I’ve never led an online school. What do I do?
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Last week at this time, I thought the worst thing I’d have to deal with that week was the fact that we had a full moon and a Friday the 13th to get through with students. By the weekend, though, it became abundantly clear to me that I was about to enter uncharted territory in my 15+ year career as a high school administrator in New Hampshire.
On Friday, March 13, I learned that my school was going to be moving to “remote learning” effective immediately for two weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
By Sunday, the two weeks became three weeks and the rest of our state was doing the same. By Monday morning, it was clear that my state was not the only one doing this. Now, it looks like we are fast approaching the potential for nearly every school principal to be facing the same reality.
This article is written for every school principal that is or might be put into the situation of leading an online school “on the fly” in the coming days and weeks. I will share my experiences of what I went through, and what I decided to do — not to suggest that my way is the right way, but rather to model what things you may want to consider. I am the Principal of Sanborn Regional High School, a medium-size, suburban school in southern New Hampshire. This is my story.
I am fortunate to be a Google school with one to one technology (Chromebooks). My staff are used to using Google Classroom to load content for students to access in our competency-based school.
We decided this would be the preferred technology platform to use for each course, and we asked teachers to link any other apps and content to their Classrooms. Our school librarian quickly started a list of tech resources and apps for each content area with the help of teachers, thus creating a “Sanborn-specific” list of resources that have been reviewed and approved as helpful by our teachers.
Student Expectations For Remote Learning:
As a leadership team, we contemplated a few different structures for how to organize our online days. One strategy considered was to ask teachers to post assignments daily (or weekly) and allow students to self-pace.
A second strategy considered was to have a “schedule” where four periods would meet for an hour on an “A” day and the other four classes would meet for an hour on a “B” day. This was the strategy we chose, and we did it to allow for, and encourage teachers to offer some “live” events and activities in addition to self-paced activities. We are taking advantage of both Google Meet and Zoom for free, live video conferencing.
We decided that teachers will take attendance, noting whether or not students are participating and completing assignments during their assigned classroom time. Students are expected to complete all assignments on time or reach out to their teacher directly if they have questions or need an extension.
I have designated staff members who will review attendance data regularly and flag students who are not engaging so that a guidance counselor, case manager, teacher, or administrator can follow up with them to find out why they are not participating in school.
It was important to us that students have access to additional academic intervention and support when needed. We assigned staff members who will assist students with tutoring, as well as any technology issues that they may face.
School counselors will host office hours daily to address day-to-day issues, as well as continue working with our seniors as they approach graduation. In addition, counselors will provide additional offsite resources that will help students with any of their academic questions or needs.
Students and staff will likely require time to recover from the normal illnesses that occur every year, as well as potential COVID-19-related issues. Counseling, nursing, and administrative staff will work with parents, guardians, and students to help resolve any issues or provide any assistance we can.
Teachers will be flexible with their response to students encountering such issues. Families are being asked to communicate health issues to school administrators as soon as possible so they may provide appropriate support.
Special Education / 504s:
Special education and 504 case managers will communicate directly with students and parents to define accommodations and modifications for each student based on their learning plans. They will work on these collaboratively with the classroom teachers.
Free and Reduced Lunch Program:
Each morning, an army of staff members will be delivering meals to students on the free and reduced lunch program, meals that are being prepared daily by our cafeteria staff. Staff members are working in teams of two to deliver meals and will be reimbursed for their mileage.
We have established a tech support hotline that students, staff, and others can use to help them with technology issues. We also worked with Comcast to reach out to every family in our school community that did not have internet access to get them free access (thank you, Comcast!).
One Final Note:
Is our plan perfect? No. Even with a day-to-day plan, there will no doubt be unanticipated items to which we know we will need to respond. No one knows for how long we will be away from school. The social and emotional health of our students is very much in our minds as we plan for the next few weeks and potentially beyond.
Counseling, teaching, and administrative staff plan to reach out to specific students to support them during this time away from us at the school. We will be available to talk, to listen, and even to laugh with our students as we all share in what may be the most significant shift in our lives in our lifetimes.
I hope our story inspires you as you build your story. We are all in this together.
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