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From completely foreign to ‘somewhat’ normal

Date: 
Monday, April 27, 2020

A district plunges head first into uncharted waters

At some schools, cars lined the street for two blocks waiting to receive their Chromebooks.

At some schools, cars lined the street for two blocks waiting to receive their Chromebooks.

“We are all dealing with this really foreign territory. It requires patience and it requires grace.”

That’s how Jane Lindaman, the superintendent of the Waterloo Community District, sums up the challenges her district faces during the pandemic.

But after a quick conversation, it’s clear that Lindaman also requires tenacity, determination, creativity and, oh, yes, data. Lots of data.

As an urban district – it has nearly 11,000 students – conventional wisdom suggests it cannot turn on a dime. But don’t bother Lindaman with conventional wisdom. In the last two weeks, she and her team got classes up and running, requiring students to participate. That, even though the district is officially incorporating voluntary continuous learning.

“It leads to some confusion among parents,” Lindaman said. “A parent will say, ‘It seems like kids have to do the work.’ And I’ll say, ‘yes they do.’”

Becker (Elementary) Bear, the school's mascot, welcomes students during a curbside meal pickup.

Becker (Elementary) Bear, the school's mascot, welcomes students during a curbside meal pickup.

That’s because Waterloo Schools is taking a different approach to the voluntary status.

“We have a perspective that learning and engaging is expected,” Lindaman said. “So while it is voluntary, we are requesting and expecting that students are doing the work the teachers are pushing out. There are two reasons for this: We are trying to mitigate the gap that is inevitably going to happen when students are out of class for five months. And we really would like to test the waters to see if we could go into a required status.”

So the decision was made to take classes online. That led to a host of problems, not the least of which was getting the district’s 920 teachers prepared to teach online. That led to weekly, intensive professional development.

“All teachers had some experience with Google Classroom, but their comfort level varied,” Lindaman said. “It used to be an option to provide online instruction but it isn’t anymore. We no longer have any option but to get good at using it and get good quickly.”

Online, teachers self-identify their online teaching capabilities so lessons are tailored to their individual needs. Assignments are given each week, participation is mandatory and the school uses data to see each teacher’s progress.

Lindaman is learning alongside her district team. And like anyone, she sometimes feels the sweat.

Packets of school assignments, designed for students who are not yet able to connect online, wait to be mailed.

Packets of school assignments, designed for students who are not yet able to connect online, wait to be mailed.

“Days blur together and one day I realized it was Wednesday – the day the professional development was due – and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t done my technology professional development assignment yet!’”

The district also has come up against the same problems all other districts have: reaching certain populations, and student accessibility to both the internet – and devices that would connect them to it.

“We were ahead on this one because we are a one-to-one district and students in the sixth grade up were used to taking home their Chromebooks,” she said.

But the second-through-fifth graders had their devices at school, so the district arranged for curbside pickup so parents could retrieve the Chromebooks.

“At a couple of schools, parents were lined up for blocks when picking up the devices,” she said. “The line was stretched back two blocks to get a Chromebook. We were proud and happy the families viewed this as important.”

A teacher coaches one of her students via the internet.

A teacher coaches one of her students via the internet.

Paper-and-pencil packets go out to the students younger than second grade.

As the district prepared for this epic adventure, the administration put out a survey to parents and caregivers asking whether they were set up for online learning. As is the case with surveys, only about half responded. That didn’t deter Lindaman and her team.

“Our secretaries in their homes became like a call center,” she said.  “We ended up writing a script that they would read from, and they started calling the families who had not responded to the survey. Questions like, do you have a device? Do you have access to the internet? Literally, thousands of families are getting calls.”

If the secretaries couldn’t get through to anyone, they can go back through the student’s contact information and try to reach another member of the family, such as a grandparent.

Still, Lindaman said they have a ways to go to ensure every student is connected.

Third Grade Teacher Miss Schaefer teaches from home.

Third Grade Teacher Miss Schaefer teaches from home.

“It is a frustration for us because we so want to help,” she said. “It could be parents are stressed with the current landscape because they are worrying about a lot of other things. It could be language barriers. Or it could be that they are unaware that we’re offering free access. We’re offering to have them hooked up through Mediacom or, short of that, we’ll drop off a hotspot. We will do most everything to get them access.”

As class delivery has changed, so, too, has class content. The district put together a team of teachers who had taught each grade level, and they created what she calls power lessons.

“The power lessons cover essential standards, essential learning,” Lindaman said. “The lessons are also for the paper-pencil packets, in which they can pick them up during lunch pickups or we will mail it to them.”

There’s also incentive attached to the lunch-and-packet pickups. The local Junior League, even prior to the pandemic, had been distributing feminine hygiene products to those who needed them. That’s now part of the pickup.

“When you drive up, you pick up your lunch, instructional packets, materials, feminine hygiene products,” Lindaman said. “You just pull up and say what you need.”

In the meantime, the district staff will rely on data to inform their next moves.

Ms. Shauni Williams, an administrative secretary, takes a quick break at home with son Levi.

Ms. Shauni Williams, an administrative secretary, takes a quick break at home with son Levi.

“We would love to reach 100 percent of our kids,” Lindaman said. “But the data doesn’t show we’re close. We are going down to each classroom in the elementary schools, building by building, grade by grade, to see how many students did some work, all of the work or none at all.

“At one building, 102 students didn’t log in at all – that’s almost 20 percent of the students who didn’t engage. So we will continue with teams of people calling the family or everyone on the student’s contact list. We will be relentless to get them connected and working.”

Data tracking on many fronts is critical to the district’s success.

“Our focus right now is measuring the connectivity and engagement levels,” Lindaman said. “We measure the impact of our work.”

The district also is beginning to assess the impact the pandemic will have on student learning.

“We need to assess the students as soon as they are back in the buildings to determine where the students are and how much backsliding there has been,” she said. “Is the backsliding moderate? Is it significant? Based on what we find, what is our plan to remediate that?”

And as most, if not all, districts have experienced, it’s the occasional Monday quarterback questioning the work being done.

“I got a letter saying ‘you guys are doing nothing. You should have figured this out by now.’” Lindaman said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! We’re working more hours than we ever have. Weekends, mornings, noons and nights.’ 

“The upscaling of an entire district is overwhelming. At first it seemed insurmountable. But day by day, we figure it out. It seems so odd to me that something that was completely foreign just two weeks ago now seems somewhat normal.”

The Waterloo district has made strides over the years, from increased graduation rates to high growth in literacy.

“We can’t afford to let this crisis, as horrible as it is, derail our efforts,” she said. “I anticipate we will have the busiest summer we have ever had and that’s OK; we will be ready to go when the kids come back.”

Lindaman said the district wouldn’t be moving forward at such great speed without a top-notch staff, from administrators to teachers, from secretaries to custodians.

“The staff has just worked their socks off,” she said. “I’m so proud of the work that they’re doing.” 

The Waterloo Community School District has created schedules and expectations for all their learners. Here is a glimpse of their schedule:

ELEMENTARY (Preschool, Kindergarten and 1st Grade)

  • Two weeks of lessons in a paper packet (math, literacy) will be provided to ALL preschool and K-1 students every two weeks.
  • All PK-1 students will be expected to complete the packet. Teachers will contact students and parents to provide support with the packet work.
  • Students in grades PK-1 will be expected to engage in learning approximately 1-1½ hours each weekday.
  • Students will be expected to complete assigned work and communicate with teachers about their work.

Starting on Friday, April 16, the PK-1 packets will be available at the Grab and Go meal sites on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or mailed upon request. Here is the schedule:

  • 9-10am Cunningham, Kingsley, and Orange
  • 10-11am Kittrell, Highland
  • 11am-12pm Becker and Lou Henry
  • 12-1pm Irving, Lincoln, Poyner
  • 9am-12pm Education Service Center, 1516 Washington St. (site for Lowell)

ELEMENTARY (Grades 2-5)

  • Beginning this Friday and every Friday after, teachers in grades 2-5 will post four lessons/activities per week on Google Classroom. That work is due the following Friday by 5pm and will be done in Google Classroom.
  • For students who don’t have access to the internet, two weeks of lessons in a paper packet will be provided to 2-5 grade students every two weeks.
  • Students have the necessary link and password for Google Classroom but should talk with their teacher if they have any trouble logging on.
  • Teachers will review work online or reach out to students doing paper packets. Please let your teacher know if you are needing to do the work through a packet.
  • Students will be expected to complete assigned work and communicate with teachers about their work.
  • Students will be expected to participate in Google Classroom lessons and online meetings with teachers as they are able, or to communicate via phone calls. Again, work with your teacher to express your preferred method.
  • Students in grades 2-5 are expected to engage in learning approximately 1½ to 2 hours.  Of this time, at least 30 minutes each day should be reading or being read to.

MIDDLE SCHOOL (Grades 6-8)

  • Assignments for all classes will be posted on Friday afternoons on Google Classroom and will be expected to be completed by the following Friday.
  • Students will connect online with teachers through Google Classroom to get assignments. Students have the necessary link and password for Google Classroom but should reach out to their teacher if they have any trouble logging in.
  • Students will be expected to complete assigned work and communicate with teachers about their work.
  • Students will be expected to participate in Google Classroom lessons and online meetings with teachers as they are able.
  • Students will be expected to engage in learning approximately three hours each weekday.
  • Teachers will review work online or reach out to students doing paper packets. Please let your teacher know if you are needing to do the work through a packet.

Middle School students WITH NO INTERNET ACCESS who need hard copies:

  • 9-10am Cunningham, Kingsley, and Orange
  • 10-11am Kittrell, Highland
  • 11am-12pm Becker and Lou Henry
  • 12-1pm Irving, Lincoln, Poyner
  • 9am-12pm Education Service Center, 1516 Washington St. (site for Lowell)

HIGH SCHOOL (Grades 9-12)

Waterloo Schools High School Students will:

  • Check and respond to email twice daily.
  • Connect with and engage in virtual classroom activities daily.
  • Connect with each of your teachers at least twice a week (once for class and once as a check and connect).
  • Complete any formative assessment (quiz, exit ticket, collaborative project) given by your teacher.
  • Connect with your counselor or administrator with any issues you are having connecting to classes.
  • Reach out to your counselor or administrator with any social or emotional needs you may have.
  • Lessons will be posted using the following schedule:

Monday: Literacy
Tuesday: Math
Wednesday: Social Studies
Thursday: Science
Friday: World Languages

Article Type: 

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on July 05, 2020 at 4:17pm.