Distance learning unique throughout California schools
April 13, 2020
Gonzales Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,369 students
Facilities: 4 schools
Yolanda Barba, Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Distance learning rollout: Planning for distance learning started on March 16, the first day schools were closed. To provide student services, our initial step was determining access, such as surveying students and teachers to determine their technological needs at home.  At a virtual teacher and administrator meeting, people asked a lot of questions, but none of the questions were about the why, that was never in question.  What we needed was a clear direction on how to establish the how. The how was a challenge as it took a process to conceptualize. This was addressed through a collaborative effort between the district’s Educational Services department, the coaches and the teachers. The district and the teachers’ union also initiated negotiations, but it didn’t take long from the onset to come to an agreement regarding the parameters of the distance learning plan while protecting the safety of unit members. Once again, the why was never in question. However, knowing that we needed to provide students adequate support to maximize their learning opportunities, the rollout of technology was another challenge that we needed to address urgently. In an email shared by our superintendent to all GUSD staff, she stated that we were “building the plane as we fly it,” and that perfectly sums up the process. Technology and internet access: With respect to challenges, we believe that some of the student barriers that we are addressing will be internet access, virtual academic support, and multiple students in a household with one computer.  Many of our students don’t have access to technology and for some that do, what they have are shared devices in their homes. In fact, 59 percent of our special education students do not have access to technology equipment and 40 percent had no access to the internet.  There’s also the divide in the capacity to work with technology. While we anticipated this to be true with many of our families, we also needed to address the fact that our staff has differing knowledge and comfort levels on educational technology. We needed to think about building our staff’s capacity and how to plan, develop and implement ongoing professional development, albeit remotely and urgently. This was not an overnight process, it took a couple of days for teachers to “feel the ground again” and start developing their plans, which were, for the most part, ready the week of March 31. Tech equipment roll out began the week of March 31 and a blessing in all this was T-Mobile was already going to grant hotspots with unlimited access to all Gonzales residents. 
Roseville City School District
Enrollment: 11,344
Facilities: 21 schools
Derk Garcia, Superintendent Distance learning rollout: Our approach from the beginning was to prepare for long-term school closures. Therefore, we provided three weeks of online enrichment to our students while our Educational Services Department developed a distance learning plan, including professional development for our teachers. This allowed our teachers the time and opportunity to learn, collaborate, and plan for teaching and learning in an asynchronous continuous learning model. Additionally, our educators developed a tiered approach to supporting students who are not engaging in distance learning and/or showing signs of needing additional socio-emotional support. The decision to give ourselves the time to be thoughtful was hugely important to a successful rollout of our distance learning initiative. The biggest challenge we face is how to provide appropriate services to our special education students in a distance learning model. Distance learning starts on April 14. One of our challenges will be striking a balance between exposing students to new learning while not overwhelming children and families in this new structure. Our number one priority is our students’ socio-emotional welfare, and during this crisis, we do not want to increase the stress on families.  Technology and internet access: Approximately 3,000 families require a device and several hundred require internet access to engage in online learning. The Technology Services Department distributed more than 2,500 Chromebooks and resource information on free internet service to families before Spring Break. Additionally, we purchased several hundred hotspots for those families who are not able to access free internet services.  Balance of learning modules (online and/or physical documents): Teachers gathered core instructional materials for their children, and our administrative team scheduled pickup dates and times for families before Spring Break. Therefore, our children have the opportunity to engage in online learning and with their physical core materials. Individual teachers determine the ratio of online learning and physical core materials, in consultation with their Professional Learning Community.  Evaluation of systems: Our continuous learning plan is a combination of enrichment, reteaching, and exposure to new learning. We do expect students to engage in new learning related to essential standards and key concepts within each core subject area. However, we understand the depth of learning will vary based on the individual circumstance of each child. Therefore, our educators must consistently monitor student learning, provide feedback, and communicate with students as well as parents/guardians.
Paramount Unified School District
Enrollment: 14,875
Facilities: 17 schools
Ryan Smith, Assistant Superintendent, Secondary Educational Services Distance learning rollout: This school year marked the third and final year of our 1-1 Chromebook initiative that provided these devices for every student in grades 3-12 to use at school and home. In many ways, we are on fairly good footing with the sudden and unexpected shift to distance learning. We have used a Learning Management System and have conducted a lot of professional development, focused on instructional technology. As we learned that our schools were going to be closed, we quickly set up a website to act as a central hub for our teachers and staff to support them with their distance learning efforts. One of the biggest challenges we have faced is transitioning from technology’s use as a tool to support and enhance face-to-face instruction to technology’s use as the primary driver of instruction. Technology and internet access: We are fortunate to be a part of the One Million Project’s grant that provides hotspots for students in grades 9-12. However, access for students in grades K-8 has been an issue. Spectrum Cable’s offer that provides Wi-Fi access to eligible families has been helpful, but there are still some families who do not have access. We are working to find additional solutions to support the family of any student that needs Wi-Fi access but cannot afford to get it. Balance of learning modules (online and/or physical document): Prior to school closures, we had been working diligently to ensure that more and more of our curriculum resources are digital. The move to distance learning will serve to ensure that work continues.

Roseville City School District Superintendent Derk Garcia and principal Kirsten Thomas-Acke pass out distance learning materials to students and families at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School.
Distance learning modules have been launching statewide each week as many school districts are extending campus closures through May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For district administrators, preparation for distance learning has been an all-consuming aspect of the day-to-day district work. “Our members’ first job was to make sure our students were fed and getting the services they needed to survive,” said Wes Smith, ACSA Executive Director. “As they successfully navigated student nutrition, they had to pivot back to learning and what can be done to support educating our students.” The following are some of the distance learning experiences California public school districts have shared with EdCal. Our writing team asked districts about the successes and challenges with distance learning rollout, internet access, supplementing distance learning, and testing their distance learning systems for the rest of the academic year.
Long Beach Unified School District
Enrollment: 71,800 students
Facilities: 85 schools
Kristi Kahl, Jill Baker, Pamela Seki Distance learning rollout:  To make such a sudden shift as a large system, we leveraged Google Sites to quickly establish a place where students and parents could go to find out how to access online learning, where to get Chromebooks, how to get low-cost internet, and also provided a large number of resources to parents including things like videos, virtual field trips, and technical support. Because so many of our teachers were already using Google Classroom, especially in the upper elementary and secondary grades, many of our students were comfortable with using a Chromebook and accessing assignments, and since our school principals all know how to use Google Classroom, they could provide support to their teachers. Our greatest success was that we have a well-staffed and experienced group of curriculum leaders who were able to quickly mobilize and provide resources for teachers to use in their home learning offerings. However, similar to other school districts, we have struggled with how to support all of our students, especially English Learners and students with special needs. Other challenges center on equity issues related to the support that students have or do not have at home. Online learning isn’t necessarily as easy for our younger students, either, so we have been providing print resources that parents can pick up at our nutrition distribution sites.  Technology and internet access: We estimated that about 10 percent of our families don’t have access to the internet. Since we had already begun to actively connect families with low-cost internet through a local partnership, we continued to leverage those resources. In addition, we purchased several thousand hot spots for families who still need access and we are currently figuring out who those families are so that we can match them to a hot spot. Our goal is to have every family connected as soon as possible. Balance of learning modules: We have had to put our greatest efforts into online learning because of the enormity of the shift it requires. However, not every student is able to access online learning, and so we have continued to provide physical assignments for those students. Online reaches the majority of our students, but not all. We know that All Means All, and so we have to continue to provide different approaches to home learning opportunities. Evaluation of systems: Given the scale of the circumstances, and all of the equity issues that are involved, it is not likely that we will be able to acknowledge growth, at least in the traditional ways for this spring semester.
Sundale Union Elementary School District
Enrollment: 826 students
Facilities: 1 school
Terri Rufert, Superintendent Distance learning rollout: We started preparing for distance learning on March 16. The plan was for the teachers to contact the parent/guardian of all 811 students and let them know packets were coming home and set up a time to be able to help the kids either by phone or online. District-wise, we communicated through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Remind and our all-call systems. After some careful thought, my principal decided that sending home paperwork might not get done at all or be done incorrectly. Additionally, we realized that we were going to probably be closed longer than spring break so we started discussing online distance learning. The teachers chose Zoom, Flipgrid, Seesaw and Google Hangouts to use. Of course, it’s easier said than done because our teachers vary from extremely experienced with technology and programs to very little experience. Distance learning has been challenging but exciting at the same time. The biggest successes have been how excited the kids have been when they’re on the platforms and are connecting with their teacher, instructional aides, support staff, administration and classmates. The biggest challenge has been their devices and the Internet. Since we never conducted a loan program for Chromebooks, we had to take them out of classrooms and had to devise a policy and a form for parents to sign to check out a Chromebook. We did a survey and found about 150 students needed Chromebooks. However, there were some families that had a device but have multiple kids that needed to be on an online platform at the same time. They needed devices as well. Some families had older devices that would not support online programs. They also need devices. This increased our numbers by more than 100.  Professional development has been somewhat tricky because of the varied skills of our staff. We started with one main training with three different platforms and then, based on teacher needs, assigned a mentor to get them through this process. Helping parents will be an ongoing issue.  The special needs population is unique because of the different services offered. We are in the process of addendums to the IEP’s.  Technology and internet access: We definitely have areas that have no access to the Internet because no provider goes out there. Hot spots are on backorder for 3-6 weeks so we have had to be creative. I have reached out to my community and business partners to secure additional hotspots.
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