Learning has begun this week in the Everett Public Schools, but this week and next will be a learning experience for teachers rather than students.
The nine-day professional development program for all Everett teachers began on Monday with a motivational speech from the Everett Teachers’ Association, followed up on Tuesday with a presentation by Mayor Carlo DeMaria.
Supt. Priya Tahiliani said the “start” of this very non-traditional school year is a testament to how Everett is doing things in a non-tradiational way. There will be no one-size-fits all approach for teachers, students, staff and family. In fact, there will be a number of options for all to choose from as the year kicks off online. That, she said, distinguishes Everett Public Schools and will help students, parents and employees choose what they feel is safe. As a result, some students will be in e-Learning Centers while others will be at home. Similarly, some teachers will teach from an empty school classroom, while others teach from home – and still others will supervise students at the Centers in person.
“It’s easy to get stuck in a box and get rigid about the way we want it done because it makes it easier to plan,” she said. “We’re taking a different approach. We want to be flexible and fluid. We think it’s a 21st Century approach…With our approach, we give opportunities.”
This week, Tahiliani said they are focusing on how to get better at, and be more proficient at, remote learning prior to the students starting remotely on Sept. 15.
“The work their going to mostly be doing is diving deep into our virtual learning platforms,” said Tahiliani on Monday afternoon. “Pretty much the next two weeks is a lot of time for teachers to get proficient on the 30 virtual platforms we purchased for different grades and subjects. We also purchased 700 MacBooks for teachers. Our teachers have never had laptops so we’ll be getting those ready too.
“We wanted to make sure it was working well for teachers so they could spend the next two weeks preparing for school,” she added. “We want them to want them to walk into the first day of virtual learning ready and having already contacted their students. We really want to distinguish this from the emergency remote learning we did in the spring. This will be standards-based and attendance will be taken…”
Teachers will work Monday to Thursday this week, and then return on Tuesday and work through Friday. On Monday, Sept. 14, that will be a day designed to contact families, parents and students to be prepared for the first day of e-Learning on Sept. 15 – whether students are at home or in the upcoming e-Learning centers.
The virtual platforms are many, but they are specialized to subject matter, like STEM Scapes for grades K-5, i-Reading for Grades K-8, and a math platform tailored to English Language Learners (ELLs). Nearly every subject matter and every grade level has a unique virtual platform.
But one thing, Tahiliani said, they learned last spring was there needed to be a central platform for taking attendance and directing students to these various individual platforms. That will be Clever, something students and parents will need to become acquainted with very quickly. That platform would be like a home room for students – the first place for them to go and also a place for parents to check up on what’s happening in the school day.
“One thing we heard clearly in the spring was there needed to be one sign on model,” said Tahiliani. “Clever allows teachers and students and families to access it. They will only need to scan a badge and then see the platform for each individual student. There are no codes and the learning plan will already be there…Again, one thing we heard from everyone was figuring out where to go for virtual learning was difficult…Rather than handcuff everyone into a one-size-fits all platform that doesn’t exist, we decided to use a central place where everyone goes to. That is ideal.”
Teachers will be working in a variety of locations, Tahiliani said, after there were different preferences chosen in a recent survey of teachers. Some teachers will teach in an empty classroom in the school buildings, while others will teach remotely from home and others were willing to teach and supervise e-Learning Centers.
“Rather than getting in a stalemate with the union, we wanted to hear everyone’s concerns,” said Tahiliani. “It’s a small community and we want to take care of all of those needs.”
•E-LEARNING CENTERS EXPECTED TO BE OVERSUBSCRIBED
At this point, the demand for the e-Learning Centers is still unknown to the district, as they have just put out the application this week. Special Education students in substantially separate classrooms will get priority and do not need an application, and likely younger students as will get priority, but the fact is that due to staffing they will only be able to bring about 10 to 15 percent of the enrollment to the Centers.
“Starting this week, families can choose to opt-in to an e-Learning Center,” she said. “It will be interesting to see what the demand is. We expect we won’t be able to meet the demand…We will be able to staff them so that 10 to 15 percent of students can report there on Sept. 15…Hopefully we’ll move up to 25 and 30 percent…A lot has been scaled down because of the numbers. We have to stay conservative. We don’t want to start too fast…We are very excited we’ll have students in the building.”
The e-Learning Centers will not be classrooms with teachers reciting lessons or teaching in person. Rather, each student will be watching and participating in the same content as their peers at home. The only difference is there will be a supervisor who can support students with technical issues or other problems – and monitor them if their parents cannot be at home and they cannot stay at home.
At this point, Tahiliani said they are preparing all of the school buildings to be used as e-Learning Centers, and also the former Pope John High.
“The ideal would be using Pope John and all of the buildings,” she said. “That’s our current plan.”
But that all depends on the conditions of the building and the HVAC and air quality systems. She said they are currently examining all the buildings and gathering data to compare to state standards. If a building is not up to those standards, it could be closed off and they will have the flexibility to open a different building that does meet the standards.
She added that the district custodians have been doing an excellent job of assessing and preparing the schools for occupancy.
•STARTING WITH CARE
One of the things that the schools have been doing is trying to prepare students for how different school will look. Teachers won’t be able to give hugs or shake hands, and they’ll likely be wearing masks and gloves. Likewise, the first few weeks will be spent looking at social-emotional needs – as many kids and teachers may have been through some serious trauma since March 13 when school ended.
“The first days we’ll be fully addressing the social-emotional needs,” she said. “In the first month, we’ve front-loaded a lot of conversations. We want to assess where our students are at. We are going to speed a good amount of time at first to make sure we’re doing a very gentle introduction to academics.”
Overall, Tahiliani said she is confident the district and its students and employees will come out of this unique beginning of school with a better eye towards how to meet better educate.
“These boxes and silos we’ve had many years – perhaps it’s time to blow them up and try to think about how we do things better,” she said.