By Nancy Richardson
On Tuesday, April 7, the Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) board met to discuss the evolution of the district’s plan for remote learning. Major topics discussed were the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on the budget, provision of meals to students, mental health and special education services, internet and technology services, and overall equity among schools.
CVSD Chief Operations Officer Jeanne Jensen reported that the expenses for the incremental costs associated with the shutdown will largely be covered by state and federal programs. However, district income will be hit harder due to a significant loss of rental fees and in food service and transportation grant income. The hit to general fund revenue will be from $800,000 to $900,000. It is not clear whether the federal $2 trillion CARES Act will provide assistance to schools that suffer revenue shortfalls or whether the state has plans to deal with suffering school budgets. The state education fund has lost $89 million.
The board spent a substantial amount of time on the matter of food delivery. Children 18 and under are eligible for two meals a day, six days a week. The concern for some members of the board was how the meals should be delivered. A few members suggested that the delivery system be changed to one in which CVSD buses run their routes through neighborhoods, delivering meals. Board member Lynne Jaunich reminded the members that the board’s role is to ensure that meals are provided to students and how that is accomplished is the administration’s role.
Superintendent Elaine Pinckney stressed that the administration weighed the safety recommendations of the state and other concerns in developing a system of pick-up sites paired with individual delivery for families who cannot get to those sites. Jensen emphasized the sacrifice that the food service workers are making by coming to school kitchens to cook and box meals. The district is making every effort to ensure their safe work environment.
Internet availability for remote learning
The discussion of an internet provision for remote learning highlighted the innovative work of the district technology department in ensuring that students have internet capability. Comcast has agreed to provide free internet access, but a backlog of work means that there will be a delay of weeks to gain access. The district has purchased internet hotspots and is innovating solutions to address the lack of bandwidth in some homes that have minimum service, and district technology staff experts have identified those families that have service problems and are working with each family to ensure access.
In the area of mental health services, teachers and guidance staff are working with families individually to connect them to supports. Special-education case managers are meeting remotely with each family and providing learning plans for students that can be accomplished at home. But the district recognizes that this system will not meet all of the needs of special education students. Because many special education programs are based on small group or one to one instruction, evaluation of student progress will be made and compensatory services provided. The question of what students will have lost over this period of home schooling is an important and necessary question for implementing student Individual Education Plans.
District office and individual schools working together
Jeff Evans, director of learning and innovation for the district, presented an overview of the academic planning and delivery work being accomplished. He described the process as a “big lift” for teachers and principals. In moving from the maintenance of skills to lesson plans and delivery, a foundation for teaching and learning must be in place. The goals will be connecting, engaging, and learning. Periodic assessments will be important for all students. District administrators are meeting three times a week with teachers and principals to evaluate progress, highlight best practices, and identify problems in the system.
Elaine Pinckney emphasized that the CVSD was organized on the principle that each school sets its building processes. This is true during the current shut-down period. The district is setting system guidelines based on district goals, particularly in the area of equitable services. She stated, “There may be several ways to address these issues,” but schools choose how they will implement guidelines. This is true in the area of communication as well. There is no one right way to accomplish this design and build implementation. Best practices will be identified and shared widely, communication will be transparent, and the district will be ready for the future, which promises to be challenging.