CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The Education Alliance held a second virtual EDTalk Tuesday.
Learning in Crisis: District and School Takeaways focused on education during the coronavirus pandemic and what teachers and administrators have learned while adapting to a virtual school environment.
Marshall County Superintendent Shelby Haines, Cameron High School teacher and West Virginia Teacher of the Year recipient Jennifer Schwertfeger and Lindsay Unified School District of California Superintendent Tom Rooney made up the panel for the discussion.
Each speaker was asked to look back on how schools have handled teaching duties, including innovations that have been implemented, while looking ahead at what opportunities and takeaways to focus on in the future. They were also tasked with sharing a look at the students affected during the pandemic.
Haines began the EDTalk by expressing the chaotic nature of managing the county’s education efforts during the pandemic, coupled with this school year being her first as a superintendent.
“As I sit and look back at all that has gone on over the last 11 weeks, um, it’s quite a whirlwind, to, to say the least,” said Haines. “This all started, um, eight months into my tenure, thinking good superintendents don’t make decisions on a hunch. But, I did just that eight months into my tenure of Marshall County Schools, and on a gut feeling, called a two-hour delay, um, of all days, on Friday the 13th, to allow teachers some time to prepare if there was going to be a school closure due to COVID-19.
“When the governor stated that we would not be returning to school that Monday, I must say that the teachers and principals rose to the occasion. I asked that each principal submit a remote learning plan for their school,” Haines continued. “We also submitted remote learning plans at the, uh, district level, as well, so that here at the county office, how were we, too, going to work remotely, learn remotely?”
Haines said she knew from the outset some of the challenges that lay ahead, but not exactly to what extent.
“We were not sure of how many students in our county did not have internet access, but we knew it was pretty great, ” said Haines. “We know that we have a number of students who don’t have landlines, let alone internet or cell phone service.
“We also knew that, you know, we need to make sure that the community around us understands that we are still working, and we’re still working very hard. Um, I’ve had many, many teachers say to me, ‘I wish we could come back to school. I, I, I’m working harder doing this than I am at school with kids in front of me,'” said Haines.
Schwertfeger explained some of the challenges teachers have faced in their efforts to continue classroom instruction.
“It’s been really impressive, also, to see teachers working beyond their job descriptions, trying to learn, very quickly, new modalities and methods of lesson delivery, and also assessment, while trying to stay one step ahead, day to day, to be prepared,” said Schwertfeger. “And, that’s a really difficult thing to do. It’s difficult to maintain that in the classroom, but to do it virtually is a completely different story.”
Schwertfeger added that keeping in touch has been important for teachers and students alike.
“Establishing and maintaining contact has been made and kept a priority during this time, just to prevent feelings of isolation,” said Schwertfeger. “And, keeping lines of communication open, to maintain those personal relationships. Um, it’s just a must. I know that myself and my fellow teachers have made countless phone calls, emails, text messages.
“We’ve sent cards and sent letters, um, in—including all the online learning platforms, as well, just to maintain that communication. Just to reach out to say, ‘How are you? How are you doing? Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do or we can do to help you? You know, please let us know.’ And, and I just think that’s the center part of it all, to hold us all together,” Schwertfeger continued.
Rooney concluded the talk by speaking about efforts in his own district, which is in a rural part of California with a high rate of homelessness and low level of community educational attainment.
He said in spite of the inherent challenges present in his district, teachers and administrators were able to quickly transition to a remote learning model.
“We closed our facilities, our physical buildings, on March 17. And, we opened up for learning, literally, on March 18. And, as a community, we had been building a personalized, competency-based, learner-centered system for nearly a decade. So, Lindsay was in some ways more prepared than many districts who were going through this transition,” said Rooney.
“Before this happened, we already had, uh, a one-to—one-to-one devices for every learner. We already had a—established a district-sponsored and district-funded community WiFi system that ensured connectivity for every learner and every parent,” Rooney added.
Rooney stated that the only thing that really changed in his district was the closure of the buildings.
“You see, in Lindsay, when COVID-19 came along, we never closed the schools. We just closed the facilities and remained open for learning, for love and for service,” said Rooney.
A previous EDTalk event focused on education and broadband accessibility in the state.