulb moments, what technology they’re using this fall, and what practices they would leave behind if able.
Hosted by Carl hooker, panelists are Seth Feldman, EDD, JD, superintendent of Bay Area Technology School; Scott M. Borba, superintendent of Le Grand Union Elementary School District; and Janice Pavelonis, incoming superintendent of Carbondale Elementary School District 95.
Carl Hooker: Reflecting on the past school year, what were some a-ha moments that made you realize what did–or didn’t–work really well?
Janice Pavelonis: One of the things that went really well for us was, we spent, right before school started here in Illinois, we had some leeway with the State Department to start a little later and provide more training. So, we provided about two weeks of technology training–it was how to use the products we use anyway, in remote ways, how to record yourself, video, and then edit, and just about everything we could think that our teachers might need for remote teaching and learning. So, that went really well. Our teachers regionally kept talking about how well prepared they felt like they were. And that carried us long-term through the school year.
Seth Feldman: We went back three weeks early … and we readjusted our calendar to go five weeks on, one week off, where we then took all of the data, and whatever teachers and parents and students told us, we [had] a week to fix whatever went wrong. And then, during that week, we had parent conferences. And what was interesting for us, and it’s a big a-ha moment because we’re keeping that, is, we have 400 students, roughly, when we have parent teacher conferences, it’s crickets. But because we had every five weeks to plan for it, we personally invited parents to conferences, and it could be done when and where they wanted… And we went from having roughly 10-ish percent participation in parent conferences to, throughout this year, we’re roughly 50 percent. And giving a break every five weeks to reconnect with parents was a huge shift in our school paradigm.
Scott Borba: One of the things that we really embraced out here was really staying connected to our scholars, something that we’ve prided ourselves on, being a small rural school district, we know our kids. We’re personally connected to them. And the pandemic really presented a difficult challenge of staying connected with our kids. And so, as schools closed in March, that early spring, that was the main topic of conversation going into the end of that school year was, “How do we stay connected with our scholars?” And so, it was all about that personal one on one contact, calling kids, visiting kids, following up with parents, and making sure that we were staying connected for their most social emotional well-being, for that relationship ease that we value so much. And we carry that into this school year, was that connectivity. Making sure that we had personal connections with all of our scholars. And anytime somebody fell off the radar, we followed up from the office to make sure that we were reaching out, “Hey, is everything okay? What can we do to get you connected? Is it a Wi-Fi issue? Is that the time issue?” Whatever it might be, whatever the barrier was. So, really, it was connectivity, relationships, keeping that going, that’s going to maintain. That was here before, and it’s going to stay after.