Posted Date: 05/27/2021
Reflections on School during COVID and Looking Ahead to the Future
Part 2: Technology Fusion and the Future
This is the second in a series of commentaries on the Pampa ISD experience during the COVID-19 crisis. I would like to share some reflections and lessons learned as well as shed light on the many factors we as a school district and community are facing as we plan for the future.
Early on in this journey, March 13, 2020 to be exact, we began to realize that we must be prepared for anything and everything as news of COVID-19 spread across the globe and was making its way to our state and our community. As I noted in my previous commentary, we were planning for numerous deliverables in a variety of unknown contexts. To describe this time as “challenging” does not really do justice to the emotional and physical strain this had on our staff, parents, families, and our community.
I was quickly reminded of a book that we as a leadership team had studied a few years ago and it was exactly what we needed again: A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. I truly believe that our learning and experiences we shared from studying this book prepared us for the weeks and months that lie ahead.
Early on, our team launched into planning and predicting like never before. One incredibly critical need was for technology and the entire infrastructure that would be required for a large-scale deployment of devices, Wi-Fi, and a mechanism for sending and receiving academic content so that our students could have continuity of instruction and not suffer from massive academic regression.
Due to the vision of our leadership teams including our Instructional and Informational Directors, we were poised and more ready than even we realized to meet the challenges of moving to a completely online remote system of teaching and learning. Over the past five years, we have invested in student devices, professional development for our staff to engage in the integration of technology into our lesson design and purchasing online textbooks. Without these prior decisions, we would not have been able to provide services to our students and they would have fallen behind their peers across the state and nation academically and in some cases, social-emotionally as well.
In a little more than 2 months, we distributed more than 2000 devices, stood up more than 200 virtual classrooms full of content on a differentiated scale of difficulty and challenge, and conducted more than 30,000 virtual class meetings, leadership sessions, intervention sessions, and well-check visits. None of us had ever predicted anything like this before and therefore, we had not planned for this on a detailed scale. Of course, a pandemic is one of the chapters in our emergency planning notebooks, but none of us ever truly believed we would ever need to launch those plans. Now, we know better. Don’t we all!
Summer School Plans
Over the past 3 weeks, we have been surveying teachers and parents about interest in summer school—if we were able to provide classes. We have received interest from both our teachers and the parents about several programs. We have been designing a variety of summer program opportunities while waiting on guidance from the Governor and the TEA. Well, we received guidance from Gov. Abbott on May 18th and from the Texas Education Agency on May 19th about the guidelines for health and safety along with numerous restrictions for summer school. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidance and recommendations for schools on May 20. We have studied these documents and met with our local health authority to begin working on plans and programs on a small scale this summer.
We will be sharing registration information about our limited summer school programs through social media and on our website over the next 2 weeks. Be on the look-out for opportunities for early literacy in grades K-2; bilingual support for those learning English; credit recovery for students who may have fallen behind, advanced opportunities for college readiness including TSI and ACT testing boot camps; STEM/Robotics camps, Art sessions, and more. These summer learning opportunities will be delivered in varying learning environments including face-to-face, online, and blended. I will talk more about these programs in later articles. However, for today, I am going to dig deeper into our use of Technology.
Technology Fusion and What’s Next
Without question, technology played a significant role in our ability to deliver teaching and learning over the past several weeks. We view technology as a tool that should be utilized to engage students and teachers in inquiry, creativity, problem solving, and the transfer and creation of content. Technology serves so many purposes in education, medicine, agriculture, business, and all of the professions available to our students. Therefore, why wouldn’t we want to not only use it as a tool, but also (and more importantly) use it to teach our students how to leverage their skills with and in technology to give them a competitive edge in the world market?
Education has forever changed and it is imperative that we use this transformational momentum that we have experienced over the last 2 months to improve how we teach and learn. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not saying that everything should go online. Nor am I saying that everything should go back to the way it was before COVID. I am hopeful that we will use what we have learned to continue to improve, continue to learn, continue to adapt, and continue to grow in everything we do.
Technology itself is not the answer. The answer is finding the perfect balance of amazing human professionals learning and working to bring innovative and engaging opportunities to our students using numerous tools, including the advances in technology and pedagogy. That is our goal. Times change. People change. Our purpose has not---- we are clear on our mission---
To produce learners who are compassionate, competent, confident and future ready!
For the next school year, we may be conducting school in a blended model with some students learning online sometimes and other times learning face to face. Alternatively, we may find that we need to close our campuses for a few days during the worst cold and flu season and continue learning online. To be bettered prepared, we are developing a PK-12 Pampa ISD online curriculum program using a learning management system known as Canvas. In addition, our teachers will begin accessing professional development online through canvas as well. An area of concern is the lack of equity for our students when it comes to WiFi access. During the past 2 months, Resound Networks stood up temporary WiFi hotspots all over town to support our students’ needs. However, this is a temporary solution and certainly not one that will suffice for a long-term approach for our families. There is much work that needs to be done across the state and nation to secure internet capabilities for all students. The truth is, we just cannot predict what will happen in 3 months. After all, it has only been 2 months since all of this began.
Regardless of our conditions, technology will continue to be a tool that we will leverage and utilize as both a conduit for teaching and learning as well as an innovative space for students and staff to be challenged, to solve problems and to connect.
Rest assured, we value the importance of and cherish the moments that are shared in our classrooms during face-to-face instruction. All the technology in the world cannot replace the warmth of a smile, and the radiant glow of a child who understands a new concept for the first time. Our extra-curricular activities are so important and we hope that we will be able to begin engaging in sports and our various performance and visual art programs very soon. Technology does play a major role in all that we do. But it is the people; the students, staff, parents, and community, that make the difference.
Please know that regardless of what school “looks like” in the fall, we will continue our commitment to our students, families, staff, and community. We will continue to communicate with our stakeholders, gather their feedback and input, and will develop plans that reflect the mission of our district and our values of meeting the needs of the Whole child.
Stay tuned for more updates on technology integration for the future as well as many other aspects of “how we do school”. In the next commentary, I will share more about the continuum of services we are planning for and share our summer learning opportunities as well!
We have ended this school year in a completely different mindset than we began. Our perseverance and commitment to each other has served us well. Thank you Pampa for your continued support as we press on to prepare for yet another summer and fall full of more questions than answers!
Dr. Tanya Larkin, Superintendent
Published on 05/22/2020