With Palo Pinto County's public school districts remaining closed indefinitely because of the coronavirus threat and need to continue social distancing, we asked Mineral Wells ISD Superintendent Dr. John Kuhn some questions, especially related to what is now the second week of student home instruction and providing weekday meals at Travis Elementary:
Q: With schools now closed through April, do you feel it is likely schools will not reopen this academic year?
KUHN: I don’t know. The virus will make that decision for us, I think.
Q: Will we have a Zoom graduation ceremony (kidding)?
KUHN: We hope to graduate in person at Ram Stadium on May 29. If that doesn’t happen, we have a couple of months to explore other options.
Q: How is the distance or home instruction going?
KUHN: It is going surprisingly well, though there is a steep learning curve for all parties involved. I have been extremely impressed with the way our teachers and support staff in the curriculum and technology departments have gone the extra mile.
Q: Have there been challenges initially, things to overcome not foreseen? Q: What adjustments have you had to make?
KUHN: Yes, like a million! First we had to decide how to educate kids who don’t have Internet access, then our teachers had to create learning packets for them. We had to figure out how to distribute those materials to 600-700 students. We had to gather up Chromebooks from across all elementaries so that we could move Travis kids to online learning. And for the kids learning online, we’ve all had to learn videoconferencing applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and so on. We had to figure out feeding.
On my end of things, I’ve been in daily conference calls with regional and state education officials figuring out the finances, personnel issues, how certain regulations are being handled or waived, how to enroll new students when no one is at school – a seemingly endless list of on-the-fly adjustments. It’s been by far the craziest epoch of my career.
We’ve had constant adjustments going back to March 17 or so and they will continue for the foreseeable future.
Q: I assume most teachers were already fairly adept at using online instructional tools to assign and receive work? Could you comment on those things, and how students and households seem to be doing with it?
I don’t know that I agree that most teachers were adept at online instructional tools for one simple reason—a typical public school teacher spends 90% of his or her time providing direct face-to-face instruction. When they get professional training it’s usually on topics directly related to that kind of teaching and learning—classroom management, classroom technology, etc.
So one of the positives out of this thing is that it has forced all of us—myself included—to learn online learning technologies. We all know how to Zoom now. Lots of us have learned how to post videos and use Google Meets and Facebook Live and Google Hangouts. I think a great deal of this professional learning will translate into better approaches in our classrooms in the future. This time will likely result in permanent changes to how we do school around Texas.
The feedback I’m getting from principals is that the work can be overwhelming for parents who are working so we are trying to be cautious with how much work our teachers give. But we are trying to thread a needle because we don’t want to give too little work or work that doesn’t challenge our students or help them to grow academically.
But we know the scenario is different when the trained, certified teacher isn’t present to answer student questions in real time. It’s a given that learning won’t be the same this year, but when we get our kids back next year we will redouble our efforts to get kids caught up.