RSF School moves ahead with ‘live’ interactive learning

The Rancho Santa Fe School District will launch interactive Zoom classes this week.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District hopes to launch one interactive Zoom lesson for all R. Roger Rowe School students by the end of the week as they move into a new phase of distance learning.


The Rancho Santa Fe School District hopes to launch one interactive Zoom lesson for all R. Roger Rowe School students by the end of the week as they move into a new phase of distance learning.

As they aim to be one of the first public school districts in the county to offer live learning with teachers, the district has taken steps to protect student safety, including permission forms for parents to fill out. And in order to ensure that the lessons are meaningful and productive, they have posted student rules for video conferencing including digital behavior expectations and etiquette.

On April 9, the school board held a public hearing on the proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the district and the teachers union about what will be expected of teachers during the extended school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 70 people on the call, including teachers and many parents, sounding off on their experiences with distance learning and asking for more interactive online lessons.

“In the absence of having something like live interaction, I think our kids are getting deprived of that direct engagement,” said parent Sameer Rohatgi. “It’s incumbent on us, despite all the challenges, to come up with something that engages our kids directly with their teachers as well as other classmates.”

The initial proposal from the Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association, which was made public last week, did not include interactive learning.

Teacher Elaine Dolnack said that their initial proposal was done in the first week of distance learning and things have been constantly changing. She said the teachers are making sure everything is being done in the best interest of students and a lot of progress has been made in collaboration with the district since that initial proposal.

“We are very eager to move forward and move on with the next phase of learning for our students,” Dolnack said.

The district’s draft side of the agreement stated that in addition to the video/audio lessons that are currently being provided, Rowe teachers will implement synchronous distance learning where students and teachers are online at the same time and interacting in real-time. The amount of time would be determined by the district.

The draft stated that the regular workday for teachers would not change, although they will be working from home. The draft agreement stated that teachers are regularly expected to check their email during the workday and respond to emails “within a reasonable amount of time taking into consideration the subject matter of the communication.”

At the last board meeting, teachers had shared their challenges with the online teaching format, many juggling teaching from home and parenting their own children. Teachers also expressed their concerns about using the Zoom platform due to safety and privacy issues and behavioral management, questioning Zoom’s effectiveness versus the online lessons that teachers are preparing and sharing. There were also concerns about “Zoom bombing,” a trend in which hackers have hijacked video sessions to harass participants or share offensive content.

Parent Andrea Lee said she was “disappointed and disgusted” by some of the comments made by teachers at the last board meeting. With two children at Rowe and two in private school she is able to compare the difference of what is being offered and said there is a “vast difference.” With the district’s resources and small class sizes, she said she didn’t see why Rowe teachers weren’t able to do more online learning, “We would prefer to see a little more effort,” Lee said.

Parent Justin Smith said the initial proposal that set a maximum time limit for students of no more than 10 hours a week for elementary school and no more than 12 hours a week for middle school was “unacceptable”—he said if the teachers are continuing to receive compensation for their jobs, they should be required to be present.

As they have experienced the first weeks of online learning, parents shared input about how it could be improved. They requested well-documented curriculum and lesson plans to have a better understanding of assignments and subject matter and a more structured “filled” school day—one parent said her student was only spending 30 minutes a day on assignments. Parents also asked for more accountability, noting middle school students are less motivated to complete work because it is not being graded and submitted assignments do not receive feedback.

“I need a little bit more structure for my kids during the day,” said parent Shannon Spurlinga. “The whole country is scared about what’s going on right now…we should all be coming together so kids can have a structured day and parents
can [focus on] getting their work done from home.”

Most parents said a format like Zoom would be beneficial, providing more interaction and engagement for students in the lessons. “Connectivity and the relationship-side are important for our children,” said parent Mark Kotsay, adding that seeing and interacting with their teachers would go a long way in children’s development, particularly during such an isolated time where they are lacking connections.

Parent Nadelle Kijewski said while the transition to distance learning was not seamless, she felt the teachers were “crushing it.”

“Our experience has been really positive,” said Kijewski. “Since some people are comparing our district to other districts, we were one of the first to go live and I thought that was incredibly consistent for our children.”

In her comments, teacher Amanda Valentine thanked all of the parents for participating in the process and being on the call.

“We’re all in a brand new territory that we’ve never been in,” Valentine said. “As a teacher and a parent at this school, I know that the teachers are working relentlessly to try to teach online, which is completely different than teaching in the classroom.”

Valentine said the MOU represents a negotiation that is being taken very seriously between the teachers and administration as they work to move forward in a way that creates safety and positivity in the learning environment for all students.

“This is an ongoing conversation,” Valentine said. “Know that we’ve got your children at the forefront trying to figure out what’s best to protect their privacy, to protect their rights and to give them the best education we can from a distance.”

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for May 14 at 9 a.m.