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Learn how this district is prioritizing PD and prepping its staff for success during--and after--the COVID-19 pandemic

Doing PD in a pandemic

Learn how this district is prioritizing PD and prepping its staff for success during--and after--the COVID-19 pandemic

Jon Castelhano, Executive Director of Technology at Gilbert Public Schools in suburban Phoenix, Arizona, is making lemonade.

Instead of stopgap measures to make it through the COVID-19 crisis, his district is crafting strategic changes with an eye toward the long term. These are ideas long talked about but never implemented in the 40 schools that serve 34,000 students.

For it to work, faculty need to reinvent themselves too. In this conversation with eSchool News, Jon describes how they intend to do just that.

eSN: What does your fall look like at the moment?

JC: We are developing a number of options for families. The first is a complete online option, which is really just our current virtual academy. The one I’m excited about is our flex option—think blended/hybrid type model for our elementary schools and a little different flex look at the high school. It’s similar to what some kids do now where they might take a few classes on campus but then take a couple online.

That used to be just a special case in the past, but now it will be for anyone. If your student wants to come for three hours in the morning and then do their other two classes online, then they’ll go onto our online global online school for that. They’ll still be able to participate in everything that they want as far as extracurriculars goes.

eSN: That means some pretty serious logistical changes.

JC: This is an opportunity for some creative solutions, right? We’re looking at it as a business, as an opportunity for allowing choice that I think we’ve talked about for 20 years now, but there’s always just been different roadblocks, whether it was lack of funding from the state or just “Change is hard.”

Our biggest task was to come up with a model to train our teachers. We are going to pull a lot from our experience that we had back in March. We are teaming up with the existing online teachers and making them a user group to help in-school teachers. We’re starting at the foundational level with a new platform that none of our regular teachers have used before. We have ways for them to just get that foundational training, obviously via WebEx. That’s just an hour training to start so that they can jump in there and get used to the platform.

And then beyond that, we’ll start some instructional strategies training as well. And that will be that second piece. So is it in person? No, we’ve done this because we had to enlarge at a big scale and honestly we’ve listened to the feedback and it’s gone pretty well. So I’m confident that we’ll be able to get that done and then it’s like anything—you have to do it to get good at it.

eSN: What about supporting your new remote teaching assistants, aka parents?

JC: We’ve had to ramp up our phone-in help desk. Normally we just have one person that does that, but we added five other people and just put the help desk number out there to the community. We field any of those calls that parents had; not just on a hardware side of things, but questions like, “How can I get into this program?” or “How can I use this software here?” And so our team did the best they could to answer those. That was a huge piece that while we won’t have quite as many people we’re going to continue that and that’ll probably just remain forever.

eSN: What has been the biggest surprise for you?

From just a pure technology side, I don’t know that there’s anything that’s surprised me. I think all those pieces that we need are here and have been here for a while. I just think sometimes a little push brings out the creativity in all of us.

It’s changing the way that we’ll offer education to our community forever. When we would have these conversations back before the pandemic we would talk about getting teacher buy-in for the use of a lot of this stuff. There’s no choice now, right? You don’t need to worry about teacher bias. Everyone can step up when they have to and when you have good people, it makes it that much easier. I think everyone knows that. And so we’re going to do whatever it takes to support them.

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