San Dieguito schools roll out site-specific distance learning plans

(File photo)

Like all school districts navigating distance learning during the school closures, San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) has faced its challenges.

Prior to the district’s full roll-out of its new distance learning frameworks on April 13, parents have been confused by the inconsistent contact they have received from the schools—one parent said that her child at Carmel Valley Middle has been working hard daily since the school closure with a lot to do while her high school student at Canyon Crest Academy has not. Some students reported having no contact from teachers at all while others said they had met with teachers on video conferencing platforms.

“We have only had extremely sporadic online learning in the last three weeks, virtually no live teacher time and almost zero organized structure,” said a parent of Oak Crest Middle and San Dieguito Academy students. “We simply cannot let this become the new norm, these schools have a duty to educate our children, it is what we pay them to do and they cannot walk away from that without even a basic explanation.”

At the April 15 virtual school board meeting, SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley acknowledged that it has been a difficult transition.

“The phrase that I’ve heard people say is ‘the new normal.’ I’d like to point out that this is something very abnormal and it’s been very challenging for all of us,” Haley said. “We’re very understanding of the fact that people want more certainty in an uncertain time.”

SDUHSD Associate Superintendent of Education Services Bryan Marcus said that the district created a template for distance learning but as each school is unique, each principal worked with their teams to create a plan that works for their site.

“This has been one of the craziest adventures I’ve ever gone on in education,” Marcus said. “We, as a district, have approached this very systematically where we haven’t gone in and tried to over-promise and under-deliver. We are constantly trying to build capacity with our teachers, our students and with our community.”

All school sites launched their new distance learning frameworks on April 13. Per the distance learning plans, students will be engaged in up to 50 to 60% of the normal academic learning load. Marcus said that the district can never deliver virtual instruction at 100% capacity—60% is the baseline for essential learning outcomes while ensuring that all students, no matter their different home set-ups and resources, have equal access and opportunities for learning. To ensure equity, the district has reached out to their most vulnerable populations, including homeless students, and have issued over a thousand Chromebooks to students and continues to do so. They are also purchasing hotspot devices for about 70 students who are need of WiFi access.

The site plans include specific learning windows when teachers are accessible for students.

“The lessons we’re trying to showcase should be brief and are intended to support all students independent learning,” Marcus said. “Live videos and recordings are not intended to be constant instruction.”

Per Oak Crest’s plan, teachers are providing students access through Google Classroom, Google Hangout or Google Chat, emailed learning activities and flipped lessons in which teachers prepare a digital lesson and then discuss and check back with students for understanding.

At San Dieguito, Principal Adam Camacho wrote that “student workload will increase in the fourth quarter.” At the academy, teachers are not required to teach live—each teacher will communicate their assignments, availability and office hours with their classes. Though live instruction will be limited at San Dieguito, all live instruction will be supplemented with an alternate instructive component that is accessible to students any time of day.

At Torrey Pines, Principal Rob Coppo created a schedule that includes a “Flexible Friday,” focused on staff collaboration, wellness activities for staff and students, and opportunities for teachers and counselors to meet individually with students.

“Distance learning is not intended to replicate an in-class learning structure or schedule,” Coppo wrote. “Given the nature of online learning, it’s important to remember that ‘less is more.’ Activities and content acquisition can take longer in an online environment because it lacks the benefits of the personal interactions of in-class learning. Teachers are adapting their instruction to fit this instructional model, so the course content may be different than what students experienced before this transition.”

According to Marcus, the principals are also meeting with student leadership clubs to come up with unique opportunities to keep students motivated and strong during this time. Marcus said there is a focus on making this difficult time as special as they can for the class of 2020.

While SDUHSD Trustee Kristin Gibson, who has a student in the district, had seen a school site distance learning plan, SDUHSD President Beth Hergesheimer said she had not. Hergesheimer wanted to ensure that the schools continue to communicate with parents as they roll out plans, to help manage their expectations, particularly on the fact that it’s not going to be 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily instruction, “because I’m still hearing that from folks who are asking ‘When is that going to happen?’”

SDUHSD Clerk Melisse Mossy also stressed the importance of having someone answering the phone at the district office to make sure families are not feeling disconnected. For his part, Canyon Crest Academy Principal Brett Killeen hosted two virtual “Coffee with the Principal” meetings last week and connected with almost 300 parents.

At the meeting, Mossy also questioned how the district’s budget will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tina Douglas, associate superintendent of business services, said there is still a lot of unknowns although for the current school year their funding will be held harmless. The state has provided the district with $240,000 in funding to help with disinfection of school sites, making sure kids are fed and connecting families with district learning through the purchase of additional Chromebook and WiFi hotspots. The district has also applied for FEMA assistance.

Douglas said the big question will be around child nutrition. Throughout the closure, the district’s nutrition services has been serving breakfast and lunch to families who are most in need. Families do not have to verify enrollment, and the district has applied for a waiver from the state that allows them to serve any child who is age 18 and below and be reimbursed.

“We are a school district that has a lower population of students who are socially-economically disadvantaged, because of that there may be a greater impact in terms of cost, regardless of the waiver from the state,” Douglas said.

At the board’s April 21 meeting, they discussed the district’s decision to go to credit/no credit grading system. The subject will be covered online this week and in next week’s paper.