The abrupt shift to remote learning in the spring didn’t go so well for School District 51 and officials would be some of the first to admit it.
But now, with the majority of schools back in that position, District 51 is more comfortable with how it has improved the remote learning process.
“I think in the spring, we had good ideas but not enough vetting processes,” said Dan Burke, executive director of technology services for District 51. “But the summer gave us the time to work things out.”
The shift to remote learning this school year looks different than in the spring.
For one, some schools have been able to stay in-person. All elementary schools remain in the buildings except for Pomona Elementary, which went remote on Monday. All high schools and all middle schools — except for Fruita Middle School — went remote last week.
On Wednesday, however, District 51 Superintendent Diana Sirko announced in a letter that all middle and elementary schools that are remote will return to in-person learning on Dec. 1.
But unlike the spring, District 51 has had time to prepare.
This has given the district an opportunity to make up for the abrupt shift last spring, which proved to not be conducive to the academic performance and growth of students, and overwhelmed families trying to wade through uncharted waters.
This time around, the District has a more robust schedule, for example.
“In the spring, it was more do your work whenever,” said Emily Shockley, spokesperson for District 51. “Now ,if you’re in high school, you are expected to be at your computer from 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. with a lunch break.”
The school district is also adding a safety net for students with unreliable Wi-Fi. It estimates that about 1,150 students do not have reliable access to Wi-Fi. So the district pursued and received a grant from T-Mobile for 1,200 internet hotspots, essentially portable personable Wi-Fi routers. The district is also in the process of receiving 1,300 more hotspots.
Meanwhile, the district has kept teachers in their classrooms.
“This provides teachers with rock-solid internet connection that we know will work,” Burke said. “I can send technicians to the school to help troubleshoot any problems they’re having, too. It gives us more control over the situation.”
Rick Peterson, president of the Mesa Valley Education Association, said he’s heard positive feedback from teachers.
Compared to the remote learning in the spring, teachers have told Peterson this round is cleaner and the system operates better. However, the decision to keep teachers at the schools isn’t beneficial to all.
“Operationally it’s better, but some people, depending on their situation, are really nervous about being in the buildings. They should be able to work from home,” Peterson said. “If they’re scared, we need to respect that. We’re in the very preliminary stages of working something out.”
In the meantime, Burke said his team is focused on smoothing out remote learning.
“I think we can improve professional development, and help teachers and parents better use the technology,” Burke said. “Right now we’re working asking people to send us emails with problems so that we can research them and better troubleshoot.”