school hallway stock

Plans will be discussed at a special board meeting this Wednesday, July 29

This week, the Cloverdale Unified School District (CUSD) is slated to release its first set of information pertaining to what the start of the school year will look like. Like public schools throughout the county and much of the state, CUSD will be starting the year with distance learning. 

A rough plan regarding what the upcoming year will look like will be presented to the district board of trustees during a special meeting on Wednesday, July 29. The agenda for the meeting has not yet been released.

In an interview Sunday night, July 26, Cloverdale Superintendent Betha MacClain said that she had planned to present the back-to-school plans to district site administrators on Monday and send it to the board of trustees for review Monday night. She also hoped to have the roughly 60-page document up on the district’s website.

The plan was created out of meetings held with 60 district stakeholders, including students, who broke into subcommittees to help develop plans for the start of the year. 

MacClain said that while the district has spent the past two weeks preparing a plan for what school will look like in the immediate future, work still has to be done to iron out details about what school will look like farther down the line once the district is able to utilize a hybrid model and some parents or teachers want to stay on distance learning. 

“We have probably 30% of our community right now who want some form of long-term distance learning,” she said, referencing the results from the district’s most recent community survey, conducted over the past week and a half. 

The survey also outlined areas of key concern to the district community — developing consistent communication between teachers and students, limiting and refining the different communication channels and establishing boundaries when it comes to work schedules, since staff working from home can lead to irregular and expensive work hours.

“Part of our distance learning discussion is around a very fixed schedule where teachers would remain on Google chat or on Google Hangouts so that, as students are working independently, they can pop on and ask a question so there’s this sort of ongoing accessibility throughout the day,” MacClain said. 

She noted that in order to limit the different kinds of communication channels parents and students have to keep track of the district plan currently outlines only using two platforms.

Getting students to do the work

One area of concern that arose out of distance learning during spring was students’ lack of participation due to, in part, a “hold harmless” grade model where a student’s grade could increase but not decrease throughout the quarter. Per state guidelines, districts can no longer use the hold harmless model. 

“We’re going to be taking daily attendance, we’re going to be reporting on engagement — not just showing up, but actually doing the work,” MacClain said. “Students are going to receive grades for the quality of the work as well as doing it, so it’s going to be much more of a traditional approach to accountability. There is no ‘hold harmless’ attendance, though we are going to be funded at the rates set forward in February.”

Though the district will still be funded at its normal rate regardless, MacClain said that they still have an obligation to treat truancy the same way they would during a traditional school year. 

Some ways that teachers and students can benefit from a distance learning model right now, she said, is using Zoom and Google Hangouts to hold break-out group sessions, which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do in-person. 

“Maybe those collaborative processes happen on distance days and in-person instruction is direct instruction, those are things that are going to be hard to figure out until we’re actually in the classroom with everyone at six feet,” MacClain said. “Not being able to answer student questions with proximity, with walking over to see how a student is solving a math problem. There are things around that we need to figure out that are in some ways more critical than how we move in and out of in-person and distance (learning). I don’t want us to get stuck on those points — we don’t know what the year is going to look like.”

Wednesday’s meeting

Though the board will be reviewing a back-to-school plan during its meeting this week, MacClain said that she doesn’t anticipate as much discussion surrounding the plan, compared to its last meeting. 

“My expectation is that there will be a very brief overview of what it looks like for the public. I think in our last board meeting we heard from the part of the community that feels very strongly that they don’t want to go back to live instruction,” she said, adding that the distance learning mandated by the county being on the governor’s COVID-19 watchlist has temporarily taken care of the district having to decide whether or not to have a hybrid learning model. “Our survey showed a more nuanced spectrum of feelings, including people who aren’t sure and including people who felt really confident in their children coming back, or people who feel that their children aren’t as likely to carry or become sick from COVID-19.”

“Really it’s (the meeting) to get the board’s approval of this plan so we can take the next step,” she said.

Though a plan is being presented and put together, the district still has to negotiate its Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the Teachers Association of Cloverdale and with the California School Employees Association.

“I think the district is going to try to choose our priorities around the quality of the instructional program regardless of the model,” MacClain said. “I think that the most important thing is the quality of instructional delivery and routines where teachers are accessible and teachers are answering questions and providing structured instruction. My concern right now, to be honest, is no matter what we plan for with relation to COVID-19, we have other kinds of school closures we’ve been dealing with for the past three years — fire, PSPS (public safety power shutoffs) and flooding. Those are things that, if we really perfect our model and we have the ability to be flexible and move in and out of in-person instruction and distance learning, I think we’re going to benefit long-term.”

While no formal plans to address how to handle distance learning during a PG&E-implemented power shutoff has been finalized, MacClain said that there’s an interest in being able to provide tangible materials to students to make sure that students have materials on hand should a power shutoff occur. 

“On Sept. 25, which is the end of the marking period for the middle school, that’s when we expect to reassess and get a sense of what’s happening in our county,” MacClain said. If the district is allowed to open up for hybrid learning, MacClain said that she expects that to happen on Oct. 19. 

Those dates, however, are subject to change depending on what information comes down from the state.

“It’s possible that we would come back earlier than that, but we’re using Sept. 25 as the day when we would communicate the next phase based on current data,” she said. 

School is still scheduled to begin on Aug. 18. 

“I’m just proud of how the community has really rallied. Students and staff are really working intensively and working outside of their work calendars. People really want to do this well,” MacClain said. 

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