Teaching in the Time of a Pandemic; A Leader’s Message to Staff

“Our family’s dinner conversation has shifted from silly and interesting stories about our school days, to answering my daughters’ questions about their grandpa, “Mama, will we ever get to see Baba again?” Our lives have changed so dramatically in a matter of days.”

(This was a letter sent to staff looking at how we move forward with the new normal, making sure that we take care of ourselves and our most vulnerable students, appreciate this and please share other examples of how school communities are coping.)

Good afternoon EFC Staff,
I want to start off with a huge thank you – thank you for the countless hours planning how to get students connected to the internet, translating phone calls, answering families’ questions, facilitating on-line lessons, reminding families about food distribution, driving around to homes to deliver chromebooks,… the list of how our entire EFC team has stepped up in this crisis goes on and on. And I want to acknowledge that our team members are stepping up like this during difficult times – working full time with young children at home, worried about their own health, scared that loved ones might develop a dangerous case of this virus, scared about the economic insecurity we will face. I feel this viscerally. Our family’s dinner conversation has shifted from silly and interesting stories about our school days, to answering my daughters’ questions about their grandpa, “Mama, will we ever get to see Baba again?” Our lives have changed so dramatically in a matter of days. And so thank you, again, for stepping up during this insanely difficult and uncertain time. Your dedication to our children is profound, and I appreciate you.

You no doubt heard that the governor declared on Tuesday that schools may not reopen again during this school year. Whether or not we actually remain closed all the way through June, it is increasingly clear that we are in for a very lengthy closure. And the longer the closure, the more the opportunity gap could widen for the students we serve. I say “could”, because we’re going to do everything in our power to prevent this from happening. 

One way we can prevent the gap from widening is by increasing our use of what we call “synchronous”, i.e. real-time, small and/or whole group online lesson facilitation, to build onto and blend with the asynchronous learning we’re currently facilitating for most students (i.e. the work packets w/ individual check-ins, debriefing blended learning data with students, etc.). We are going to explore together how we can shift in this direction. We have numerous EFC teachers who already jumped into synchronous learning this past week, facilitating lessons and/or crew time with groups of their students on Zoom and Hangouts – we will learn from them, as well as from colleagues in other networks, and support our whole team to build this into their practice in grade level appropriate ways. Stay tuned for more details next week!

Another way to prevent the gap from widening is to continue addressing the needs of our highest needs families. To that end, we will continue to have all staff who are not involved in the instruction of students focusing on communications with families to surface needs, as well as the distribution of technology equipment, food, work packets, etc. We will send these staff members a survey to identify who could participate in the distribution of food/materials, vs. who has underlying health conditions (or lives with someone who does, or has other challenges, like childcare), and should continue to work from home.

Here are some additional key updates I’d like to share:

  • Internet Access for Students

Numerous families are reporting to us that they are getting online through Comcast’s free internet access. We do, however, still have families without access. Through a generous grant from the Rogers Foundation, we will be purchasing hotspots for these families, and we will distribute them, along with chromebooks, as soon as they arrive. (We have learned that under the “Shelter in Place” order, distribution of distance learning materials is considered an essential service that may continue.)

  • Supporting Families to Navigate Chromebooks

Some of our families are finding it challenging to log in, select a WiFi network, etc. Simon and Alex are going to create a series of short “How to…” videos that we’ll post to YouTube and link on schools’ Distance Learning launch pages (thank you Simon and Alex!). We’ll also push the links out through text messages. We aim to produce these videos in English, Spanish, Mam, and Arabic.

  • Attending to Student (and Adult!) Socio-emotional Needs

We are social creatures, and the isolation created by school closures and social distancing, along with the anxiety created by the health and economic crisis, can be intense, particularly for children who are already living in stressful situations. Ilyse Opas at Achieve has created this great spreadsheet of free Mindfulness Resources, which I encourage you to weave into your own routine , as well as your advisory/crew meetings and/or one:one check-ins with students (thank you Ilyse!). I also encourage you to schedule lots of Facetime chats with family, Zoom dinner dates with friends, Google Hangout karaoke sessions – anything that will help you to feel connected and supported. We’re in this for the long haul!

  • Learning Packet #2 Distribution

Our plan is to distribute work packet # 2 next week Wednesday and Thursday, 3/25 and 3/26, so that students have the packets in hand when instruction continues after Spring Break.

The plan is to distribute the packets at each site, outdoors if possible, and in roomy

indoor spaces if we have inclement weather. We will place the packets, organized by

grade level & very clearly marked with signage, on tables that are spread 10 feet apart,

so as to create distance between families as they pick up the packets. We will label in

advance packets for students with IEPs.

We will be recruiting staff to support with this; only staff who do not have underlying

health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, and who do not live

with someone who is very vulnerable, will participate in distribution. Staff will maintain a

distance of 6 feet from others as they supervise distribution.

  • Update from the state:

In a webinar with State Superintendent Tony Thurmond today, we learned the


  • The state does not yet know when it will make a decision regarding how long the school closures will last;
  • The state has applied for a testing waiver from the Federal government; it is the state’s intent NOT to conduct any state testing this Spring;
  • The Federal government has not yet waived the IDEA; however, the state has paused timelines for initial SPED assessments that were not yet in progress (we are in the process of determining how to finish assessments that were already in progress);
  • The State is not yet offering any guidance regarding IEPs that are due this Spring; in the meantime, we will need to continue holding IEPs through video conferencing and phone calls.

I will reach out to you with further updates as we develop concrete plans for a long-term closure, and as we learn more from the state. I wish you good health in these days ahead!

Thank you again for your dedication to our children,

Larissa Adam
Superintendent of Schools
Education for Change

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