With this extended closure, the district has some pretty important decisions to make; and we don’t have a lot of time in which to make them. First is to determine how best to proceed with the continuity of our educational program. The Iowa Department of Education has outlined three options for school districts in an effort to provide us with maximum flexibility.
Under the first option, we can simply choose to do nothing. The trouble with this is that any missed instruction beyond April 13th would need to be made up. Since we have already been providing voluntary educational opportunities for our students, this would seem to be an unwarranted step backward. The other two options are to either (1) continue to provide voluntary educational opportunities or (2) provide required educational opportunities. Districts that choose one of these two routes would not be required to make up the additional days of lost instruction. Again, since making up these lost days of instruction are neither feasible nor practical, we need to consider how we will continue to deliver a continuous learning program under one of the two aforementioned options.
So, the question we must answer is whether or not to seek approval to move our continuous learning model from voluntary to require[d]. Frankly, the approval process outlined by the Department of Education to make the switch to a required program couldn’t be easier; and for that I am thankful. Essentially, all we would need to do is answer in the affirmative a series of assurances and it appears that we would be approved. However, being able to answer these questions with a positive affirmation is quite a stretch. Even some that appear on the surface to be easily attainable would come with some significant barriers for us to overcome. Primarily, the challenges for us include having the ability to provide required educational services to our most vulnerable and At-Risk populations. If we think we can do that equitably we are not being honest with ourselves. Even though we have resources currently on hand to deploy devices to our student body; reliable, consistent, and safe access is a real concern. Think about this: I have been working from home with a high speed Mediacom connection and it is still frustrating and prone to bad connectivity and dropped signals! I am unconvinced if we acquire a stockpile of hotspots and deploy them around the district we are going to all of a sudden have our connectivity problem solved, nor under this scenario are we going to have the capacity to filter those devices in a safe way.
I also worry about our teaching staff, because they are not prepared to do this. We haven’t had the training, and many of them have families as well (young families at that). For us to all of a sudden expect them to begin executing required online instruction I think is asking too much. Plus, I don’t believe our families are ready with the responsibility that would come on their end with this type of learning environment. As I stated at the Black Hawk County press conference on Monday, parents aren't trained as educators and are doing the very best they can (for that we are grateful). This poignant opinion piece provides an outstanding perspective on the pressure that has now been placed on parents during this unusual time in our nation's history. Not to sound flippant, but I think most families have other things that are on their minds right now that take precedence over how to multiply fractions.
Certainly as this emergency evolves we will continue to keep our options open and there may come a day when we have to move to required educational outcomes. I don’t believe that day is today. Therefore, it is our intention the continuous learning program for the district remains voluntary at this time. That stated, it is our strong recommendation that students participate in these opportunities as they are provided. Parents, your help and support is very much appreciated.
However, this doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels. Regardless of our model (voluntary or required), an expectation exists at the local (and state) level that student feedback and engagement exist if we do not intend to make up these lost days of instruction. While we can’t grade student work right now, it is wholly appropriate to provide student feedback for submitted work. To that end, our model will evolve in the coming week that creates additional ‘rigor’ in the options provided to students.
Finally, it is our intent that no matter what happens, we take the approach that our primary goal is to do what we can to support our families and our students. Students will be held academically harmless for the duration of this closure. Those who were in good academic standing at the time of the closure can expect to remain in good academic standing once our schools reopen. For those who need extra academic support, we will make certain to get them where they need to be! If you have specific plans about our continuous learning program during this closure, please contact your child's principal.