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Four Ways School Leaders Can Promote Equity-Driven Distance Learning

Equity is a driving force for charter schools in their quest to provide high-quality education options for all students, regardless of zip code. The COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures have created new challenges in this quest. As we learned this past spring, low-income students are at a greater disadvantage due to disparities in access to infrastructure needed for distance learning. Many schools across the country are starting the new year with either distance or hybrid learning, putting pressure on school leaders to determine how their school will continue to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students and families.

We’ve been following what charter schools are doing in this area and put together a list of suggestions for how school leaders can practice equity-based distance learning in the upcoming school year.

1. Check-in on Students and Families to Ensure Needs are Being Met

The students who are most in need are less likely to have access to a conducive learning environment, technological devices, internet connectivity, and parental supervision. Schools can play a role in helping to connect families to organizations that provide access to technological devices and internet service for reduced or no cost. You might want to check your state department of education’s website for a list of local companies providing discounts. For example, the California Department of Education shares information about special offers by various internet providers across the state. Common Sense Education also shares information about organizations helping to facilitate access to low-cost and free internet service, devices, and educational content.

Schools can also provide families with information about community organizations that can help to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, and childcare. For example, schools can create a list of community resources with instructions on how to initiate contact and make the list easily accessible to all families by sharing it in newsletters and posting it on their website. Alpha Public Schools created a microsite Alpha Family Resources Hub to provide families with information about resources related to distance learning, housing, food, and more.

2. Prioritize Staying Connected with Students to Support Academic Success and Mental Wellness

During distance learning, regular live interaction between teachers and students is important to maintain connection and encourage stronger learning outcomes School leaders are tasked with overseeing the quality of communication between students and teachers while ensuring check-ins are done regularly with different modes of communication such as text, phone, video, small groups, and social media. Maintaining a consistent, open, two-way communication between your school and students and families will allow insight into how students are adjusting to the new learning environment and coping with other issues.

School leaders can create a space for informal and formal conversations with students by implementing virtual advisory groups or individual online meetings. For example, Memphis Merit Academy created a hotline for parents and students to call for help with schoolwork, LifeWork Hotline | Virtual Teacher, to support students’ academic success. A similar model could work to connect students to counselors to support students’ mental health and wellbeing and help students cope with the stresses brought about by the pandemic. School leaders may also call upon social and mental health services by directing families to their teletherapy services while emphasizing mindfulness, playtime, and exercise to help parents and guardians structure time at home.

3. Provide Flexibility That is Responsive to Students’ Unique Needs and Abilities

It’s important to consider students’ unique needs and experiences when planning your school’s distance learning strategy for the 2020-2021 school year. School leaders might consider distributing surveys that solicit student and family feedback on digital learning experiences as well as their home environments. This feedback will make you aware of any barriers to learning such as access to technology, home language, caretaking responsibilities and/or the presence of caregivers, and can help to inform your distance learning strategy and tailor your approach to serve different groups of students. For example, the survey results can help to identify which students have familial obligations during the day and need access to asynchronous instruction, as well as those who require synchronous instruction to keep them engaged and on track.

A survey can also help improve family and student engagement. For example, at the start of distance learning and after noticing that only a few students were engaged in daily learning, Rocketship Public Schools surveyed their families each morning to inquire what students needed to learn at home and worked to address those needs throughout the day. By the end of the school year, nearly every student was engaging in daily learning.

4. Focus on Mitigating Learning Loss

A recent study by NWEA predicts that students will experience a learning loss of 30 percent in reading and 50 percent in math due to school closures related to the COVID-19 crisis. To help mitigate potential learning loss, school leaders can focus on strategies that accelerate student learning. Accelerated learning strategies require that students consistently receive grade-level materials, tasks, and assignments while making the work accessible. This Learning Acceleration Guide might be a helpful starting point for planning your strategy. To make up for the learning loss, the accelerated student learning plan should start as soon as possible, and ideally should be put together by a diverse team of teachers, administrators, and school leaders in a series of planning sessions. It is helpful to plan several instructional delivery scenarios and have a high-level plan for each scenario. You’ll also want to identify what unfinished learning needs to be addressed, and when and how. This document from Achieve the Core helps educators identify instructional content priorities in math and ELA in order to stay on grade level while addressing related prerequisite skills.


School leaders across the country are tasked with the challenge of developing strategies that maximize equity outcomes and address the diverse needs of their students during this unprecedented time of school closures. Equity-based distance learning helps to ensure that the most vulnerable students are supported during and beyond the pandemic. The resources cited here can help school leaders to implement school policies and processes that support equitable learning outcomes, as well as to train teachers to diagnose unfinished learning while providing acceleration support to the students most in need. What is your school doing to achieve equity in distance learning? Let us know in the comment section below!

Tracking student engagement and enrollment during distance learning

Tracking Attendance and Engagement During Distance Learning

By the EdTec Data Team 

August 18, 2020

This past spring, many schools learned that tracking student attendance and engagement during distance learning can be a complicated and often messy process. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be! There are many ways to track attendance and engagement in this new learning environment, and you’ll be in better shape if you clearly define which methods your school will use from the start. Accurate data is not only necessary for reporting purposes, it will also help your school to identify students who are not engaging and risk falling behind. We’ve put together a few tips to help schools get a plan in place to track student attendance and engagement this school year.

 

#1 Continue to take attendance on a daily basis 

Most schools need to collect daily attendance to provide evidence of whether a student is present or absent to fulfill state, district, and/or other reporting requirements. This data is also important so that school leaders and teachers have an accurate picture of which students are participating in distance learning and which are not. This data can be used to inform optimal resource allocation and determine the appropriate interventions and supports for those students who need it most.

 

#2 Develop a consistent process for taking attendance that can be applied across learning models 

Schools will likely switch between different instructional models during the 2020-2021 school year, so there should be processes and systems that allow for a seamless transition in attendance recording. To minimize confusion, consider setting up a daily Advisory or Homeroom class that can be used for taking attendance both when the school is offering fully remote instruction and when the school is ready to transition to a hybrid model.

 

#3 Have a system in place for tracking in-person attendance versus virtual attendance 

Even if your school intends to or has already reopened with fully remote learning, plan to have separate codes in place if, and when, the school returns to some form of in-person instruction. Given the vastly different nature of remote learning, the ability to distinguish between and report on the two types of attendance will help schools identify students who may require additional resources and support. Keeping your attendance system as clear as possible will help ease any confusion when in-person instruction resumes.

 

#4 Rely on multiple sources of information to document and verify student engagement 

While the guidance on what qualifies as sufficient documentation of student engagement varies across districts and is evolving, schools should keep track of and be able to demonstrate how students and teachers are being held accountable to one another.

Some sources might include:

  • Gradebook assignments and assignment scores
  • Log in records and log in duration from learning platforms or student portals
  • Daily logs (electronic or paper) that can be saved or stored in a student’s file
  • Online polls or chat history
  • Attendee logs from video or audio calls

If your school uses PowerSchool or Aeries as a student information system, you can reach out to our school data experts for ideas about how to prepare your system for the new school year.

Having a clear plan in place to monitor student attendance and engagement will help your school to collect accurate data for reporting as well as determine which students may need additional support to keep them engaged and learning. How is your school tracking student attendance and engagement? Let us know in the comment section below!

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! 

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.