During student forum, Edmonds School Districts leader detail plans for remote learning in fall

Edmonds School District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas (top) and Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner (bottom left) listens as Mountlake Terrace High School student Bandhna Bedi (bottom right) reads student questions during the Wednesday night community forum.

Hours after announcing schools would not be reopening for in-person learning in the fall, Edmonds School District leaders hosted a virtual community forum Wednesday to answer students’ questions and provide more details about plans to teach remotely.

In response to the Snohomish Health District’s recommendation to not reopen schools at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas issued a districtwide notice early Wednesday that the district will use its Continuous Learning 2.0 model to teach students remotely. Pending health officials’ advice, schools could potentially reopen by mid-November.

“Our goal is to get our kids back in our brick-and-mortar (schools) as quickly as possible when it is allowed to be done,” Balderas said.

Continuous Learning 2.0 is a modified version of the learning model issued by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) earlier this year when school districts across the state closed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Balderas said the updated model will improve the inequities in remote learning some students experienced in the spring.

“We fully understand that the decision to not have in-person learning will only continue to widen those inequities in our system,” he said. “We will work hard to eliminate those gaps the best we can. Again, we all want our kids back in school.”

The district previously decided to use a hybrid learning model that split students into two groups, with Group A students attending in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and being taught remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, Group B would learn remotely on Monday through Wednesday and attend classes in person on Thursday and Friday. Should schools reopen, the district will switch to the hybrid model.

Before taking student questions during the forum, district staff presented an overview of Continuous Learning 2.0 and how the new model is built on OSPI’s initial guidance. Executive Director of Student Learning Rob Baumgartner said staff have been working to improve in three critical areas, starting with user experience for students, families and educators. Baumgartner added that staff will be working to build a “critical” sense of belonging for students and streamlining the district’s digital resources.

“We heard from families and students alike that there were incredible challenges with the variety of ways that teachers were delivering instruction,” he said. “We will have a much more streamlined experience.”

Baumgartner also said the district will focus on providing clear and consistent expectations for students while learning remotely. With Continuous Learning 2.0, students will be taught by teachers using video conferencing as well as doing independent learning.

“Parents can expect that regardless of (grade) level, there’s going to be a clear set of expectations for what daily schedules should and could look like,” he said. 

Additionally, Baumgartner said staff has been working to improve ways of delivering instructions for students while using a remote learning model.

However, full remote learning still poses a problem for many students, said Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen. For students requiring special education services, English-language learners (EL) and students experiencing homelessness, Gleason said work groups are currently developing ways to offer the best services available.

“It’s not lost on us that remote learning is very, very difficult and we need to do some other things and be thinking about that,” she said. “We have some groups working very intentionally around this.”

Geaslen said staff has proposed setting up a location for students experiencing homelessness to go to during the day with Wi-Fi and meals they would usually receive at school.

Before remote learning launches in September, the district will continue to host multiple community forums tailored to address the concerns and needs of specific groups within the district. For example, since many of the students attending the forum were in high school, Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said one forum could be used to focus on their needs.

While teaching remotely, the district will provide before- and after-school child care for parents who work while their children are in school. According to Assistant Superintendent Helen Joung, staff are looking to use unoccupied district buildings as spaces for child care and plans to partner with the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, Mountlake Terrace Kids Krew and Right at School to offer families a variety of providers.

Joung added staff are still determining the cost of services, as well as what safety precautions will need to be taken and where the services should be located based on the greatest district needs.

“We’re trying to figure out which locations in our district are strategic and intentional so that our families are served well,” she said.

Following the briefing, three student advisors to the Edmonds School Board asked questions that outlined concerns they have about the new school year. First, Mountlake Terrace High School student Ritika Khanal asked staff to explain how students will be graded while learning remotely.

In response, Baumgartner said the district is waiting for additional guidance from OSPI about how to grade. However, if OSPI does not offer more instruction for grading, he said the district is prepared to develop a method for grading students.

“We want to make sure that we’re finding other ways to measure whether or not students have done the learning that we want them to do,” he said.

Next, Mountlake Terrace High School student Bandhna Bedi asked how the district plans to help students transitioning from elementary to middle school and students moving from middle to high school.

Schwab said staff will be working with school principals at all levels to ensure a smooth transition with student activities. He also said the staff would be helping to transition students new to the district.

Mountlake Terrace High School student Kai Hinch said last year’s school closure caused students to be unmotivated to participate in anything school related and asked how staff could prevent that this year. In order to foster long-term success for students, Baumgartner said the district will work to keep students engaged in learning to make up for the loss of social interactions while in school buildings.

“We know that kids are coming in not necessarily in the most ready-to-learn headspace and it’s on us as educators to partner with our families and community so that we can make the environment much more supportive and welcoming,” Baumgartner said.

Speaking to several questions regarding what school sports will look like under remote learning, Schwab said the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) has released tentative plans to move seasons around to offer sporting events during the fall.

District-issued Chromebooks will be available for all students during remote learning, including incoming pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. When asked how students as young as 5 years old would be expected to navigate online learning on their own, Baumgartner said staff would work to provide support when needed.

“When it comes to our youngest learners, it’s really about training and it’s about supporting them in learning how to use the platform and developing some levels of independence to do the things that we do,” he said.

Responses to submitted questions not addressed during the forum will be posted to the district’s website by next week.

-By Cody Sexton

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