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Leading in a Crisis: Charter School Leaders Share Their Experiences

June 25, 2020

Here at EdTec, supporting charter schools to succeed is at the heart of everything we do, day in and day out. As we navigate this difficult time together, this blog series will address various topics to help school leaders identify the tools, resources, and support they need to lead effectively.  

This time, we reached out to our charter partners to learn more about their experiences over the past few months, including how they’ve tackled distance learning challenges and supported their school communities, as well as what they expect for next school year. We’re grateful to share insights from school leaders at two of our partner schools: Ms. Jade Rivera, Founder/Executive Director of Albuquerque Collegiate Charter School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dr. Hassan Dornayi, Principal of Para los Niños Charter Middle School in Los Angeles, California.  

 

What has been the biggest challenge of implementing a distance learning plan? How is your school tackling this challenge?

Ms. Jade Rivera: I think the biggest challenge of distance learning that we’ve faced is not being able to maintain the same systems, routines, and structures that are so integral to our school’s overall culture. Our teachers have worked hard to create and implement strong and predictable routines for Kindergarten-2nd grade students, which help our students experience that positive success every day, even if on an online platform.  

Dr. Hassan Dornayi: The uncertainty.  Things are constantly in flux and often you don’t know what things are going to look like even a month ahead, let alone the next school year. For us, this means that we need to be flexible for whatever might come our way.  We have a vision and plan moving forward, but also have in mind how we can change and update if and when we need to, while still ensuring our students and families have what they need to succeed. 

 

What has worked best for you when it comes to managing faculty and staff remotely? Do you have any tips for other school leaders who might be struggling to lead their team from a distance?   

Ms. Jade Rivera: In the normal school setting, we start every day with a quick 5-10 morning huddle. In light of the pandemic, we’ve shifted this to a beginning and end of week huddle. It’s certainly not perfect, but it gives us an opportunity to check in with one another, share wins and highlights from the week, as well as brainstorm how to tackle challenges together. We’ve also held a few informal Zoom happy hour chats, where we can just hang out as friends and share updates from our personal lives. I’ve certainly missed seeing my teammates every day. We’re so much more than just colleagues, they’re some of my closest friends. Connection, now more than ever, is so important.   

 

Are there any resources that have been especially helpful to your school during this time, that you would recommend to other school leaders? This could be an online learning resource but does not have to be – we’d also love to hear about other online tools, community resources, nonprofit organizations, etc.  

Ms. Jade Rivera: Our co-teaching model has lent itself well to collaboration and multi-pronged support for distance learning. Teachers were already used to working in tandem, so team teaching on Zoom with 2 adults per class was a fairly easy transition. Furthermore, it has been a huge help to have co-teachers for online lessons, with one teacher able to focus solely on instruction and the other teacher able to help with technology needs, of both students and teachers.   

 

Are there any unique actions your school is taking to support teachers, students, and/or families that you would like to share with other schools?

Dr. Hassan Dornayi: We are constantly pushing for ways to not just support our students, but also how to support their families.  A student can’t succeed if they don’t have safe, stable, and secure homes. Our integrated services work to ensure our students and families thrive – through education and wraparound support to address concrete needs, and build sustainable growth. These times have been challenging for students and families in a number of ways and we can’t expect students to be academically successful if we haven’t supported their other needs as well.  

 

What has worked well for your school when it comes to supporting students with learning disabilities?  

Ms. Jade Rivera: Our special education teacher maintains very close communication with our special education students and ancillary providers, which helped a great deal when transitioning to online provided services. Continuous communication and flexibility have been absolutely necessary to ensuring our scholars maintain their provided services and learning opportunities.   

 

How do you think the extended school closures will impact “business as usual” once schools reopen? What will learning look like then?

Ms. Jade Rivera: One thing is certain, school will look and feel different come the fall. Our hope is that we are able to continue to implement a strong academic program for all students, while being incredibly thoughtful about the safety and health measures we put in place for everyone in our building.  

Dr. Hassan Dornayi: I think everyone will need to take on the approach of doing whatever is needed to meet a student where they are and address their needs, whether it be fully online or a hybrid model.  I think for our teachers, because many of them are already going above and beyond to help our children, this will be an easier adaptation. Schools that don’t already have an integrated model like ours in place might need to have more preparation to determine where the students’ needs are and how they can help them persevere. 

 

Have you been able to connect with other school leaders during this time to share resources or adviceHow has this helped you to work through challenges?   

Ms. Jade Rivera: I’ve been really fortunate to be able to connect with both local New Mexico leaders, as well as leaders from charter schools across the country. These connections have been tremendously helpful as we worked to design our distance learning plan, and as we begin to think about a hopeful return to school in the fall. Beyond the practical sharing of resources and ideas, it has also been a great support to have a network of colleagues who fully understand the challenges of the work.  

 

Share something good that has come out of this for your school.  

Ms. Jade Rivera: Our families have been so supportive throughout this entire process. From ensuring students stay engaged in their learning, to helping us creatively celebrate our teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week, they have never wavered in their backing and care for our school community. We are lucky to have them.

Dr. Hassan Dornayi: This crisis and transition to remote connection, has shown what an amazing culture we have at the middle school.  We started teaching the Monday after we went on ‘shelter in place’ and our teachers haven’t looked back.  We have virtual classes, assemblies, and connections with our students that keep our positive attitudes and collaborative spirit alive. It has been incredible to be part of this effort.  


While every charter school is different and what works for one school might not work for another, many charter school leaders have found it helpful to hear from their peers to get a fresh perspective and be inspired to try news ways to serve students and families during this challenging time. We hope you found these insights to be helpful, and we would love to hear what has worked well for your school, too – please share your thoughts in the comment section below! 

Online Resources

Leading in a Crisis: Supporting Your School Community with Online Tools and Resources

April 22, 2020

Here at EdTec, supporting charter schools to succeed is at the heart of everything we do, day in and day out. As we navigate this difficult time together, this blog series will address various topics to help school leaders identify the tools, resources, and support they need to lead effectively.

Many school leaders across the country are asking themselves, “How do we continue quality learning at home while school is closed?” They are tasked with the unusual challenge of supporting teachers to keep their students engaged through online learning and asking parents to play a central role in the learning process for the next few weeks or even months.

We’re monitoring how schools across the country are managing this challenge and have gathered a list of tools and resources to help school leaders understand some of the options available to help ease the transition and enhance the learning experience. Among them, school leaders will find online communication tools, content and curriculum platforms, a list of companies offering temporarily free or enhanced connectivity services, and online support groups.

Keep in mind that what follows is only a partial listing of tools and resources, and that some may or may not be effective for your requirements. As we can all appreciate, a solution that works for one school or classroom might not work for another.

 

Online Communication Tools

Maintaining consistent communication with students and parents is critical during this period of remote learning. Here are a few platforms we have come across that may help teachers to schedule check-ins and stay connected with students and families. 

Edmodo

Teachers, students, and parents can use Edmodo to communicate and continue education even when in-person learning isn’t possible. Teachers can send messages, share class materials, and access Edmodo’s free Distance Learning tool kit.

Schoology: A PowerSchool Unified Classroom Product

PowerSchool is helping districts and schools across the country get up and running with distance learning by expanding access to Schoology. The Self-Service, Enterprise, and Basic subscriptions are free to use immediately until July 2020.

Pear Deck

Pear Deck makes it easy for teachers to connect with learners of every age and ability. Teachers can install Pear Deck as a way to stay connected with students during school closures.

Calendly

Calendly is a meeting scheduling tool. Now through June, Calendly will support free integrations with video meeting tools such as Zoom to make connecting during the COVID-19 quarantine easier.

Remind

Remind helps schools to manage communication by sending messages to students and parents. Remind provides tips on using the free teacher account to support online instruction.

Zoom

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom has lifted the 40-minute meeting limit for K-12 schools so that the platform is accessible for educators transitioning to online learning. Zoom has developed a comprehensive guide for educators, along with tips and tricks for teachers, administrators, and students.

Webex

Webex is offering free video-meeting software to K-12 schools to keep classrooms connected through real-time instruction.

 

Content & Curriculum Resources

As teachers are forced to rapidly adapt to remote learning, they may be searching for high-quality curricular resources and content to include in learning plans. The educational tools listed here are just a few examples of what’s available to help both teachers and parents to keep learning going at home.

Audible

The audiobook company is hosting a free set of stories handpicked by the company’s editors, for as long as schools are closed. This resource may be of special interest to teachers supporting English learners.

BrainPOP

BrainPOP is now offering free access to schools and families impacted by school closures and is accessible through any screen device.

Kahoot!

To empower distance learning, Kahoot! is now offering schools free access to Kahoot! Premium so that teachers can engage students anywhere.

Great Minds

Great Minds provides knowledge-building resources, such as written materials and instructional videos for Grades K-12. They post new video lessons and update their content daily. Teachers can choose their grade level and search for materials and video lessons for students.

Edpuzzle

Edpuzzle is a platform that allows teachers to take any video and create their own interactive video lessons for students. Edpuzzle is helping teachers to stay connected with students during this challenging time by offering free access to Edpuzzle Pro.

TEDed

Parents can browse hundreds of TED-Ed Animations and TED Talks designed to spark their child’s curiosity. There are thousands of video-based lessons organized by age-level and subject.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers free online educational resources including exercises, quizzes, and tests so students can practice and master skills, as well as instructional videos to help students learn. As part of their response to the COVID-19 crisis, Khan Academy is hosting daily social media streams for teachers, parents, and students navigating school closures, and put together guides with practical information such as daily schedules and FAQ’s.  Teachers can sign-up for a free teacher account and set up their classroom for remote learning.

Learn@Home

YouTube partnered with Khan Academy and other learning creators to bring parents and families fun and educational resources and activities.

Crash Course

Crash Course is a YouTube channel with courses in topics such as physics, economics, U.S. government and politics, astrology, and more.

Wide Open School

Wide Open School is a free collection of online learning experiences for kids put together by more than 25 partner organizations including Google, National Geographic, Scholastic, Khan Academy, and PBS, and curated by the editors at Common Sense Media.

 

Online Learning Guides

Many teachers are teaching from home and adopting methods of online learning for the first time. Here are a few examples of free resources available to help K-12 teachers learn how to use the tools available to them and become more comfortable with online learning. 

Google Education: Exploring Distance Learning Resources for Schools Affected by COVID-19

This guide provides suggestions for engaging students through distance learning during school closures, as well as training videos for teachers and school IT administrators.

Teach from Home

This resource is an information hub of tools and resources to help teachers teach from home during this time.

Google for Education: Teacher Center

Google has designed free, online training for the digital classroom.

COVID-19 Educational Resources App

This app is a master resource list that is updated continuously, by educators for educators. Teachers may search for specific resources and share and submit resources of their own.

 

Affordable Connectivity Services for Schools and Homes

This is a partial list of internet providers who are committed to closing the connectivity gap by offering (temporarily) free or enhanced services or waiving fees for families in need.

T-Mobile

T-Mobile is increasing the data allowance at no additional cost for schools and students who use their EmpowerED digital learning programs, through May 13th, 2020.

COX

Cox is helping families in need connect to the internet by offering the first two months of their Connect2Compete program for free.

Comcast

Comcast is offering new families two months of Internet Essentials at no cost. Also, Xfinity Wifi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free.

Charter

Charter is offering free access to spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for K-12 households for 60 days.

Internet for All Now

The California Emerging Technology Fund has made it easy for schools and parents to search for affordable internet offers to ensure families stay connected to the internet during this challenging time. Parents can also call 1-844-INFO to find out if they pre-quality.

 

Support Groups & Wellness

Below you will find some supplemental resources such as Facebook groups and a wellness tool that may be helpful in promoting support and wellness among administrators, teachers, parents, and students. 

School Administrators Coronavirus Planning Facebook Group

This Facebook group encourages school administrators to collaborate and share ideas amid the current crisis.

Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning Facebook Group

This Facebook group supports educators who are planning online learning due to school closures.

Parent Support for Online Learning Facebook Group

This Facebook group provides support for parents who are new to online learning.

Downdog

In response to the many school closures, Downdog has made all apps free until July 1st so that teachers and students (and their parents) can access wellness practices during this stressful time.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that every situation is different and what works for one school or classroom might not be a good fit for another. We’re hoping the list of tools and resources we’ve shared here will help school leaders to explore some of the options available to them as they work to provide support to teachers, students, and families during this time. Remember, many online tools and resources also provide instructional videos to help your school community learn to use them effectively.

If there are other tools and resources that have been helpful to your school community that you would like to share, please reach out to let us know and we will add them to this list.

 

Leading in a Crisis: Spotlighting Our School Partners Rising to the Challenge

April 13, 2020

Here at EdTec, supporting charter schools to succeed is at the heart of everything we do, day in and day out. As we navigate this difficult time together, this blog series will address various topics to help school leaders identify the tools, resources, and support they need to lead effectively. This time, we’re providing some inspiration and sharing examples of how our school partners are going above and beyond to serve their communities.  

Across the country, schools are transitioning to some form of remote or online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. While this is a time of uncertainty for many educatorsit is also an opportunity to find innovative ways to respond to challenges and approach learning. Although schools are physically closed, school leaders are finding ways to keep their school communities connected and engaged. They are making sure students have the appropriate tools to continue learning at home, providing online learning resources, and encouraging students and teachers alike to find time to relax and have fun.  

To provide inspiration and circulate ideas among the charter school community, we are spotlighting a few examples of how our school partners are rising to the challenge, broken into four categories: 

  • Online Learning Curriculum & Instructions 
  • Student Engagement 
  • Community Support  
  • Equitable Access 

This is only a partial list of the many ways our school partners are serving their communities. If you have an example from your school that you would like to share, please click here to let us know 

Online Learning Curriculum & Instructions   

We’ve included a few examples of how our school partners are implementing online learning and sharing educational resources with both students and parents. 

Para Los Niños  

As a way to help parents keep a structured learning schedule for their children, Para Los Niños is sharing practical resources such as example study agendas for each grade level on their website  and Twitter channel. They include a mix of online educational resources, such as Khan Academy, to supplement in-class content or material.   

Language Academy of Sacramento  

The teachers at the Language Academy of Sacramento are creating weekly virtual learning packets that include daily schedules to keep kids on track. 

Creo College Prep 

Creo College Prep is making the transition to distance learning by uploading daily video lessons on their YouTube channel.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Rocketship Public Schools Digital Learning Launchpad

Rocketship created a Digital Learning Launchpad to help families and educators adapt to learning from home by sharing what is working for their organization. Rocketship is sharing continuously updated resources, tools, and advice to support and advance student learning and character development from home. 

Connect Community Charter School 

The school leaders at Connect Community Charter School are providing their students and families easy access to helpful resources. They developed mini-websites for each grade level utilizing Google Sites to share distance learning resources and grade-level appropriate educational resources for parents to explore.  

Elite Public Schools 

To help continue the learning process during school closure, Elite Public Schools is providing family and student resources on their website. The resources include a daily schedule to suit the needs of both parents and students, along with free educational tools to keep learning fun. The website also features a student highlight video that shares what students are learning from home.  

High Tech Los Angeles 

High Tech Los Angeles is making the transition to distance learning by providing daily schedules and live sessions for each grade level. They also have a distance learning FAQ to answer any questions or concerns that parents or students may have.   

Intrepid College Prep 

Intrepid College Prep hosted remote learning webinars for parents in three languages and posted them on their website.  

Lighthouse Community Public Schools 

Lighthouse Community Public Schools is supporting the success of students by sharing learning resources for each grade level on Google Docs. The learning resources include work packets created by teachers  along with online resources to support distance learning. They are also providing free educational online content for parents who are looking for additional support and enrichment ideas to continue learning at home.   

Student Engagement   

Our school partners are finding creative ways to engage with students during the crisis, to both deliver critical information and provide a much-need break or healthy laugh! 

Para Los Niños

Para Los Niños is utilizing social media to keep things fun! On opening day for baseball, they shared an image of their staff on Zoom, all wearing Dodgers jerseys. Although they couldn’t celebrate opening day on campus, they didn’t let it hold them back from showing their team spirit!

Ethos Classical  

Ethos Classical Spirit Week

In an effort to bring joy to distance learning, Ethos Classical announced its first annual virtual spirit week on Instagram, encouraging students to post pictures and stories of artwork, silly outfits, and family photos.  

Rocketship Public Schools

Although these are uncertain times, Rocketship is finding opportunity in the crisis. On their blogthe charter network is sharing how teachers, families, and students are making the most out of distance learning. They are also using social media to highlight how teachers and students are managing to have fun along the way.

Strive Collegiate 

In the spirit of friendly competition, Strive Collegiate Academy hosted a dance contest in their Instagram story in which students could vote for the best of two TikTok videos featuring their teachers! They are also using Instagram to promote their virtual spirit week

Amethod Public Schools 

Student health and safety is a top priority for many schools. Teachers from Amethod Public Schools created a YouTube video that walks students through five essential steps to help them stay safe during the quarantine.  

Élan Academy

Virtual dance parties, pajama day, and college pride day are just a few ways that Élan Academy is making the most of spirit week.  Although students aren’t on campus, they are keeping spirit week alive by encouraging students to participate in fun at-home activities.   

Grizzlies Prep 

This is a hard time for many students, but teachers at Grizzlies Prep are sharing motivational videos on social media to keep students encouraged! In the videos, they are also providing ideas for ways that students can have fun with their families while at home.   

Community Support 

We’ve included a few examples of how our school partners are supporting their community with access to teachers and counselors via phone or video chat, as well as other resources families need during this difficult time and transition to at-home learning. 

Creo College Prep 

Creo College Prep Distance Learning

Even though the school campus is physically closed, Creo College Prep is making sure that both parents and students have access to teachers.  The school posts schedules and office hours on their website so that parents know what their children should be focused on and when they can video chat with teachers for support. The school is also hosting a daily community chat where the whole school comes together to connect and share gratitude.  

Memphis Merit Academy  

The school leaders at Memphis Merit are committed to making sure families have access to a teacher or administrator during the school closure. Parents and students can call a virtual teacher hotline for assistance with coursework.   

Alpha Public Schools

Alpha Public Schools fundraiser

To support their school community during this crisis, Alpha Public Schools is providing access to remote learning resources and family support resources. To make sure students have access to the internet, they are offering mobile hotspots to help students connect to the internet so that they can complete coursework. The organization is also offering counseling check-ins for students who are in need of additional support. To help parents who may be experiencing financial hardship, they have established an emergency fund to raise money to provide financial assistance and other resources. 

Oxford Prep Academy  

To keep parents informed about the crisis, OPA developed a COVID-19 Resources and Information page where they are sharing information on many topics including local meal service locations for all K-12 students, available childcare locations, and a COVID-19 hotline staffed by local nurses.   

Nevada Rise

School leaders at Nevada Rise created the Families of Nevada Rise Facebook group and shared instructions for how to join to encourage families to connect and support each other during this time. They also created a YouTube channel with fun videos. 

Buffalo Creek Academy 

Buffalo Creek Academy

Buffalo Creek Academy plans to open this fall, but they’re already very active in their community. The leadership team recently set up a table at two grocery stores and handed out school supply bags to families to support students learning from home. They’re also holding professional development sessions online in preparation for the upcoming school year.  

Equitable Access  

During this challenging time, it’s important that schools provide equitable access to the technology and training needed for students to continue learning at home. Here’s a few examples of how our school partners are committing to instructional equity as they transition to online learning. 

Amethod Public Schools / Oakland Charter High School 

Oakland Charter High School recognizes the importance of ensuring all students have access to the appropriate technology to continue learning at home. They are distributing Chromebooks to students in need and providing internet services to families who lack access.  

Solare Collegiate  

Solare Collegiate is loaning Chromebooks to students who do not have access to a computer at home, and their website includes information about free access to community hotspots. Solare is also helping to make sure all parents and students are prepared to participate in student learning by providing detailed instructions about how to sign into email and Google Classroom.  

Alpha Public Schools 

Alpha Public Schools put together a one-pager with information about free or low-cost home internet options for families, including instructions for how to sign-up.

 

During these uncertain times, it is inspiring to see how schools are going above and beyond to provide their students with quality online learning and make things fun along the way! We hope the examples provided here will provide ideas and inspiration for school leaders across the country to try something new or different. If you have an example you would like to share with other school leaders, please click here to let us know.