A district's new AV implementation positioned it to be uniquely situation to handle learning changes when COVID-19 emerged

Dealing with the intangibles of learning during COVID-19

With fall decisions looming, learn how this district tech director is looking at some of the biggest COVID-related challenges for students, educators, and parents

Forget about tech for a minute. For Adam Phyall, Director of Technology and Media Services for Newton County School System (GA), connectivity, communication, and emotional support are what is key for district success during the pandemic.

In his discussion with eSchool News, Adam talks about the big picture challenges the next school year brings for his students, parents, faculty, and administration–and how he plans to deal with them.

Related content: Data vs. COVID: How one district runs the numbers

eSN: What was your first priority when all hell broke loose?

AP: It was one of those things where when it initially hit, somewhere in my bones my Spidey senses were tingling. This was not going to be just two weeks.

And then once it became a situation where it was a lockdown for the entire school year, we had to figure out the best way to connect. We weren’t one-to-one with our devices in the district. We had to break our shelter in place and distribute devices to our students.

So with that, we had the challenges of students not having connectivity due to finances, and some not having connectivity because it’s not available in their part of the district. We had to deal with rolling out Chromebooks, which 80 percent of the work requires the device to be connected to really get anything out of it. We utilized some devices we had through T-Mobile that were cellular Chromebooks—we were putting a SIM card in those and lighting them up.

Also, we ran into the shortage of hotspots. We were able to get an order into Kajeet and then we also utilized some cell phones through another vendor—basically Android phones. So it was the connectivity that was the biggest hurdle on top of getting enough devices out to our end users.

eSN: It’s still hard to conceive that in 2020 there are still people not connected properly to the internet from home.

AP: It’s a conversation that needs to happen. It is bigger than just K-12. The digital age is here. Everything we’re talking about—connectivity, being able to have internet access—this is a way of life. We’re not just talking about our students either. We had some of our teachers that were not able to host meetings because they didn’t have bandwidth. We have some teachers pulling up in the parking lot to some of our schools to use the Wi-Fi.

eSN: As focus shifts to the fall, what does your crystal ball tell you?

AP: Day by day, minute by minute now we have our plans in place. Our state has given us guidance and I think most district leaders have a plan pilfered and borrowed some different scenarios. I know this year we will have some type of full virtual academy where students will log in for a full semester and receive virtual teaching because some families just don’t feel comfortable having their kid go to school right now.

What’s really important is getting the word out to calm people’s fears on what it’s going to look like and feel like, so they know what to expect. I think that’s one thing that my district and other districts are really trying to do is to be transparent and communicate. We have to make sure, as an education system, we get ahead of the story and we tell our story, or somebody else will tell it for us.

But let’s be honest. If the governor comes out and says something different tomorrow, or the president comes out and says something different about the outbreak of the virus, then all those plans go out the window. So letting them know that these plans can change based on what the CDC says is also important.

eSN: What are some of your biggest concerns?

AP: I think there’s going to be a lot of research around this isolation of students and figuring how that works. I’m looking at my five-year-old. Should we start in kindergarten in the fall? When I look at our seniors—they missed out on all those moments. What are the short term and long term impacts from the loss of those experiences? Those are the things that concern me the most because while the teaching and learning at school is important, it’s also the growth and maturity that our students achieve in these physical spaces that we call school that I think will be lacking with more virtual instruction.

But—to use one of the phrases of the year—this is going to be “the new normal.” This will be an option that is going to be on the table moving forward for more than one year.

Coming next week: A conversation with Jon Castelhano, Executive Director of Technology at Gilbert Public Schools (AZ). Does your district have ideas to share? Send them to KevinHogan@eschoolmedia.com.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Kevin Hogan

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.