Island school officials, teachers, and parents are working collaboratively to continue with their remote learning plan to provide comprehensive at-home education for students.
“Administrators have been working seven days a week to meet together and keep the public informed on these efforts,” superintendent Matt D’Andrea said at an all-Island school committee meeting.
According to D’Andrea, part of the curriculum requirements during the school closure, which will last until at least May 4, include teachers meeting with all their students through Zoom at least two times a week.
“This document [remote learning plan] is a guideline, and teachers are already doing this and more to provide for students,” D’Andrea said. “They are really taking this situation and adjusting it to meet the needs of the community.”
According to D’Andrea, online courses are only a part of the many different facets involved with transferring an entire curriculum into a virtual format.
“This is not just online, there are going to be many different ways in which we will reach out to students and families and have them experience really enriching learning opportunities,” D’Andrea said.
Currently, students are provided multiple hours a day of academic content, as per a directive from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“They are looking for it to be half the length of a regular school day,” D’Andrea said.
Staff and administrators are also meeting regularly to discuss things that are working well, and things that could use improvement.
Teachers are also meeting separately within their departments and grade levels to share effective strategies for online learning.
“If all the first grade teachers on the Island are sharing what they are doing, it will give everyone the ability to try new things out and see what works best,” D’Andrea said.
Some challenges regarding privacy were brought up at the meeting, including the use of Zoom virtual conference rooms. “There are some platforms that are very secure, and there are some platforms that are not,” D’Andrea said.
He said the administration is working on purchasing a Zoom package that will provide additional security when meetings are taking place or educators are teaching a class.
Another concern of school officials is equity through online learning. Island schools want to ensure that every student is receiving the same learning opportunities.
D’Andrea said that if students are not engaging regularly in the online curriculum, teachers or school officials will reach out to those families and work with them to resolve any issues.
Although a grading system has not been solidified for the period of school closure, D’Andrea said teachers are being asked to provide feedback to students regarding their progress and performance.
“It can be a grade, face-to-face feedback, however the teachers want to do that,” D’Andrea said.
Teachers are also being asked to provide regular “office hours” or blocks of time during the week that parents and students know they will be available for questions or concerns.
With regard to students with Individualized Education Plans or other special education requirements, D’Andrea said it is going to be “extremely challenging” to provide the same level of support as schools would be able to with school in session.
“We are going to do everything we can to assist students and families so they can access the necessary resources and curriculum,” D’Andrea said.
Special education teachers have been reaching out to families and coming up with plans for the foreseeable future.
The school district is also reaching out to English language learner students that require an adapted curriculum for other languages.
Oak Bluffs School committee chair Lisa Reagan said her school is fortunate enough to have all students at home with either a school-sponsored laptop or their own device, but she wondered whether those resources were available to students across the Island.
D’Andrea said individual school districts have reached out to families and offered them assistance in the form of providing laptops or tablets for students who don’t have a device.
So far, both the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club and Lindsey Scott of MV Youth have offered additional devices for students if needed.
School officials also adopted a memorandum of agreement that states the school will continue to provide these opportunities for students until the end of the school closure.
Employees of Island schools will be given full pay and benefits, as they continue to educate Island youth.
As far as regular teacher evaluations are concerned, D’Andrea said now is not an appropriate time to judge an educator on his or her performance.
“The evaluation system that we use for teachers is specific to the job they do when the school is open. To evaluate them based on what they are being asked to do now would not be appropriate,” D’Andrea said. “It would actually be unfair to ask the principals of each school to evaluate teachers based on the current situation.”
Although regular teacher evaluations will not take place while school is closed, D’Andrea said that doesn’t mean teachers cannot be disciplined.
D’Andrea said that the teachers’ union supports the memorandum.
Edgartown School committee member Kelly McCracken said she believes the state has been encroaching on teachers’ individuality “for years” and that now they are asking for teachers to “think outside the box” and use their creativity.
“I think it’s time for superintendents everywhere to push back and say ‘this is why we want our teachers to be individual, this is exactly why we want them to teach our children through their own education and experiences,” McCracken said.
For students who are seniors that are preparing to move on to their next level of education, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School principal Sara Dingledy said the high school is reaching out to counselors and colleges to see how they think the situation should be handled.
“We are always looking to prepare our students for the next phase in their education, that is essential to us as a school,” Dingledy said.