Three weeks in to distance learning, Board gets update on what is and isn’t working

During another lengthy School Board meeting on September 9, Board members heard from school administrators and teachers who described the successes and challenges of distance learning three weeks into the 2020-2021 school year.

As part of the check-in, PUSD Superintendent Randy Booker included survey data taken from teachers, parents, and students about the past three weeks.

“Some things have worked really, really well, and some things we’ve struggled with,” Booker said.

As part of the presentation, elementary school principals and teachers reflected on the success and challenges of online learning, including recognizing the resiliency of students and teachers, but also the toll distance learning takes on both groups.

“Distance learning for our youngest learners is extremely hard, and it is very challenging to manage that from home,” Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Wozniak said. Some of the challenges cited by teachers included students refusing to participate or tuning out, and the need for parent support to make sure kids stayed “in class”.

Despite the technological challenges, “Teachers are really finding ways to connect with students and provide joyful learning experiences,” Havens Elementary teacher Janine Mortan said.

For example, Beach Elementary P.E. teacher Heidi Sawicki shared how she adapted to teaching via a screen by incorporating imagination and adventure into her activities with kindergarteners. 

“We were packing our imaginary backpacks and heading on a trip to the beach, and stuffing in all of our supplies— including a healthy snack— and we had all of these different locomotor ways of getting to the beach,” Sawicki said. “Once we’d gone swimming and built our sandcastles, we were able to skip all throughout the room and gallop and jump and leap, and practice all of those skills in such a joyful, imaginative, and creative way.”

In addition to the elementary school teachers, the Board also heard from middle and high school teachers about the successes — students showing up to class, engaging with material and each other — and challenges — students distracted by their phones or inappropriate chat room behavior — posed by distance learning, as well as information about the technology available to students and the adaptations for special education curriculum.

You can see the full distance learning check-in presentation HERE

Board approves second APT MOU and discusses return to in-person school

The Board of Education also voted to approve the 2020-21 COVID-19 In-Person Instruction Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the District and the Association of Piedmont Teachers (APT). Read the full MOU here

“I’m grateful that we have both [MOUs] under our belt,” Booker said. “It’s been a tremendous amount of work from so many people.”

The second MOU focused mainly on the safety protocols and necessities of returning to in-person or hybrid learning, if and when that may happen.

“Alameda County needs to move from the Purple tier to the Red tier and stay in the Red tier for 14 days,” before schools are allowed to return to in-person instruction, Board member Cory Smegal said

In order to be in the Red tier, Alameda County must have less than an average of seven cases per 100,000 people per day and have a test positivity rate of less than eight percent. 

“Currently, Alameda County has an average of 7.8 cases [per 100,000 people] and a five percent positivity rate,” Smegal said. 

(For more information, see a color-coded reopening map from the San Francisco Chronicle.)

While Alameda County is still in the Purple Tier, PUSD can also apply for a waiver for TK-6 to allow earlier, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.

“PUSD has not yet filed a waiver application,” Smegal said. “We had to complete an ‘Intent to File a Waiver Application’ survey by Sept. 9, which [Booker] did.” 

The official waiver application is due by Sept. 17, but Smegal said that PUSD had yet to receive a copy of the application from the Alameda County Department of Public Health.

At the high school level, teachers will not be able to teach in the STEAM building, and consequently the rest of the school, until it opens on Oct. 26, H1 Program Manager Pete Palmer said at the last Board meeting. 

In regards to exceptions for special education, Booker said that he does not require any outside approval in order to return special education students to the classroom. However, he said that there are still topics that the district would need to negotiate before the Board can vote for this to occur.  

Board unanimously approves racial and educational equity policies

After a second reading of both policies and lengthy public comment, the Board voted to approve BP/AR 0415.1: Racial Equity Policy and BP 0415: Educational Equity Policy

The Board made two major changes to racial equity policy, removing the action item to adopt an open enrollment plan, and ensuring that the policy is overseen by creating an infrastructure in the District that has defined roles to support this work by contracting with outside experts, developing an internal Director of Equity position, either part or full time, and establishing an equity council that consists of community members and stakeholders.

The Board reflected on why they implemented these changes — specifically in regards to the Director of Equity position — and ultimately concluded that they came as a result of public comment and Board discussion at their last meeting.

“We need someone dedicated to this for a number of years, so that this isn’t just a policy, but it’s something that we live and embed into everything we do in our community,” Board president Amal Smith said.

COVID-19 relief funds added to budget

PUSD Chief Financial Officer Ruth Alahydoian gave a presentation to the Board about where COVID-related funding is going.

Alahydoian said that PUSD received $1,056,911 in federal and state funding specifically for COVID-related expenses. In addition to these funds, PUSD was also granted $700,000 from the local, Board-designated reserve for COVID-related expenses.

Alahydoian said that this money will be used to fund tech hardware and software, curriculum, staffing, and safety, which includes PPE and cleaning supplies, MERV 13 filters, electrostatic sprayers, plexiglass dividers, and COVID testing.

So far, the anticipated needs related to COVID equal $1.3 million, with safety comprising 11.4 percent, hardware and software equaling 26.6 and 3.3 percent respectively, curriculum at 7 percent, and staffing making up the majority of the expense, at 51.8 percent.

PUSD has not yet used all of its allocated COVID-related funds, and Alahydoian said anticipated costs do not exceed the budget.

Piedmont Boosters presents promotional video

Piedmont Boosters Vice President KeriAnne Hohener and PHS athlete Ben Barnes introduced a video to the Board about the Boosters’ message for the year, focused on hope and positivity in the midst of a new normal.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to create this video in collaboration with the Boosters,” Barnes said. “As an athlete, I recognize the importance of our Boosters to our athletic department, so I found it meaningful to bring awareness to the impact of the Boosters on our athletics at Piedmont High.”

Link to Piedmont Boosters video: Message from Piedmont Boosters on Vimeo

Future Board agenda items

The Board will hear a reading of a distance learning continuity plan, conduct a public hearing on the sufficiency of textbooks and materials, hear a first reading of Board Policy 0470 – COVID-19 Mitigation Plan, and listen to an H1 budget update.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 23 via Zoom.

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