Unusual School Year Opens to ‘Positive’ Feedback

It wasn’t the first day of school anyone envisioned for the 2020-21 academic year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said it was a positive one for the La Cañada Unified School District.
Despite some technical difficulties, Sinnette said she received some encouraging feedback from parents and students as distance learning commenced on Monday.
“It’s definitely unprecedented, but we have had positive emails from parents,” she said. “Families are appreciating the live instruction and that both elementary and secondary levels are following a daily bell schedule.”
The district has sought to develop different schedules for elementary and secondary schools that would not only give students a daily routine but also help schools transition into a hybrid model when Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials allow it. The elementary level is ready for the next phase, but grades 7-12 do not yet have a schedule that would support a hybrid model.
“We are still working on a 7-12 schedule,” Sinnette said. “It just doesn’t transition seamlessly to a hybrid model right now. With six periods a day, there would be too many contacts with kids changing classes. We are still working to refine that schedule.”
LCUSD’s tech department was also hard at work this week addressing internet problems throughout La Cañada Flintridge. They provided some families with hot spots and Chromebooks to keep families connected.
“Our tech department has really done an excellent job but is feeling the demand,” Sinnette said. “I don’t feel like the internet connectivity in LCF is the strongest. Families have been reaching out for support and we’re doing whatever we can.”
Internet connectivity has been a well-known issue in LCF, discussed by the City Council and residents at length. Sinnette recommended that parents lodge their concerns with Spectrum so that the service provider can do its part to resolve the problem.
Another critique from families was the bombardment of emails regarding class assignments and instruction, and the district is addressing it by letting parents and students know where to access information from teachers so they don’t receive so many messages.
“We’ve gotten some really good feedback” on the issue, said Sinnette. “One of them was naming conventions for emails so parents know in the email title the teacher’s name and the course listed so they know how prioritize each one. … Overall, I think we’ll only grow into this and improve as we go along.”
The response from teachers has also been relatively positive, though the superintendent is aware that the last several weeks have been demanding for them.
“I think probably the most overwhelming feedback is just how hard they’re working,” Sinnette said. “I don’t think it was a typical summer for anybody. They spent their time preparing and were engaged in professional development for online instruction.”
Teachers are able to deliver their live virtual instruction from their classrooms, which benefits all parties, according to Sinnette. It gives the teachers and students a sense of being in a school environment and allows administrators and staff to test on-site screening protocols.
“That’s definitely been a positive,” she said. “One of the things we’ve been really excited about was to be able to open campuses as workplaces so teachers have access to materials and choose how they want to deliver live instruction.”
The district, like many others throughout the nation, pivoted to distance learning in March due to health concerns regarding the coronavirus and has since been establishing a new model based on the feedback provided by the community. Sinnette said early Wednesday she had been pleased with the first two days of school and is evaluating all responses in an effort to provide the best experience for LCUSD families.
“It was hugely rewarding,” she said. “I think all of us are missing student life on campus and to hear reports from families that people were able to open the school year on a positive note and excited to meet their teachers is rewarding. The teachers worked hard and all of our staff has worked really hard. It’s nice to be able to see the fruits of their labors. In fact, kids were excited to meet teachers and provide them with reports on what’s working and not working. It really has been positive.”

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