Schools entering new territory with online learning

Published 9:33 am Thursday, April 2, 2020

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The Davie Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution granting emergency powers to Superintendent Jeff Wallace at a meeting March 25. The board members did not gather for the meeting but instead communicated via video and telephone.

The resolution will allow Wallace to make decisions on such items as curriculum and calendar adjustments, access to school property, employee work schedules and assignments, and entering into contracts, all with the purpose of ensuring the continuation of education while keeping students and employees healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chair Clint Junker said of the Covid-19 pandemic: “Man, the times we are under, no one saw coming. To see Jeff’s leadership and that of others has been inspiring. This has been a time we have been able to see how a great team is supposed to work.”

The board also voted unanimously in support of a county state of emergency proclamation that took effect March 16. Wallace hoped doing so might tie the school system to some funding, allowing them to receive part of the $13.8 million in funding the CDC will funnel to the state to help with the response to the virus. The school system should also receive a portion of $50 million in funding approved by the State Board of Education at their meeting Friday.

The state board also addressed how to give seniors a grade for their spring classes. On a recommendation by the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction, if a senior was passing a class as of March 13, they are considered to have passed that class. If they were failing a class, they will get a withdrawal for the class, which means they won’t get credit for it. Before that happens, they will be given an opportunity to pass the class through online learning. If they were taking a year-long class, their fall semester grade will count toward their GPA, but their grade prior to March 13 will not.

Seniors will not receive the traditional A-F grades, only a pass or withdrawal on their transcript.

As soon as it became clear the state would not get out of the bullseye of the virus and schools would be shuttered for at least two weeks, local leadership teams began meeting with the focus on child nutrition, child care and remote learning.

The emergency summer feeding plan went into place, providing meals to students who rely on school meals for their nutritional needs. In one day, the school nutrition team provided more than 3,000 meals and as of press-time, they had provided more than 30,000 meals, including those delivered to the homeless and quarantined.

“That is absolutely phenomenal,” Wallace said, noting many had reached out to him to offer help. He said the team is beginning to plan how to provide meals long term, since schools will now be closed until at least May 15.

The school system is providing childcare to staff, emergency personnel and paying clients.

There are 30 children being cared for at Mocksville Elementary and Central Davie, with the children physically adhering to the social distancing six-foot spacing during their activities. Staff are ensuring hygiene standards of frequent handwashing, coughing into their elbows, and not touching their faces are being carried out. As families exhaust temporary childcare options and the need grows, more facilities will be used to follow the executive orders for gatherings, Wallace said.

More than 1,000 laptop computers were distributed to students last weekend, and as of the date of the meeting, only 235 of 6,100 students had not been contacted to receive the devices they would need for remote learning. Staff have been in contact with internet providers, who are offering 60-day service with no fees or contracts.

Students are able to collaborate on school projects, communicate with their teachers and one another, and continue to learn, no matter where they are. Their learning content, activities, and assignments will be shared on an online platform, which may include video conferencing.

There is now a remote learning resources page on the schools’ website, and students and parents are encouraged to check teacher websites. Students have been asked to check their email for messages from their teachers; all students from kindergarten through 12th grade have access to their email accounts.

“We encourage students and families to develop a routine, helping to structure the remote learning process,” said Jennifer Lynde, chief academic officer. “Everyone, even teachers, will be adjusting to something new. We will remain flexible and understanding as everyone adapts to this unique situation. We will provide patience with students and appreciate the patience of parents. We will certainly miss face-to-face interaction with children, but we are optimistic about the possibilities.”

Wallace said he was proud of the staff for their dedication to students and the community, as they make decisions for the students’ “well-being, continued development, and engagement. Plus, joining efforts with local officials, churches, foundations and businesses has been a blessing. We are so thankful.”

Wallace and the board spent the rest of the meeting talking about items including work for non-classified staff, AP classes, grades, student rank and honors, and standardized testing.

With the goal of keeping everyone meaningfully employed and earning a salary, non-classified staff members, including bus drivers and teacher assistants, are moving into other roles, such as helping with food distribution, preparing packets of school work, cleaning, painting and eventually, and reading to students virtually.

Advanced Placement (AP) exams will still be held, will be 45-minutes long and will only cover material that should have been covered in class up to the day school was canceled. Wallace said he anticipates all state-testing will be waived. As of late Monday, he had not received updates on testing, or class rank and honors from the state board.