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What went well, what did not during virtual learning in Kingsport?

Rick Wagner • Jul 6, 2020 at 6:00 PM

KINGSPORT — The feeding program was a success during the virtual learning program this spring semester in Kingsport City Schools, but the lack of online options for elementary students was a big drawback.

Those were two of the responses in a question-and-answer exchange between Kingsport Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Rhonda Stringham and the Kingsport Times News.

Q: What things worked well and will be implemented or used again if in-person learning is not possible in the future?

A: “Our feeding program and virtual well-checks were most successful. Making sure students are fed and safe is our primary focus. I would say that the flexibility in our teaching staff to be able to provide remote learning options has grown over the closure. Many teachers took the opportunity during the closure to learn how to use digital learning and lesson presentation tools so that they would be prepared should a temporary closure occur this fall. Both elementary and secondary teachers (90%) reported that their online skills improved either somewhat or greatly this spring.”

Q: What things did not work well and need to be addressed or revisited?

A: “We are looking hard at extending our online options to elementary students and families. The English Language Arts and Reading curriculums that the (school) board just approved offer a virtual option, paper-and-pencil option, and a downloadable virtual option for students without internet connectivity at home. We are excited by the potential this new research-based curriculum offers for students in the classroom, and should a child have to stay home due to quarantine this fall, they will be able to keep up with their work and classmates until they can return.”

The school board in a called May 26 meeting approved K-12 ELA textbooks and resources for the next six years, including online resources specifically geared toward virtual learning. Of the spending, $200,000 was from textbook funds and $505,000 from federal Coronavirus Aid, Relieve and Economic Security Act (CARES).

Q: Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said 80% of grades 6-12 students were actively engaged in online learning at one point. Is that how it ended up? What was the overall percentage?

“Our students in grades 6-12 had devices for organized online learning through Canvas or Google Classroom. Those grades constitute approximately 50% of our student enrollment. Online learning was much tougher to track among our Pre-K-5 population. Teachers would suggest to parents online tools for students to use to practice skills, but it was difficult to track which students were taking advantage of them and which ones were not. Among students in grades 6-12, we show 71-95% engagement in online learning with the percentage being higher in the beginning of the closure and lower towards the end.”

Q: What metrics or measures have or will be used to measure online learning effectiveness? Input from students, teachers, parents and administrators?

A: “Using benchmark assessment data collected just prior to the closure, teachers worked during the closure to compact learning standards from the fourth quarter so that they can be prepared to catch students up immediately in the fall.”

Q: Were there issues with access to the internet through WiFi? Did the packets work well for those in the lower grades?

A: “KCS conducted a phone survey to homes towards the beginning of the closure and over 3,000 folks responded. School staff at the middle schools and high school also contacted parents to inquire about internet connectivity at home. I don’t remember the exact percentages, but very few reported not having access to the internet.”

Q: If school doesn’t start in person for 2020-21, how will homerooms and lower-grade starts be done, especially for incoming kindergarten students or transfer/other new students?

A: “We are continuing to follow guidance from SCRHD (Sullivan County Regional Health Department) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as we plan for students returning in August. All indications are for us to receive students in person, so we are making plans for students and adults to be safe and healthy at school. We are also developing protocols and timelines should we be called upon by the SCRHD to offer remote learning temporarily. With all summer to plan and ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) funding (through CARES) from the federal government, we will be prepared to deliver learning safely, and if necessary, remotely.”

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