By Anna Phillips | July 30, 2020 at 6:01 PM EDT – Updated July 30 at 6:18 PM
NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – Regardless of format, New Hanover County Schools Deputy Superintendent LaChawn Smith says the district is obligated to and committed to providing a high quality learning experience that will allow all students to thrive.
Year-round schools are scheduled to begin virtually next week, with traditional schools starting August 17. The year-round schools have already announced plans for various versions of virtual or drive-up orientations and meet and greets.
Throughout the county, elementary school students will be able to check-out ipads, while middle and high school students will be able to check out laptops to use for the first nine weeks of virtual education.
Smith says they have a comprehensive teacher training plan that includes incorporating things that worked in the spring and bettering those things that did not work.
“So, very popular were the Zoom one-to-one lessons teachers did,” she said. “The pre-recorded videos that teachers did, the phone messages that they left. The use of learning management systems, so all of those things will be or have been build into the remote work that we are planning for this school year.”
Guidance for standard classroom expectations with a 5-day remote instruction plan developed as required by the state. It has become the blueprint for structures and schedules. Students will be graded and attendance will be taken. The specifics will vary by grade level and principals have discretion at each school. Anyone with specific questions that cannot be answered on the district’s #NHCSReadySetReturn website can reach out to your school principal.
We took your questions to the administration to try and get clarification on some common topics:
How is the district preparing to re-open?
“We’ve got a really comprehensive training plan,” she said. “We’ve invested in learning management systems across each of our grade levels. We’re also investing in some additional software that allows students access in 5th grade to a digital science textbook, so those are the things that we’ve done in regards to insuring that instructionally our teachers are ready and that our students are ready for a very, very productive school year.”
Do families need to decide now whether they want virtual learning for the entire school year through the virtual academy?
“A family can choose to go ahead and complete that application at this time or they can press pause and wait and make that decision at a later date. Those families who complete the application now will go ahead and begin with the remote instruction in the virtual academy when the school year starts, and what I’m primarily talking about right now are our traditional schools, but then at the end of the nine weeks, if they decide that this is not our best fit, we really would like to when the district transitions to plan C to plan B to receive in person instruction along with remote instruction, then they can do that at that time as well,” Smith said.
The virtual academy application is available now.
How much flexibility will families have in choosing between virtual and blended learning models?
“We understand that the challenges of this pandemic are nothing that anyone would want to experience, so in those things for which we have control we do want to provide families with as much flexibility as we can,” Smith said. “So, if a family chooses at the end of the nine weeks and they have elementary age or middle school age children that they want to transition back to the blended model, which is both face-to-face and remote, then they surely can do that.”
Elementary and middle school students are asked to commit to 9 weeks at a time either participating in the virtual academy or the blended model (with the rotating combination of in-person learning and virtual learning), while high school students are asked to commit to one model for an entire semester.
When will open house information be available for traditional schools?
“Principals are working on those schedules as we speak, we realize they will not be the traditional open houses that probably you attended and that I’ve taken my children to, but we want them to be opportunities to connect with families, for families to see the building, especially if children have never been in the building before. That might be a virtual tour, but we do want them to have that experience and we want to be able to take care of all those typical open house types of activities,” Smith said.
Will teachers teach from their homes or from their classrooms?
“Understanding that where we are is not a place that we’ve chosen,” Smith said. “We really want to provide teachers with as much flexibility as we can as well. So, at this point, principals are making decisions based on what is best for their staff and so teachers will have the opportunity to work in the school building and right now there still is the opportunity for remote work where it’s appropriate.”
How different will the fall start of the school year be from the spring virtual?
“In the spring, we experienced an emergency closure. It was literally being in the building on Friday and being told that’s your last day. It was hard. It was hard on families,” Smith said. “It was very difficult for teachers and we’ve learned a lot of lessons since then. We’ve gotten some incredible feedback from parents and we’ve gotten some incredible feedback from our teachers and principals as well, so those things that we’ve heard that were concerns we are working to address and those things that were really lifted up as best practices we’re working to ensure that families experience more of that.”
How will students with IEPs be accommodated?
“We have a director of special education – Patty Williams – and she has been working very closely with her team to support schools in understanding how we can meet with parents to identify those things in students’ IEPs that will translate well in the remote learning environment, and those things that might present different challenges in the remote learning environment,” Smith said. “So, we’re working with individual students and families to make sure that we continue to be able to meet their needs.”
If your student has an IEP, and you haven’t heard from your school you can contact your principal for further guidance.
The FAQ’s online is catered to Plan B. Will it be updated?
“We will continue to update those questions, but more likely than not the information in regards to Plan B will remain,” Smith said. “So much of it is still applicable, and then also, understanding that being in Plan C is only temporary. The goal here is to move back to Plan B as quickly as we can as a district.”
What do you want people to know about the work that you’re doing behind the scenes?
“My message to families would be that we’re committed to insuring that their student’s experience be of the highest quality. As I’ve shared with you, we’re investing in teacher training. We want to make sure that teachers have the skills, the knowledge and the ability to meet the needs of any student that comes into their classroom whether it’s physically or virtually,” Smith said. “We’re providing high quality curriculum and materials to make sure that there’s equitable access across the entire district.”
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