As the world turns to national news in search of the latest COVID-19 findings and the shelter in place order, Oakdale Joint Unified School District staff remains busy adjusting to the changes as they are put in place.
With an initial return to school date being altered from April 20 to now May 4, the position of the district remains committed to maintaining the connection between student and teacher in whatever capacity possible.
“The thought was it’s more important to have connection and supporting the child emotionally and socially. Initially this was our first priority,” Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Kristi Rapinchuk shared. “The initial focus was connection.”
Rapinchuk noted that in early March as the pandemic gained more mainstream news, the district began utilizing its own resources and staff to develop an on-line platform to maintain connection between student and teacher, in the event that a shutdown did indeed take place.
The idea behind the virtual school was to allow students, as well as parents the opportunity to visit any of the school websites and access an icon which would lead them to a teacher’s e-mail as well as an enrichment page to engage the student from home.
“We started building that at no additional cost to the district,” the assistant superintendent shared. “We did it with our own internal employees. We started building it at the beginning of March, hoping we’d never have to use it.”
As the imminent fact of a school shutdown quickly came by mid-March, Rapinchuk shared the timeframe did not allow time for the district to inquire if all homes had access to internet or technology. The hope as schools closed after classes were completed on March 18 was that at minimum families would have access via phones and use those to connect with the enrichment work. In addition to this the district offered to provide enrichment packets to homes lacking devices. Over 500 packets were sent out to OJUSD families the week following the closure.
Now, as a new date of May 4 has been set, the district has taken the time to contact all OJUSD families via all call, as well as e-mail to inquire on technology and internet needs. The collection of this information is vital to the continued learning and engagement of Oakdale students, as teachers prepare curriculum for the platform to transition from the school enrichment to “Learning at Home.”
“I hope we can get the community to understand, we weren’t taken unaware. We were prepared. We were as prepared as we could be,” Rapinchuk said of the events as they’ve occurred and the district’s commitment to expedite as quickly as possible.
Since sending out the all call and e-mail regarding technology needs, a total of over 500 families have completed the request form. Distribution dates have been set for April 7 through 9 with follow-up communication in place prior to the hand out.
The assistant superintendent also stated, that while they are prepared for the next phase April 20 and the handout of devices it is important for parents to understand their responsibility to filtering content as students will not be using a district secured web browser.
“Parents can now see the virtual classroom versus the previous Google classroom,” she said. “We approached it that way, because not only did we want to make sure that all families that wanted devices and wanted an application for free internet were provided that. We also wanted to be able to show that we have a virtual school that is in session.”
The platform allows principals, as well as parents to pop into the virtual class at any time and review that there has been enrichment work provided for the students.
“I have asked that every single classroom collect at least one grade per week,” she said. “But they’ve also been given the directive that that grade collected can only be used to improve the student’s grade. It cannot be used to lower a student’s grade.”
Rapinchuk shared this was a directive made by Superintendent Marc Malone, recognizing that family dynamics for each student may vary and contribute to the at home learning environment.
“We’ve just never been through anything like this before,” Rapinchuk acknowledged. “We are not going to use any grades collected during this school closure to negatively impact a student’s previous standing grade. That will be true to the end of the year.”
As for the Class of 2020, OJUSD is committed to seeing that they have a graduation ceremony. While the current plan is for a graduation date of ‘business as usual’, Rapinchuk acknowledged that if the closure should be extended the date will simply be pushed out.
“We are continuing to plan that we are going to have a graduation ceremony,” she said. “Opportunity will be provided for families to celebrate the graduating seniors.”
As for the speculation and talk of the school year being extended or reconvening with a summer school, Rapinchuk shared she has not been in any conversations to date which have entertained that as a plan. Instead the district plan would be to front load where students left off in the current year to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and promote them to the next grade level.
“I have not heard of any plan to extend the school year,” she said.
Recognizing the uniqueness of the situation for the district staff as a whole, the assistant superintendent openly shared her pride in the staff as well as the chief in charge of OJUSD.
“I have never been more thankful for the leadership of Marc Malone,” she stated. “In this season, he is putting expectations for teachers and for school site principals and for all of us quite honestly that we are not going to let this on-line learning opportunity in any way threaten a senior’s ability to pass and graduate.”