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District turns toward online instruction

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  • District turns toward online instruction
    Wills Point High School student Zachery Spurger worked with his honors geometry group from the comfort of his bedroom during the first day of eLearning. Courtesy photo

School districts around the country have found themselves in a position they hardly could have imagined just weeks ago, implementing plans to continue instruction without the benefit of campus classrooms or in-person instruction.

Thanks in large part to the hard work of staff members, administrators and a strong showing of community outreach WPISD has fared better than most, missing only one day of planned instruction before returning to coursework March 25.

WPISD Communications Director Melanie Mullin explained that district officials began formulating a plan for potential disruptions to in-person instruction in early March due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic.

Said Mullin, “The week of March 9, our team ramped up efforts and provided information to campus administrators to pass along to their staff members for proactive measures. Our intent was to allow our staff as much headway as possible to gather supplies they might need in case of closure over spring break. Administrators and district leadership worked through spring break to create the website for distance learning, created a plan for food service needs, created a plan for technology device distribution and service needs.”

eLearning Readiness

Among the biggest projects undertaken by district leadership prior to coursework resuming were the establishment of an instructional website and the distribution of Chromebooks to families in need of computing equipment for eLearning.

“Tammy Whitaker, our Instructional Technology Coach, was responsible for creating the website and collecting lessons from teachers on all campuses. She coordinated this entire effort and did an amazing job! District Communications has worked to inform parents as often as possible, beginning on March 2,” said Mullin. “Our Technology Director, Donna Rowland, coordinated a plan with her team for a device pick-up day (Tuesday, March 24), giving each campus a designated time to pick up devices from WPISD. The team has distributed over 750 devices. WPISD Superintendent Dr. Scott Caloss has been transparent with staff and families while sending regular updates through our mass communications system.”

Lesson Planning and Instruction

At the campus level, departments worked together on lesson and instructional plans.

Mullin explained, “Teachers in elementary were asked to collaborate on lessons (which they do weekly throughout the school year). Most classrooms from 3rd grade and up utilize Google Classroom regularly. The extent of the use of Google Classroom increases with grade level, so this has been an easier transition for those courses. Teams in secondary schools have also collaborated to provide instruction based on the course (ex. Algebra 1, Biology, etc.). Teachers are using a variety of sources, including self-made video lessons, links to external sites, online texts from our district adoption, and Google-based online work and assessments.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Barbie McMath also weighed in on the updated coursework, noting that the shift provides challenges to everyone involved.

“We understand that we are asking our parents to take on a brand-new role in their children’s education. Our teachers are working diligently to provide excellent at home educational opportunities,” said McMath. “There are some classes that are more difficult to transition to online learning such as music, physical education, art, or career and technology; however, with some creative thinking our teachers are helping students continue their education in these areas.”

“District administrators meet via Google Meets each weekday morning, followed by district and campus administration,” added Mullin. “Campus administrators are meeting with their teams via Google Meets as well, and joining in on online lessons throughout the day, checking in on teachers and students.”

Special Needs Instruction

District officials stressed that every effort is being made to help students with special needs get the assistance they require away from the classroom throughout the entirety of the eLearning process.

Director of Special Education Kendrea Entrop explained, “During this time of virtual or distance learning, Wills Point ISD Special Programs Department staff members have been working diligently, putting in extra hours to help ensure that our students with special learning needs are equipped for this new learning environment. As is true for all students in WPISD, all students’ legal guardians have been contacted by teachers in an effort to give a personal explanation of each student’s individual plan for virtual learning and to be sure that staff have the most up-to-date contact information in order to reach the parent or guardian in a timely manner.

“WPISD has purchased licenses for all students receiving special education services so they can use an online learning program called Vizzle. This program has not only academic lessons in all core areas but also speech therapy and social skills lessons available as well. Students receiving dyslexia services continue to have access to Learning Ally, a program that will ‘read’ digital books aloud and highlight the words being read so that students can improve their fluency and comprehension. Our dyslexia teachers are also providing services through Google Classroom as well as face to face instruction in Google Hangouts.

“Occupational and Physical Therapy providers have contacted parents of the students that they serve to provide resources to parents to support students during this time of virtual instruction.

“Teachers of the Visually Impaired and providers of Orientation and Mobility are reaching out to the students on their caseload to provide support and help parents solve situations as they arise during this Public Health Crisis. All services that are a part of a student’s IEP are being provided if it is reasonable to do so during the Public Health Crisis. Once the Public Health Crisis has ended, student services that were unable to be provided will be reviewed and addressed on an individual basis by the appropriate committee.

“Meetings, when necessary, can still be held using Google Meet. Teachers are communicating with students in a variety of ways based on age group and need. The district has created a contingency website that lists all distance learning lesson plans by campus and grade in addition to other vir-tual learning resources.”

Community Feedback

District officials noted that most of the community feedback and outreach has been overwhelmingly positive despite the uncertainty of when students might return to campus with services going mostly as planned.

Mullin credited the community at large for their support in recent weeks stating, “The community has been a huge support in this transition! We have had multiple compliments from parents on the ease of our processes from device and food pickup to the distance learning portal. We have set up a helpdesk with the help of our student interns in the Chrome Crew. Parents can contact a member of our Google Certified Chrome Crew for technical help. If the issue cannot be resolved, it is forwarded to our IT Department for additional troubleshooting.”

Upcoming Plans

Mullin stressed the district’s number one priority is and will continue to be the health and safety of both students and staff. “The district is prepared to extend distant learning services as long as necessary in order to keep our students and staff healthy. We will continue to monitor the situation and align with county and regional expectations.”

Mullin acknowledged that the district has had preliminary discussions about commencement exercises, but that no plans had been finalized.

“WPISD is focused on providing educational services during this transition. Our focus these past two weeks was how to provide the best instruction, social/emotional care, and basic necessities to our students and staff. We have had discussions regarding upcoming events, but we have not begun to put a plan in place. That will come when our students and parents are more comfortable with the transition to distance learning. We are taking this one step at a time. Our hearts are with our seniors as we all know this is such an important milestone in life. We plan to provide as much guidance for our seniors as soon as we can.” Team Effort

Team Effort

Mullin was quick to praise the large team responsible for allowing instruction to continue despite the lack of in-person classroom instruction stating. “During this time, it has become more than evident what a great team we have here at WPISD. We had multiple staff members work through their entire spring break to make sure our plan was put into place. Our Transportation Director, Colt Chabert, and his team volunteered to make deliveries and organize staff and supplies for meal pickup. Our Food Service Director, Susan Pace, and several people from her staff stepped up immediately to place an emergency food order and began preparing to serve kids remotely. Our WPISD Police Department set up the traffic flow for device pick-up and is accompanying each group for lunch pick-up at our Middle School and outside locations. Our Instructional Technology Coach, Tammy Whitaker, has prepared numerous online help videos for our teachers, hosts daily Google Meets, and was instrumental in creating the website for our teachers to post lessons.

“Our Custodial Supervisor, Brian Stokes, put a plan together for his team to complete a deep disinfecting of all district buildings. Our Board of Trustees met immediately to pass a resolution so that all employees will continue to receive a paycheck during this time. The Board has been tremendously supportive of our efforts. Community Internet Providers has been a tremendous help to our district in this time of need for access. They have worked with our IT team to prepare community access points available for our students. Young Ideas provided us with hundreds of drawstring bags to help with supply and device distribution. There are so many people who stepped up to help. However, we are not surprised. We have a wonderful team and this is just what they do.”