Glendale Unified School District board members this week showed confidence in the back-to-school plans prepared by district administrators that are slated to kick off Wednesday, Aug. 19, as computers and tablets power up and video conference sessions are launched.
Those images are relevant because the district is soldiering on with distance learning, with most students remaining home and elementary-age students in need of day care receiving instruction virtually at “learning pods” on school sites.
“We’ve always spoken about the fact that no matter what type of model is embraced, we will continue distance learning because that is a commitment we made to the parents and community members who felt that they would not be ready to return whenever public health allowed us to return,” Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “Distance learning will be the constant and we will certainly consider hybrid learning as an option once public health allows us to move in that direction.”\In the meantime, the school board is expected to ratify, in a coming meeting, an agreement with the Glendale Teachers Association regarding distance teaching for fall 2020. The two parties announced in a joint statement late Wednesday that they had hammered out an accord and that the start of school remains Aug. 19.
Ekchian and other administrators led a lengthy presentation on class schedules and expectations at Tuesday’s meeting. Teaching plans include synchronous instruction — which happens simultaneously for all students — and asynchronous periods of class time. As it did in the spring, the district will provide meals to all Glendale students who want them, regardless of whether the youngster is enrolled in the GUSD. The meals are to be picked up at different school sites.
Transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students are slated to receive 220 minutes of instruction each day, of which 40-70 minutes are in live sessions broken into two blocks. Elementary students are to receive 255-265 minutes, including 100 minutes of live time broken up into several blocks.
Both sets of students will have opportunities to form live interactive groups for their classwork. Additionally, there are separate schedules for dual immersion students.
Middle and high school students will follow a block schedule each week, with Monday and Thursday forming one block and Tuesday and Friday the second; Wednesdays are set to be minimum days. Those students will get 250-310 minutes of instruction each day, with 30 minutes of live instruction during each period; there also will be live group opportunities.
“Many of our students and parents were under the impression, when they first started in the spring, that remote learning was like homework,” Ekchian explained. “Now we’ve shifted to a place where remote learning is more like real school.”
Specific schedules for each set of students are available on the district’s website at gusd.net under the tab “Fall 2020 Distance Learning Schedules.”
Though middle and high school students are granted a level of autonomy to manage their own days, the district has prepared child-care options for elementary students whose parents cannot monitor their kids’ class time at home. Learning pods of no more than 10 students will be available for children whose parents are teachers or essential workers, or who qualify for low-income assistance.
Ekchian said these pods have been up and running for a couple of weeks and showcased photos of the children — socially distanced, at assigned desks — to board members. The superintendent said the students were quick to adapt to new norms, which include wearing face masks, sitting at their own desks and keeping a 6-foot distance.
“We needed to teach physical distancing and the same is true of the synchronous and asynchronous expectations for learning with our students,” Ekchian said.
Board member Jennifer Freemon showed appreciation for thorough scheduling and the attempt to create a viable alternative to the traditional school day. She bemoaned the fact that the schools could not roll out the red carpet to welcome students this year.
“But what we can do is start off the year knowing that stability and knowing that structure and routine are good for kids,” Freemon said. “They’re good for families and they’re good for all of us.”
Board Vice President Shant Sahakian emphasized that the situation presented by the pandemic necessitates such drastic changes and acknowledged that not everyone would agree on a plan because districts are not one-size-fits-all.
“None of us are happy that we’re not reopening our campuses,” he added. “We know that those are the best and safest environments for students under normal circumstances, and unfortunately, we’re not in normal circumstances.”
The board is likely to determine at its Oct. 6 meeting whether the district would explore hybrid modeling as government guidelines allow. For distance learning, the district has acquired an additional 10,000 Chromebooks, 3,000 pairs of headphones, 1,700 internet hotspot devices and 600 webcams.
“The tremendous amount of thoughtfulness and work that has gone into these schedules is so evident, and I love seeing that amount of hard work — paying attention to research, listening to stakeholders — in really trying to put together something that is going to move us from crisis management into thriving,” Freemon said. “I’m actually very excited for the start of school.”