The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards, sponsored by Trox, highlights inspiring examples of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fresno USD’s personalized, blended approach carried students through COVID

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards, sponsored by Trox, highlights inspiring examples of education during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and that means educators across the globe are still finding inventive and innovative ways to support and teach students in classrooms, during hybrid instruction, and in virtual settings.

The eSchool Media K-12 Hero Awards program, sponsored by Trox, recognizes the determined and dedicated efforts of educators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Never before have educators been challenged and tested as they were, beginning in March 2020 and up until today, and never before has their resilience been more apparent. Administrators, technology leaders, classroom teachers, and educators in all roles have persevered as they taught each and every one of their students during a global pandemic.

Here, eSchool News highlights the Fresno Unified School District–one of its K-12 Hero Awards finalists. Keep reading to discover how this district keeps learning going in the middle of a global pandemic.

Nominee: Fresno Unified School District

Nominated by: Gaggle

What makes this nominee a hero?

Dr. Philip Neufeld has served in a variety of leadership roles in technology, behavioral healthcare, higher education, and K-12. As the Executive Officer, Information Technology at Fresno Unified School District (USD), Dr. Neufeld helps shape the district’s educational ecosystems to better prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need for their “#AsYetImagined” futures.

Fresno USD is an urban school district with a high level of poverty, but Dr. Neufeld will point out that the district is rich in diversity and its human assets are strong and full of potential. To help students achieve their full potential, Dr. Neufeld believes it’s essential to remove the stigma around mental health challenges and encourage practices that promote personal well-being, interpersonal connections, and inclusion.

Dr. Neufeld, like many other education leaders, faced several transitions during the pandemic, including online learning, hybrid, and looking toward the “new normal.” Along the way, he’s assisted in the district’s efforts to build in layers of practices, supports, and technology for student safety, well-being, engagement, and inclusion. Dr. Neufeld has helped the district develop strong data science capabilities over the years to be strategic and collaborative while driving improvements. Built upon platforms that provide multiple sources of insightful data to the district, Dr. Neufeld is able to turn data signals into actionable insights for Fresno USD to enhance teaching and learning while promoting student mental health and safety.

Dr. Neufeld has worked to better prepare students for their #AsYetImagined futures over five years with a personalized, blended teaching program (PLi). Over 1,000 teachers participated in a PLi cohort or at a PLi partner school. The transformed teaching practices improved students’ learning experiences and outcomes, which became the foundation that readied the district to respond to the pandemic. PLi brought meaningful use of devices and apps, as well as opportunity, to all students across the district. The work for digital inclusion includes a private LTE cellular network to support over 10,000 students. Dr. Neufeld believes in inclusion in all dimensions and for all students—both in and beyond school.

Dr. Neufeld recognizes just how vital it is for educators to think about mental health the same way they think about physical health. Just as schools provide physical health supports, education, and intervention, the same approach must be taken to ensure students’ well-being. This proved to be especially true during the pandemic, as the district’s data showed just how much students were struggling with suicide, self-harm, domestic abuse, and other heartbreaking issues. By picking up on digital signals, Dr. Neufeld and Fresno USD were able to provide the necessary interventions to help support students through this particularly tough school year. 

When it comes to technology, districts often focus on privacy and security—both of which are important. However, Dr. Neufeld believes that it’s just as critical for education leaders to also pay attention to student safety and well-being. His dedication to enhancing and supporting student well-being in today’s technological world makes him a standout education leader and K-12 hero.

Laura Ascione

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