Superintendent’s Corner: Starting school safely through distance learning |

Superintendent’s Corner: Starting school safely through distance learning

Rob Stein
Superintendent’s Corner
Rob Stein

Last week, we announced that the Roaring Fork Schools will start the school year in an improved distance learning model for at least Aug. 17-Sept. 21. We anticipated that people would have different reactions to the news — including relief, disappointment and many emotions in between.

So far, that’s exactly what we’ve heard from our staff, students and families. Like most in our community, we feel immense sadness that our students will not start the 2020-21 school year in school classrooms, and yet we are obligated to start the year through distance learning to keep our community safe.

As we laid out in our Back-to-School Roadmap, the community risk level determines the learning model in which we will operate during the COVID pandemic. Because the Roaring Fork School District overlaps Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield Counties, we consulted each county’s public health departments and used their data to determine the current risk level in our communities.

Currently, both Garfield and Eagle counties, where the large majority of our students live, are at the “red” or “concerned” level and trending in an alarming direction; Pitkin is in the borderline “yellow” or “cautious” level. The current high risk level to public health in our communities due to the COVID pandemic determined that we needed to start school through distance learning.

Many people wonder why school districts are taking different approaches to resuming school. Every school district in Colorado is tasked with making local decisions that are best for its community given circumstances and priorities.

While the Roaring Fork Board of Education has made public health and safety its first priority, other districts have different priorities.

We all want to return to face-to-face instruction because we know it’s best for student learning and deeper relationships. We are relying on evidence-based, objective indicators and our guiding principles to determine the learning model and help us transition back to face-to-face learning when it’s safe to do so.

Until we can transition back to in-person learning, we will be offering an improved distance learning model. When the COVID pandemic reached our community in March, we launched into distance learning suddenly, leaving many students, staff and parents feeling frustrated. We heard from 1,067 students, parents, and staff last spring about how we should improve distance learning. Based on this feedback, our teams worked over the summer to improve our distance learning model, including:

More synchronous or “real-time” online;

More accountability for student learning;

New digital tools for early elementary;

Enhanced two-way communication with students and families;

More home internet access options for families; and

More support for families and students to learn how to use our tools and technology and support students in distance learning.

We will be setting a solid foundation for distance learning by providing an in-depth orientation for families and students during the first week of school starting on Aug. 17. This is similar to the beginning of every school year, when teachers spend time getting to know their students and families, introducing them to the classroom and the school, and making sure everyone is set up for a successful year — these same goals will be achieved in a distance learning model.

Starting the week of Aug. 24, students and families can expect daily schedules and live online classes.

This pandemic has forced us into undesirable circumstances and current indications are that it will not be resolved in the short term. Of course, all of us are eager to return to normal times and get kids back in school, but it can’t be at the expense of the health of our students, staff and community.

We can all do our part to help lower the risk scale by remaining vigilant with The Five Commitments of Containment:

1. I will maintain 6’ of distance from anyone not in my household.

2. I will wash my hands often.

3. I will wear a mask in public.

4. I will stay home when sick.

5. I will seek testing and self-report if I experience symptoms.

The more we work together, the sooner we will be able to get our kids back in school.

Rob Stein is Superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

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