Madison School Coronavirus Update: Online Classes Start March 30

Ellyn Santiago

This article originally appeared on the Madison Patch

MADISON, CT — Schools superintendent Thomas Scarice provides a comprehensive explanation of ow the district's online/distance learning program will work. It launches Monday March 30.

Here's what you need to know from Scarice's letter to the school community:

"I am quite certain that each of you are receiving significant amounts of information on a daily basis related to your profession, the events in the world, family updates, etc. For that reason, I would like to provide initial information related to the launch of our distance/online learning program that will begin on March 30th. Subsequent messages will follow Thursday and Friday.

As the adage goes, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Planning for success is critical at this point in time. This period of planning has provided teachers an opportunity to not only ready themselves, but to offer substantive feedback on how our program could thrive. Given the lack of familiarity with a distance/online learning approach for students, teachers, and parents, the school district endeavors to gradually introduce tools and materials each week as students and teachers become more comfortable and productive with distance/online learning. Our teachers are getting ready for a successful full launch and are eager to connect with their students. One teacher confided in me today, “We look to the heroes in the medical industry as models right now and we understand our role in helping our community through this.”

The Goldilocks Syndrome
Most parents are working from home, even those who do not typically work from home, while their own children will be engaged in distance/online learning. Most of our teachers will deliver instruction from their homes with family members actively engaged in their professional work, school work, etc. The virus will spread and impact students, parents, teachers, and the families of our teachers. Each home will be impacted differently. We will inevitably experience what is referred to in multiple disciplines and sciences, including digital/E-learning, as “The Goldilocks Syndrome”.

The Goldilocks Syndrome in the digital/E-learning space refers to a digital learning experience that is either too much learning/support, not enough learning/support, or just the right amount. Even under ideal conditions with each home functioning as a normal environment the Goldilocks Syndrome complicates the digital learning process. In a global pandemic, in the presence of a radical transformation of teaching and learning, the effect is exponential.

Please keep in mind that our teachers are most concerned about delivering this program successfully and that your patience and support is critical as we implement this approach. Parents will be asked to support their child’s learning in ways that are not necessary with on-site schooling in a school building. We understand and appreciate the stress we all feel right now. I do not believe any of our parents volunteered to home school their child. However, in partnership, we can make this a successful experience in the most challenging times.

Overall Concept
Our program will have five guiding principles:

  1. Overarching Instructional Priorities Clear learning objectives (listed as knowledge, skills, vocabulary), descriptions of student tasks and criteria for success, all visible online to students and parents, in addition to a focus on responding to student misunderstanding, providing teacher feedback, and collecting evidence of student progress
  2. Maintaining a Connection With Our Students Over the first few weeks we will introduce the use of live interactions between teachers and students
  3. Meeting Individual Student Needs We will offer students opportunities for “office hours” with teachers and direct interaction when needed
  4. Monitoring Student Progress Teachers will monitor student progress towards clear learning objectives against performance criteria
  5. Maintaining Accessibility and Responsiveness to Student/Parent Questions There will be regular opportunities for students and parents to ask questions

Layout of Learning Modules
In order to maintain some uniformity for students, parents, and teachers, each course/subject from kindergarten through 12th grade will have a “learning module” that is shared by the classroom teacher each week with the students. This module will also be posted on the district website, however, only the version shared by the teacher with your child will have active links to resources, websites, etc. The district site will serve as a repository for parents who might want to look across grade levels, subjects, etc. The weekly learning module will provide an overview of expected learning outcomes, activities, etc. Sample of a Grade 7 Science Learning Module.

Zoom and Google Meet
In order to maintain a connection to our students, and for students to connect with classmates, we will use the technology tools Zoom and Google Meet for live interactive sessions that will be recorded so that students can view at their convenience later in the day/week. These live sessions will be gradually introduced, and by week three we expect to have two live sessions each week for each class. The district website will offer technology support to parents with online training to learn the digital tools our students are using. Some teachers have begun to introduce these tools to their students, but there is no expectation that we will use Zoom or Google Meet until a pilot/training meeting is held by each teacher during the second week. Again, by week three we expect to have two live sessions each week for each class. There will be more information provided by your classroom teacher on these tools and parent training will be made available on our website by next week.

Tech Support
The district website will offer technology support to parents with online training to learn the digital tools our students are using, how to reset passwords, etc.

Teacher/Student Absence
Teachers and students may become ill at some point due to the common cold, the flu, allergies, etc. It is very possible that some teachers and students may contract COVID-19. Each principal will communicate an “attendance” process for parents that will begin the week of March 30. Teachers are designing their weekly learning modules in advance so that a colleague or substitute can deliver the week’s module if the teacher becomes ill.

As this week comes to a close, you can expect communication to become decentralized and provided by your building principal and classroom teachers. You can expect updates from my office, but the most efficient and effective approach to communication will be directly between parents, teachers and principals. Each level is a bit different. High school is different from elementary school. As a result, your building principal will be sending a message by the end of the week related to the school “schedule” and how we have organized virtual “class time” for your child. Again, any live interactions will be recorded so that your child can access recorded sessions at their convenience. These live sessions will run from 10-20 minutes. This will be much more understandable when you review the scheduling approach at each school, which we have prioritized to be flexible for students and parents.

Given that the Governor has cancelled classes in the state until April 20th, and that each district was asked to use every school day so that we can maintain our school year ending on June 18th, we will hold our distance/online learning program during the week of April 6th, the week of our originally scheduled April break. However, in anticipation that the school closures will likely run through the end of the school year, the State Education Commissioner has informed school districts that they may, or may not, choose to reschedule their April break to a later date. The Board of Education will be meeting next week to take action on this decision. Additionally, we are considering periodically providing teachers time built into their work week in which students will be engaged in online learning while teachers will be unavailable to students as they collaborate to develop their programs further, learn new tools to use with their students, etc. This will also be discussed at the Board of Education meeting next week.

Setting Up Workspace
The district website will also provide guidance for parents in setting up a workspace for their children, managing time and expectations, in addition to other methods to support your child in distance/online learning.

Parent Feedback
Given that we’ve never delivered such a radical transformation of our delivery of teaching we will be conducting a parent survey after week two so that we can gather feedback in order to continually improve our approach. This information will be used to inform any changes or improvements that we can make. We are approaching this as a 12 week venture, anticipating the possibility of school closures through June 18, 2020.

Thank you in advance for your patience, support and partnership as we prepare to successfully launch this program,

Thomas Scarice

Superintendent of Schools