No two days have looked the same for Oakdale Joint Unified School District Superintendent Marc Malone.
While some might think this to be customary given the weight of the position, the unfolding of COVID-19 has created a job which is far from boring or without challenge. As Malone has spent the past month making critical choices for the 5400 student population as well as the OJUSD staff, decisions remain day to day.
“There is no replacing the dynamic instruction our teachers create in the classroom,” Malone said of his initial goal to see students back in the classroom.
Earlier last week however, that mission was detoured when the recommendation of the State Superintendent as well as the Governor was made for students not to return for the 2019-2020 school year.
Malone shared as the directive came, his gratitude for the OJUSD proactive approach creating its own on-line platform prior to the breakout of the pandemic. He additionally noted the past nine years and building of the curriculum.
“We need to be careful in saying they’re going to replace that,” Malone said.
And while the well-built classroom curriculum may not be replaced, it can be modified so that students may maintain the foundation which was built with “Distance Learning.”
“I also think there’s danger in comparing T-K through 12 learners with college learners and adult learners,” he said. “There’s danger there because they’re not the same. All that being said, I do think our on-line platform is certainly going to beat this challenge that’s before us.”
OJUSD first launched enrichment learning via the on-line platform, March 19, the first day of the school closure. Students (as well as parents) have been encouraged to access their respective platforms via links to their respective school sites and instructors. Now with the closure extended through the school year, Malone shared it’s more important than ever for families to hop on-line and continue their instruction and education.
The district will transition from the “enrichment” platform to a true “distance learning” platform for credit/grades beginning Monday, April 20. In order to do this effectively, as well as fairly for all students of OJUSD, administration needed to ensure all students had access to the tools needed, which includes laptop devices, as well as internet access.
A total of 900 families have been identified in need of district services to allow their students to continue education April 20. Devices will be dispersed this week to the families who have expressed a need (via survey/on-line form) to the district.
In addition Malone stated there were three clear goals put in place to guide students through the final month of instruction virtually. For T-K to fifth grade learners, teachers were instructed to pare down instruction to anything that is not necessary to prepare them for the next grade. Students in grades six to eleven will be provided with work that is essential for them to be ready for the next vertical class in the upcoming school year. And for seniors, instructors will look to their curriculum and what’s going to prepare them for the next step, be it college, tech school, trade school or entering the work force.
“All on-line instruction will be toward those three specific goals,” the superintendent stated.
Malone also emphasized that the work students will begin doing April 20 will only be used to improve student grades when applicable and grades will not be lowered from where they were left on March 18, the last day of physical, in class learning.
“Every kid has the opportunity to improve their grade,” Malone emphasized, noting the importance for students to access the platform to work toward improvement of existing grades.
“It’s important that you do it. Don’t blow that off,” he added.
As for the most pressing concern and questions by the Class of 2020, Oakdale Joint Unified remains committed to hosting a traditional graduation for the outgoing seniors.
“Our school board is 100 percent committed, as is our administration, to provide our students with a real live, traditional Oakdale graduation ceremony,” he said. “When are we going to be able to do that? That’s the million dollar question.”
As a graduate of OHS himself, Malone understands the importance of the ceremony to the students, the families, as well as the community. According to Malone, OHS Activities Director Guy Fowler has already been in contact with student leaders in regards to student dates of interest for the ceremonies. The time of the day will depend on the month able to host.
“It is not my plan to do a remote graduation. It is my plan to give these kids a real physical ceremony, even if it is conceivably after some of them have already started their freshman year in college,” the superintendent shared. “We don’t know what it will look like, but I do think it’s important for these kids, our senior classes … they deserve some closure.”
While the focus may appear to be strictly on the senior class of 2020, talk regarding eighth grade promotion is also in play.
“Eighth grade is a promotion versus graduation,” Malone said, sharing the district would like to give them a ceremony as well if protocols are lifted in a workable timeline.
“Since we are closed we will systematically begin to prepare for the next school year. So our staff will begin cleaning rooms,” Malone.
Items left by students will be returned; the ‘how’ of that is still being determined as well.
“Currently if there’s personal property that they really need, if they’ll contact the site principal beginning April 20, we’ll make arrangements for them to come get that,” Malone said.
As for the question of additional education through summer, that is something which is being reviewed primarily for juniors and seniors to assist with remediation for credit recovery. As for the mass majority of the OJUSD student body, the school year will still end officially on May 21.
In the meantime, work for staff of OJUSD continues as preparations are being made to properly be ready for the 2020-21 school year.
“I think the important thing is for us to make sure we’re ready for 20-21. Don’t let this effect the next year,” Malone shared. “We want to set our goals, make sure that we’re ready to start 20-21 and hit the ground running.
“By and large our staff has been just amazing,” he continued. “They understood the challenge, they embraced it as a challenge rather than going poor pitiful me. From a staff standpoint it has been great.”
As for challenges in a time which is both unprecedented as well as uncharted, the superintendent shared fielding the criticism as a result of some not understanding what “equal access” is.
“They don’t understand that we can’t just roll out instruction and not be assured or make sure that we didn’t do all the steps to make sure our kids with special needs, needs are met,” he said of checking all the boxes for fair and equal education. “I think by and large the criticism we have faced is because people don’t understand the legalities of what equal access means for every kid. It’s great when you’re in a home environment that has connectivity, that has an individual computer for your child and a learning center set up and you’re ready to go. It’s great for that kid, but that kid is not all of our kids.”
To request a device for a student’s distance learning or to access information for instruction beginning April 20, visit www.ojusd.org.