Washington Court House City Schools (WCHCS) Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey spoke with the Record-Herald this week about the district’s remote learning program and the progress of those students learning online in the first quarter of the year.
“We have about 20 percent of the students at home and learning in an alternative way and about 80 percent in-person which is going really well,” Bailey said. “That’s over 400 kids. I was kind of shocked at how evenly spread among grades the students were with about 30 to 40 in each grade. We picked up basically right where we left off with one caveat and that is to make sure our students are okay because we haven’t seen them since about March 12th (when schools shut down due to COVID-19), or a few days before that. So we are making sure they have what they need in terms of mental health services or any other services they may need.”
Bailey said that online learning is new for the district — as it is for most public school districts — and WCHCS had lots of hurdles at the beginning but said they are knocking them out. Overall, Bailey expressed that the district is in a better place than they were three or four weeks ago.
“We have a little bit of a different approach in each of the buildings,” Bailey said. “Cherry Hill is a little different than Belle Aire and the middle school, which are different than the high school. Each of them are getting through their own particular hurdles. We did adopt a unified learning management system across the district that is called ‘Canvas’ and we got that up and running here recently. We ran into some problems with the implementation through no fault of our own, it was just that a lot of these schools are bombarding these tech companies for products and services. It’s obviously new to them to have this many customers, so they have been overwhelmed and we have been waiting our turn, but we got it up and running and got the students logged in.”
The superintendent explained that the Canvas system works well with Google products — WCHCS became a Google-based district in 2017 when Bailey came on, because A, it’s free and B, it works well with Chromebooks, the district’s device of choice.
“So we are very fortunate all of our students who are remote, if they need technology they have it from us,” Bailey said. “We did apply for the CARES Act funding, the broadband internet grant that was out there, and we just received last week some hot spots for any of our students who might need better connectivity at home. We are in the process of getting those delivered or picked up if the student qualifies as those are for economically disadvantaged students, so we have some ‘free’ hot spots to loan to families. That grant program is only through December 31st at this point, but we are hopeful that can be expanded throughout the year — especially if the pandemic continues and we need to continue with online learning.”
Bailey also took time to explain how online education works differently in the buildings. He said Cherry Hill, for instance, has someone working on remote learning full-time. This is different at Belle Aire and in the middle school where they have teachers who may have half a day of online classes and half a day of regular classes. They have also been working hard to ensure the special education population is being served on their Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is different than standard education.
“We have had to jump through some hoops in terms of making sure we have coverage for those students and getting those students what they deserve and need based on their IEPs,” Bailey said. “But we have implemented a lot of apps and programs that can help to supplement what the teachers are doing in the classroom to help, especially with remediation of our students. The students haven’t been in the classroom since March and it is so important for the students — especially elementary students — to be instructed in reading every day or otherwise you lose those skills. We are trying to do our best from a remote perspective to give them support. I think the elementary schools are going really well, but it is always a struggle when you have a group of kids online on Zoom — it was a struggle for us to get on meetings everyday — so we are keeping them engaged and have open lines of communication with the parents to make sure we are doing what we need to do to educate these kids.”
Bailey said the district will be sending out a link soon to all of those parents and students who are remote learning currently, and will ask them if they intend to remain remote for the second quarter or if they will return to the school.
“We are clear that if they choose to remain remote that is fine, but the next opportunity to come back in person will be January 5th, which is the beginning of the third quarter,” Bailey said. “We are doing it by quarter, we just couldn’t see kids coming in and out all the time because that isn’t fair to kids in the classroom and it isn’t fair because we have set up and gave professional development to these teachers for remote learning. We will highly encourage students to return in person — especially those struggling with online learning for whatever the reason, either the student cannot participate online like they thought they could or because there is more of a burden on parents for the remote learning to become more active in their child’s education. In some cases it is really about getting the parents to be more actively involved. For those students who are struggling and not achieving or progressing like we want, we will have conversations with them and strongly encourage them to come back. The best place to learn is in the classroom across the board, and we understand that some may be fearful of the virus or they may have people in the house with compromised immune systems, but we are going to strongly encourage them to return. There is nothing in the law that allows us to mandate that, so we can just encourage them to return, but if a student isn’t participating we can go through certain channels to make sure the student is getting his or her education.”
Finally, the superintendent wanted to take time to thank several groups of people. First, he thanked the administrators, teachers and staff as they have stepped up during this “difficult time in education.” He said none of them received training dealing with a pandemic in college, but together they will get through these hurdles.
“Every day we are getting better,” Bailey said. “I do also want to thank the parents for sticking with us. We are really glad to have both our remote learners and in-person learners. I will say that it’s best to have our kids in school, in front of a teacher. It’s best for our teachers as well, it focuses them on students and being able to see where the kids exactly are in their academic growth. I am hoping that a lot of our parents see that we have great processes in place for disinfecting, social distancing and all of those things related to the health aspect of COVID-19, and I hope that when the survey comes out at the end of next week that they choose to come back because we want them all back in the classroom.”
The information in this article was provided by Washington Court House City Schools Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey. Stay with the Record-Herald for more coverage of students returning to the classroom and dealing with COVID-19.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.