Students aren’t returning to campus, but leaders in the Pasco County school district are encouraged by the progress students are making online.
The district went to online learning on March 31, after Gov. Ron DeSantis closed school campuses until at least April 15, due to concerns about the threat of the spread of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19).
DeSantis has since announced that school campuses would remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said that he supports keeping the campuses closed because he could not “in good conscience” reopen the campuses.
Still, the district remains engaged in online instruction, the superintendent said during the board’s April 21 meeting.
Vanessa Hilton, chief academic officer for the district, shared some statistics from the district’s foray into distance learning.
“We definitely have some trends in the data,” she told school board members, and those listening in on the meeting.
“Monday engagement is always higher for each week so far,” Hilton said.
But, she also noted: “We do have students engaged throughout the week. Even on Saturday and Sunday, we average 20,000 to 36,000 participation, which are actions of engagement.
“Overall, in Week 3, we had about 98% engagement of students,” she said.
School board member Alison Crumbley responded: “Wow — to those numbers you shared. Ninety-eight percent engagement is unbelievable to me.”
The school board member said that Pasco County’s efforts are vastly different than what’s happening around the country.
She said she recently listened to a call-in show, which involved people from around the country.
“Many kids have no devices. Some districts aren’t even doing anything,” Crumbley said.
Hilton also told board members that the district is in the process of issuing hot spots to some families to enable Internet access.
“Those will be prioritized initially for some of our homeless families and families that really are away where there would be infrastructure for Internet,” she said.
“Since Day 1, I wanted to let you know that we have had over 43 million page views and access of files, and just under 15 million modules of units of study.
“We had 7,278,753 assignments submitted; 4,438,379 engagements in discussions; and, 1,214,552 announcements — which are direct communications between teachers and leaders to the students and families, that we miss so much.”
Kevin Shibley, assistant superintendent for administration, provided an update regarding device distribution to students.
“We are just shy of 18,000 computers that we have issued to students, to aid them in distance learning. We are continuing to have schools enter devices that they have distributed to students, so I expect that number to continue to creep up in coming weeks,” Shibley said.
Hilton also told board members that the district is issuing hot spots to some families to enable Internet access.
Hilton also noted that some changes have been made.
“Through feedback of families and students — students themselves, very resourceful students themselves, and staff — we have made adjustments, particularly to our elementary workload, to minimize stress and ensure that learning continues,” Hilton added.
The district also has been creating weekly parent newsletters, teacher newsletters and periodic secondary student newsletters, she said.
Plus, she noted, “our teachers also have their own collaborative space on Facebook. It’s incredibly impressive, impressive evidence of their sharing and learning together across the district.”
Finally, she reported that on April 20, students submitted 111,150 assignments.
“We had almost 66,000 users working across the day, and at the peak time — which is about midday for us — almost 21,000 students were learning at the same time together,” Hilton said.
School board members heaped praise on the efforts of district staff, teachers and parents, grandparents and guardians.
Board chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said she’s seen the collaboration taking place among teachers, and she recognized that the volume of student assignments being completed also means that a significant amount of grading is being done by teachers.
She also added: “I have seen our school-based teachers and leaders, and they are extremely creative in the ways they are connecting with the students and each other.
“Our principals and our teachers are really going all out. Their posts have been entertaining, inspiring, innovative and heartwarming.”
Marcy Hetzler-Nettles, assistant superintendent for middle schools, gave a shout-out to Rushe Middle School students who had been planning to put on the play, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
When the show was cancelled because of COVID-19, a student put together a video of cast members singing the song, “Happiness,” which he sent to drama teacher Jeff Roush.
Also, Tom Schimmer, author of “Grading from the Inside Out,” made a surprise pop-in visit during a Zoom book study group meeting of teachers, Hetzler-Nettles added.
Monica Isle, assistant superintendent for high schools, told the board about an act of generosity made by seniors from Sunlake High School. They made a donation to Keystone Community Church’s Second Serving program, after their trip to Grad Bash was canceled. They had raised the money to pay for buses to Grad Bash.
Isle also mentioned the band from Mitchell High School will be doing a virtual concert series.
David Scanga, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, told the board that elementary school principal Todd Cluff has been doing nightly readings for students from “Little House on the Prairie.”
Scanga added: “I thought that was an excellent book to choose, in terms of a family that’s rather isolated and dependent on themselves to entertain and survive.”
Scanga also observed that “teachers and administrators are finding fun ways to engage,” which he thinks offers a good way to build connections with families.
Board member Megan Harding also expressed appreciation for the dedication of the district’s teachers and to the help provided by parents and guardians.
She said she’s attended some teacher Zoom meetings with their students.
“I’ve been blown away,” Harding said. “Those students are engaged. They are excited to be there.
“They miss their teachers, their teachers miss them.”
Harding also praised the parents and guardians.
“I know this isn’t something that they signed up for. They’re trying to work from home and to try to help their child be academically successful, and they’re also trying to keep their household afloat while ensuring their children are doing their schoolwork. I want to thank them for their partnership. I want to thank them for doing their best to balance it all,” she said.
Published April 29, 2020