Funk: East Side schools committed to equitable access during distance learning
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Herbert.

School districts across Santa Clara County are scrambling to put into place plans for opening school for the 2020-21 school year.

Each district must apply the guidelines provided by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and meet the specific guidelines and expectations from the state budget and trailer bills supporting the return to school, which include in-person instruction, distance learning or a hybrid approach.

As we prepare and plan for the opening of the 2020-21 school year at East Side Union High School District during the COVID-19 pandemic, East Side is committed to ensuring equitable access to a quality education for all students. We recognize that there will continue to be changes as the situation with COVID-19 evolves and we’ll respond as needed given guidelines and restrictions issued by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Our approach as a high school district is much different than the seven feeder K-8 districts. The size of our schools and the age populations require a different response.

Our vision as a district continues to be focused on building equitable communities where all learners are welcomed as they are, strengths and areas of growth for all learners are known and supported and adults positively respond to the social-emotional, wellness and academic needs of all learners. Additionally, all learners engage with tasks that develop the strategic thinking skills for full participation in their local communities and the global society.

At this point, due to the increasing COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County, with some of the highest cases falling within the ESUHSD boundaries, the safety and health of our staff, students and families is our top priority.  Additionally, based on the districtwide survey and several virtual forums, anywhere between 40% to 48% of staff, students and parents are not comfortable attending in-person instruction; thus, requiring us to examine the safest approach to the opening of our schools for the fall.

Our goal is to get back to full-time, in-person instruction as soon as possible.  Based on current conditions and the expectations that schools will more than likely close at some point during the school year, ESUHSD has decided that we will start in distance learning for the 2020-21 school year with specific guidelines, expectations and accountability measures in place.

All comprehensive schools will follow a block period schedule. For Foothill, Calero and our other alternative high schools (Apollo, Pegasus, Phoenix), students will follow a schedule that more than likely will include in-person instruction. The schedules for these school sites will be posted in the next week or so.

We know that we want to provide in-person instruction for our most underserved populations, which include but are not limited to students who have special needs, such as Foster Youth, McKinney-Vento and our short-term English Learners. We’ll also be providing support for students who do not have broadband and/or a safe and quiet place to study.  We plan to offer in-person support for some specialty classes, tutoring, mental health and college guidance support.

We acknowledge the hardship that distance learning places on all stakeholders. We also acknowledge that we need to have more accountability for both staff and students as we begin the new school year. We are developing common assurances across the district for the delivery of instruction, grading and student support to ensure our goal of building equitable communities.

All teachers will be required to provide instruction and support in each assigned period that they teach. Teachers will be using either Zoom or Google Meet for video conferencing, and Canvas (JL) or School Loop for digital classroom management to engage and provide feedback to their students. We are working to develop common assurances across every classroom in the district to ensure equitable high-quality instruction.

We know that our rising seniors have concerns about college applications and financial aid. Counselors will continue to be available to provide support to all students. The fall schedule has tutorial/advisory periods built in to allow for students to meet with counselors to receive support. Counselors will offer webinars, Zoom and small group sessions to assist students with completing college applications and financial aid forms.

Any student needing support with mental health issues may contact the Mental Health Office at their school. Parents or guardians who are concerned about their student’s mental health should also contact the office.

Taking the complex system of everyday instruction, supports, student and teacher interaction and placing it in the virtual world is next to impossible to duplicate. We are taking the lessons learned from last spring and which we have applied to our summer school program and are continuing to make adjusts so that we provide common assurances across our entire system to ensure equitable high-quality instruction and support for all students.

San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.

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