PUSD advisory task force for reopening schools grappled with challenges

105 participants served on the task force: 11 students, 20 parents, 72 staff and 2 Board of Ed members.

In late May, as it became clear that PUSD would need to rethink what school would look like in the fall, the district created an advisory task force to help determine the best learning options for the 2020-21 school year. Without clear direction from the state about how school should reopen, the group nonetheless spent time and energy to consider schedules that incorporated distance learning models — only to learn last week that the state is prioritizing in-person classrooms.

Ultimately, 105 people* served on the task force: 11 students, 20 parents (2 Beach, 3 Havens, 2 Wildwood, 5 PMS, 3 MHS, and 5 PHS), 55 staff representatives (20 elementary, 14 middle school, and 21 high school), 4 district-wide staff representatives, 13 site and district administrators, and two Board of Education members.

How the task force was put together

Employees were invited to apply by submitting a Google Form, which was sent out on Monday, May 27, said Director of Instructional Technology and Secondary Curriculum Stephanie Griffin, who along with Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak, was a facilitator of the task force work. District and site administrators reviewed the forms and sent a notification to the employees once the committees were finalized.

“Students and parents were solicited through school principals and people on the district’s Health Standards committee,” Griffin said.

Under consideration: Options for blended (distance + in-person) learning

The task force discussed several options for the upcoming school year, including a fully-developed distance learning plan, a blended learning plan with a stable small cohort each day, a blended learning plan with reduced student capacity, socially distanced, among other options. The task force had not settled on a specific plan when the state announced they had other plans (AB77).

Small group discussions

Up to that point, however, the task force reflected on the effectiveness of distance learning, junior Megan Hiller said. “Later on, we got split up by which school we associated with, so if we were here to speak for the high school or the middle school, we were in a different group,” Hiller said.

Teacher Flint Christensen said that the results of each session did not seem to determine the agenda of the next.

“Our first session was very broad, and then our second session looked at some sample schedules, but nothing about the sample schedules pertained to the work we did in the original session,” Christensen said. 

Furthermore, Christensen said that the similarities between the various schedules made it difficult to prioritize one over the other, and the differences between the schedules demonstrated the need for parameters to discern between the choices.  

“What worked about the process was that all members were consistently respectful of others’ thoughts and opinions and offered creative approaches to designing a schedule,” Christensen said.

Sara Davison, a parent participant with an incoming high-schooler and a student at Beach, posted on a popular Facebook page for parents:

“We considered many different approaches with input from all of the participants to arrive upon our recommendation. In my opinion, Cheryl Wozniak and Stephanie Griffin (supported by the school principals) did an exceptional job of facilitating this process. It was also my experience that all participants were interested in coming up with the best option for kids. Everyone would prefer to be back at school 100% in person if health and safety considerations could be addressed.”

Hiller said that the recent Board of Education meeting on June 24 brought up new factors that compromised some of the work of the task force.

“It was really hard to come to an agreement on the schedule especially because there’s just so much that’s unknown,” Hiller said.

At the end of the day, much of the work the task force did to look at distance learning models was rendered moot by the last minute passage of state bill AB77, presented and discussed at the June 24 Board meeting.

While staving off cuts to K-12 funding, the education trailer to AB 77 includes specific language around in-person learning, requiring that it be offered “to the greatest extent possible,” effectively removing a full distance-learning option from consideration at this time.

Overtaken by events thus, the task force did not produce a workable plan for reopening of school.

In spite of the confusion, there was one thing the group was clear on: distance learning was not a success.

During the June 30 school board meeting, Trustee Cory Smegal, who, along with Trustee Megan Pillsbury, served on the task force, noted that there was universal agreement within the group that the distance learning experience “wasn’t a great experience” and that feedback has informed plans going forward.

*Who served on the task force?

Student representatives: Victoria Houston, Blaise Harrison, Alyssa Ultreras, Audrey Edel, Eleanor Black, Megan Hiller, Tommy McNeil, Anthony Wong, Wilson Wong, Sadie Tschider, Briggs Settlemier.

Parent representatives: Sara Davison-DeVries (Beach), Ruchi Medhekar (Beach), Teebie Saunders (Havens), Lisa Carnazzo (Havens), Anne Hawkins (Havens), Emily Berning Weisner (Wildwood), Malinda Walters (Wildwood), Jenna Caldwell (PMS), Blair Paige (PMS), Teddy Gray King (PMS), Alissa Welch (PMS), Jim Crawford- Jakubiak (PMS), Ben Daniel (MHS), Sharese Hill (MHS), Verita Molyneaux (MHS), Laura Katter (PHS), Gina Lambright (PHS), Melanie Marcus (PHS), Jen Cavenaugh (PHS), and Tracy Machle (PHS).

Elementary Staff Representatives: Linsey Sandrew, Laura Remer, Louisa Cheung, Anjuna Lohnes, Lianne Morrison, Tracy Broback, Helen Brown, Janine Mortan, Jessica Sprague, Stephanie Valdez- Kaminsky, Claire Stephens, Katherine Thompson, Jessica Hedbavny, Kate MacDonald, Marianne Peirce, Genesis Berrios, Michelle Lucas, Nancy Andrada, Christina Wagg, Christine Petersen

Middle School Staff Representatives: John White, Gabriel Kessler, Annie Holland, Camilla Thayer, Alison Kelly, Karen Bloom, Craig Best, Jennifer Gulassa, Amy Savage, Amy Sharp, Brooke Chin, Colesie Sterling, Virginia Sanseau, Nicole Straley

High School Staff Representatives: Elise Marks, Diana Miller, Aaron Barlin, Amy Moorhead, Jana Branisa, Flint Christensen, Marna Chamberlain, Auban Willats, David Keller, Allison Cota, Emily Boyes, Emily Hook, Laura Holley, Carrie Poole, Jeff Peters, Debbi Hill, Kim Taylor, Dena McManis, Amy Symons Burke, Viki Salazar, Carole Frascati James

District-Wide Staff Representatives: Terra Salazar, Franki Davies, Amy Jo Goldfarb, Carol Menz

Site and District Administrators: Michael Corritone, Anne Dolid, Carol Cramer, Ryan Fletcher, Karyn Shipp, Shannon Fierro, Adam Littlefield, Irma Munoz, Erin Igoe, Hillary Crissinger, Michael Brady, Stephanie Griffin, Cheryl Wozniak

School Board Members: Cory Smegal, Megan Pillsbury

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