Stein column: Taking care of students, staff and one another through crisis

Rob Stein
Superintendent’s Corner
Rob Stein

Amidst this public health crisis, there are many opportunities to celebrate and give thanks. I want to acknowledge the many individual and collective efforts in our community to support one another during this unprecedented situation. Community members have reached out to see how they can support meal delivery for our students or help in any way they can. Countless staff members have worked overtime to come up with creative solutions to the new challenges presenting every day.

The most obvious challenge facing schools across the country is how to transform schooling from an in-person to an online model. This jump is much easier for higher education, where professors and students are set up for and familiar with digital teaching and learning. For PreK-12 schools, the shift is more of a leap.

Many schools around the country jumped quickly to online lessons for their students as soon as schools closed their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. But we have learned from school districts that quickly attempted extensive remote learning activities that the lack of preparation can lead to lackluster implementation.

As we transition to remote learning, we will prioritize personal connection over academic rigor for the first couple of weeks of the closure. We are focusing on the big picture: our students are in school for 13 years, and right now, amidst change and crisis, the greatest need is to build a solid foundation for staying connected for the remainder of the school year.

Therefore, our primary concern right now is that students stay connected to their teachers and to one another. For the first two weeks after spring break, we will provide recommended learning activities to keep students engaged and connected. Teachers and crew leaders from each school will reach out to every student for an individual check-in starting on April 1. Family liaisons, counselors, and administrators will also conduct wellness checks for all families to assess their needs and make every effort to address their concerns; we have already begun contacting our most vulnerable families to make sure that their immediate needs are met.

Beginning on March 30, the Roaring Fork Schools will provide nutritious, free meals to all children for the duration of the school closure. Grab-and-go sack meals containing breakfast and lunch will be distributed in multiple locations throughout the Roaring Fork community.

According to Gov. Polis, it is unlikely that in-person schooling will resume before the end of the school year. Therefore, we are planning now to be able to deliver high-quality remote learning from April 20 through the remainder of the crisis. Teachers will be working over the two weeks after spring break to develop online lesson plans and, for younger students, printed materials that can be sent home via food delivery routes. We are highly concerned about providing adequate support for emerging bilingual students, students with special needs, and students at risk; we will need to work creatively to continue to engage these students in the event of prolonged closures.

Unlike younger students, high school seniors are facing the pressing deadline of graduation. We will be reviewing all seniors’ records to determine specific supports to enable them to graduate on time. This may entail flexibility in giving students opportunities to demonstrate mastery of course content without completing all of the assignments. We are guided by the principle that we will not penalize students for circumstances which are out of their control.

One barrier faced by children across the country is the digital divide. Fortunately, all Roaring Fork students in grades 3-12 have been issued Chromebooks. We have been working for years to partner with internet providers to offer affordable or free wireless access in low income communities. There are still some homes without access, and we are working with our municipal and corporate partners in an effort to narrow the divide to zero. We are grateful to see internet providers stepping up during this crisis to provide free internet to those who need it.

The economic slowdown caused by the crisis has workers everywhere concerned about their wages. All salaried staff of the Roaring Fork School District will be paid their normal salaries and all hourly staff will be paid for their normally scheduled hours throughout the entire closure period, whether or not there is a requirement to report to work as normal. Those who are part-time or do not have a set schedule will receive pay based on their average hours worked over the past six months. We haven’t solved every challenge yet, but we are working creatively and collaboratively to support our students, staff, and families through this crisis.

Many families in our community are struggling right now, and there are needs that go beyond what we can provide as a school district. We are grateful for the partnership of community members and organizations that are working to provide health, housing, and nutrition assistance for our families.

Everyone has a part in this — whether it’s staying home or serving on the front lines in an essential role — and we are getting through this together. I pray that we will look back on this crisis as a time when our entire community worked together to weather these uncertain times.

Rob Stein is superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools.

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