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District schools are a step closer to being up to speed with the arrival and distribution of the long back ordered laptops for students. With students in grades 1-7 now equipped and the kindergarteners and pre-K students also using their new iPads, the schools are expecting the final shipment of about 600 laptops later this month.

With students and their grown-ups experiencing a steep learning curve in navigating the remote learning system, Schoology, the district’s IT department is putting on training sessions in that system’s usage. (See schedule elsewhere in this issue.) Video of these sessions will be saved and available through the district’s web page.

While in this period of remote learning, the schools are urging, pleading in fact, for students, families and others to communicate. Email or call your student’s teachers or schools with questions or concerns. Everyone is being asked to remember that as anxious or frustrated as you are, that everyone else is too. With all of this being very new to everyone involved, there are bound to be problems and glitches to work out. The key is communication and patience, even when, especially when it is difficult to do so.

•We had the chance to sit down with Dr. Segura, the schools’ Superintendent the other day to talk about a couple of things.

SENTINEL: Last week saw the arrival of the first shipment of laptops, a bit more than half of those ordered. Distribution should be more or less complete by now, with maybe a few stragglers. Can you tell us a little bit about that? I understand there were a couple unexpected snags in the process.

Dr. Segura: “Yes. We received the first shipment of laptop computers last Wednesday afternoon around 3:00 pm. They were imaged and ready…or so we thought. With good intention, we worked with school principals and tech representatives to come up with distribution plans to get the laptops out to students as soon as possible. In retrospect, we could have waited for a day to work out the kinks to reduce the confusion created with multiple messages to families. Nonetheless, all the bugs were worked out by our technology department specialists within 24 hours and they started going out to student that Friday.” 

SENTINEL: Some families talked about their frustration with navigating Schoology, and more generally online learning altogether. Is this something that is still being looked at, and what would you tell these parents who are feeling overwhelmed by this?

Dr. Segura: “I would tell parents to stay in close contact with us and allow us to help them navigate this digital world with an individualized plan for their students. Remote and hybrid learning is not easy to navigate, because for our community, it is very new. The digital skill deficit in our state is magnified and it is uncomfortable and uncharted territory for most. Most of our families want their kids back and school and so do we. There is no replacement for a high-quality teacher in a face-to-face setting. During the summer, we realized quickly that our teachers and students needed a learning management system from which to work so that regardless of which model of schooling we were told that we had to engage in by the Governor and NMPED, we could pivot quickly and not miss out on crucial instructional time. After much comparative research and careful consideration, we decided to go with Schoology, rather than Canvas or Blackboard, as those Learning Management Systems were developed for higher education. Schoology was developed for the K-12 setting. Two months after we purchased Schoology for our District to position ourselves to be ready for the start of school, the state realized the state’s need for school districts to have a learning management system and so they purchased Canvas. Districts will have to assume the cost for Canvas after this year.” 

SENTINEL: As of today, at least, because of course, everything seems subject to change on an almost daily basis, but as of now, are we still looking to transition our middle school students into the in-school hybrid plan next week?

Dr. Segura: “A few weeks ago, we were told there would be a two-week time frame as to when elementary, middle, and high school students could reenter school in the hybrid model.  Since then, NMPED has stated that it will probably be more like four-to-six weeks.  This is just one example of the everchanging guidance being given to school districts from the Governor and NMPED.  Our plans have been hijacked at every turn with ever-changing expectations every week.  It is not easy to juggle all the changes, but we have an AMAZING school district of leaders and learners who have stepped up in more ways than I could have ever imagined.  Our hope is that ALL of our students can return to school soon.”

SENTINEL: Thanks Dr. Segura. One last thing, on a little lighter note. I’ve heard a few rumblings maybe that we might be looking at a new sports team this year. Sounds like a few kids are hoping to get a Tiger’s tennis team organized. Sort of a bright spot in what’s been a fairly challenging year so far. Can you shed any light on this?

Dr. Segura: Hot Springs High School Principal Ryan Peil and I discussed the possibility of starting a tennis team as another way to engage more students by getting them outside and working out. Tennis is a great lifelong sport and we have great tennis courts in town that can and should be used by more of our community youth. More on that to come.”

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