The district’s school board met in regular session Monday, September 14 with the virtual reopening of schools inspiring a large turnout, most attending remotely, via Zoom Meetings. With over nine community members electing to make public comments, that portion of the agenda was pushed to the front of the meeting, before comments from the superintendent or board members. This allowed for both board and superintendent to address those comments during their own remarks. Public comments were made both in person and remotely.
Most of the concern centered around the remote learning our students are engaged in. Issues were raised about the impact on and difficulties encountered by students, their parents and families, and teachers. Problems in dealing with the Schoology Learning Management System by students and parents were discussed at length. One parent related that she had one child in high school who was adapting to using the system, while her child in elementary school was struggling. She said she is working with her younger child four to five hours daily trying to work through doing the assignments and figuring out the Schoology system.
All parents who commented, talked about the struggles with learning the system, making it work, glitches experienced, in addition to problems related to internet connectivity. Some related that work was lost when their internet connection cut out or was otherwise overloaded. Some have multiple children, all competing for internet bandwidth. Some have no internet access in their homes and have to find time to seek out one of the available locations offering access points or students.
Many of the complaints centered around the complexity of the Schoology system, and multiple other platforms needed for completing work, email, power point, etc. It was asked if it was possible to bring hard copy packets for class assignments, similar to what was used in the spring after the March school’s shutdown. There was frustration expressed about what seemed to be assignments scattered across various methods for accessing and completing them. Many said they felt while Schoology was working for older, middle and high school students, it was too difficult for many elementary school students without a great deal of parental assistance. Some asked if there were other systems that had, or could be considered for use.
Some comments centered around the shear amount of work being expected of students, with multiple assignments due in each class. Navigating the technology was as time consuming as completing the work.
The level of work was not only being felt by students, but also the parents. Among the frequently similar frustrations experienced were “I work two jobs, 12 hours a day. Then I come home and am teaching for many more hours.” “I am struggling to figure this system out. How the kids are surviving, I don’t know.” “I didn’t train to be a teacher. I am totally overloaded.” “I have a 20-month old I rarely get to spend any time with at all.” “Can’t we just go back to fulltime in-school teaching?”
Addressing these concerns, Dr. Segura said that various systems were looked at. One, Canvas, was purchased by New Mexico two months after our district had already purchased Schoology, to be prepared for the anticipated need for remote learning. The costs for use of Canvas after the first year would have to be taken on by the local district. The Canvas system was also seen as more complicated. Canvas is a system designed for and primarily used by colleges and universities, while Schoology was designed specifically for use by K-12 grades. Workload issues, the amount of work being assigned seen as something that could be addressed very quickly.
There are many students, especially the older ones in middle and high school who are learning and adapting to the system and completing assignments. In the words of board member and secretary, Crystal Diamond, “the middle school kids are rocking it! The younger ones, not so much.”
One problem with switching to yet another system was that those who are performing well with the present Schoology system would then have to start over with a new product, as would teachers. Some problems with the Schoology, system-wide glitches, are issues that need to be addressed and fixed by the company. Other problems are being addressed locally to find solutions.
Of course the solution virtually everyone, parents, teachers, students and administrators want the most is, unfortunately one that is not presently allowed by the state. That is the return to full time in-school education. Everyone was united in recognizing how essential it is for our students to be back in school, for instruction, for social interaction and for mental and emotional well-being.
As with any new system, there are bugs to be worked out. Schools’ administration is working with teachers to find solutions that can help alleviate at least some of the frustrations and ease some of the challenges faced by students and parents alike. All those commenting, as well as board members were almost unanimous in their praise of the teachers of the district for the incredible amount of time and effort being put in toward the goal of ensuring our students can succeed in this difficult time. All concerns are being taken very seriously with the goal being solutions, not panacea.
Each public commenter was given the superintendents contact information and along with any family with problems or concerns, urged to contact her. “My door is always open,” she said. “If you have any problems, please come in, send an email, call. I will always respond and respond quickly. We need to be flexible and we need to continually adjust”
In an almost constantly changing landscape of statewide restrictions and guidelines, the local district is presently committed to using the Schoology system as its primary remote learning platform. They are working to devise ways of solving problems with it and creating ways to make remote learning easier and more straightforward for students and their families. However, everything is being looked at ongoing and change is not only always on the table, it is almost inevitable.
“The state has been making changes almost continuously, some of which make very little sense to us,” Dr. Segura said. “We are trying to deal with many moving parts and the parts keep changing as we go. We truly appreciate all the support we have been receiving, and the efforts put out by teachers and families. Everyone is working hard to meet these unique challenges.”
Board President Brett Smith said, “If we can have kids at school, I want them there. Right now, we’ve got as many kids in school at one time as we are allowed. Our hands are tied by the state. If we have to make changes in how we’re doing things, we will make those changes. We certainly will be looking at everything. I share your frustration.”
•The Rotary Club of T-or-C was on hand to present their monthly student of the month awards, one each for a middle and high school student. Receiving the awards this month were eighth-grader Branden Baca, and sophomore Natalie Clement. (see separate article in this issue of the Sentinel.)
•The schools have issued most of the laptops received last week. The first batch of 661 machines is being distributed to students in first though seventh grades. Families of any student that has not yet gotten one is urged to call their school and arrange to pick one up.
•Approved by the board was the contract with the County Sheriff’s Department to provide the school’s safety resource officer. This is the third year that responsibility is being met by the County Sheriff.
•Approved by the board was a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with AppleTree Educational Center. This ongoing program opens resources, facilities and programs available at AppleTree and The Club of Sierra County to students of the district.
•A remote learning and attendance policy was approved by the board. This outlined the ways in which students can fulfill the state mandated attendance requirements while in remote learning.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held Monday, October 12 and will begin at 5:30.