Solana Beach schools launch live lessons with students

"Solana Highlands staff misses you" and "You are loved" reads the messages in chalk in front of the school.
(Sheri Kono)

The next phase of distance learning featuring live connectivity between students and teachers begins this week in Solana Beach School District (SBSD) schools.

During a pilot program on Zoom during the week of April 13, SBSD Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Service Sabrina Lee said the kids were very excited to see each other and their teachers live on that first day.

“Live connectivity is designed to be purposeful in nature and brief,” said Lee giving an update at the board’s April 16 meeting. “It is not intended to replicate a daily classroom experience.”

Teachers will be using Zoom to check-in and enhance connections with students, clarify questions and give students an opportunity to interact with peers. The live lessons will come with parent permission slips and protocols and expectations for students. Teachers will also still be using asynchronous learning methods with Seesaw and Google Classroom for recorded lessons and assignments.

“It’s a little bit of trial by error but I appreciate working to make this happen,” said SBSD President Julie Union of live learning. “I think it will be important and special to a lot of kids and families.”

Some parents have been waiting anxiously for the live learning to begin. One parent of children at Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific, “two incredible schools with incredible teachers,” said she had been shocked and disappointed that there had been zero live contact in the last month. “These kids are young and love their teachers,” said the parent, looking for small group chats or the opportunity for her 6-year-old to talk face-to-face with her teacher.

The feeling is mutual: “Teachers miss their students so much,” said Jesse Atkins, a teacher at Solana Vista and president of the Solana Beach Teachers Association. A similar message was written in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Solana Highlands School from the staff and Solana Ranch teachers held a parade driving past students’ homes on April 22.

As much as they want to see their students, Atkins said that the speed that teachers are being asked to implement Zoom is a concern. Speaking at the board’s virtual meeting on April 15, Atkins said transitioning to live learning is a challenge—teachers who have taught upward of 10, 20 and 30 years feel like they are first-year teachers. She said it was a bit of a curveball when teachers were asked to Zoom so suddenly—they had expected more time for the pilot program and more time to adjust and become comfortable with the platform.

“We prided ourselves on ‘move slow to go fast’ and that didn’t happen with the Zoom. I understand the reasons but teachers feel very nervous and anxious about it,” Atkins said. “I understand parents want to have that live connection…I know that neighboring districts have it going on. We want nothing more than to connect with our students live and we’re not opposed to it, however, it becomes counterproductive if we’re going off parents pushing for Zoom because they don’t understand everything involved with it.

“Zoom isn’t the best way to reach all kids. It’s a resource but it’s not a replacement.”

SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger acknowledged the difficulty of the transition and said there is a bit of a learning curve with the live platform— some teachers were ready to jump on board with the pilot while others were feeling less comfortable with the pace. She said as they roll out live learning, they will continue to have discussions with teachers on how best to use the Zoom platform with small groups, class meetings and one-on-one check-ins.

SBSD Vice President Debra Schade said she knows all of the teachers are trying to get up to speed with live learning with the goal to provide more structure in an unstructured environment—she said her role as a board member is to give teachers support and time to make it happen, “I think we have to give a little bit of grace to our teachers right now,” Schade said.

Brentlinger said this next phase of distance learning with live connectivity has been the result of a lot of “deliberate and intentional” work from the district’s instructional services, student services, special education and instructional technology teams, making sure that it was a platform that would work efficiently and not compromise student safety or privacy.

“Words just will never describe what the team has been able to do on behalf of our teachers who are the direct link to our kids. I do believe this approach will enable us to go the long haul,” Brentlinger said. “I wouldn’t call this the ‘new normal; but this is going to be the new way for how public education conducts business moving forward.”

Board discussed ‘regular’ schedules for online learning
Clerk Gaylin Allbaugh said she knows the district has talked a lot about not forcing students or teachers to adhere to specific time frames as everyone’s situations are different but as parents are looking for more structure, she wondered what is preventing the district from setting more regular, daily schedules for distance learning.

Lee said they are trying to find a balance between having flexible time frames for learning while still providing consistency. She said teachers have established regular office hours to be available for students and depending on the purpose of live connectivity sessions, some sort of pattern may naturally emerge.

“These are just super unusual times and every teacher has a different situation as well so I would trust teachers to figure out what’s going to work best for each classroom,” said SBSD board member Vicki King. “ I understand the need for a routine. The crazy thing is that our routine is so different now, in every way.”

SBSD board member Dana King agreed that there is benefit to having regular times when classes get together but at the same time he is hearing the concerns about the rapid pace of change from the teachers. He said he would be nervous about immediately implementing or requiring a set schedule as teachers and students are are still adjusting to “a whole new world” of teaching and learning.