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Navigating the Complexity of the 2020-2021 School Year

How are districts grappling with reopening schools while focusing on safety, equity, and student academic success?

Article by Anne Wicks August 5, 2020 //   53 minute read

How are districts grappling with reopening schools while focusing on safety, equity, and student academic success? Chesterfield County Public Schools’ Chief Academic Officer Sharon Pope and Chief of Schools Lisa High discuss how they collaborated closely to build several school reopening models and adjust professional learning for principals and teachers for the 2020-2021 school year.

They are joined by Mikel Royal and Ann Clark, district advisors for the George W. Bush Institute’s School Leadership District Cohort, and Anne Wicks, the Ann Kimball Johnson Director of the Bush Institute Education Reform Initiative, for a discussion about the supports principals and districts need this year from policymakers and how to manage rapidly changing complexity.

Transcript

Anne Wicks:

All right, everyone, welcome. I'm so glad you're joining us today for our expert panel on how on earth a district approaches re-opening in COVID-19, the 20/21 school year. I'm so happy that we have a really terrific crew of educators here to learn from. Without making any notes about age, we have decades of experience on this call: people who've been teachers, principals, principal supervisors and district leaders. So, I'll quickly introduce who's with us, and then we'll dive into a conversation starting with our colleagues from Chesterfield County Public School.

Anne Wicks:

First, we have Dr. Lisa High, who is the Chief of Schools in Chesterfield County. Lisa, if you want to give everybody a wave.

Lisa High:

Hello everyone.

Anne Wicks:

Then we have Dr. Sharon Pope, who's the Chief Academic Officer in Chesterfield County.

Sharon Pope:

Hello.

Anne Wicks:

Dr. Mikel Royal, who is the District Advisor with our school leadership cohort. Before she was doing this work, she's had a long career in Denver Public Schools.

Mikel Royal:

Hello, everyone.

Anne Wicks:

Then Ann Clark, who has a long career in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, including serving as a Superintendent, and is also a District Advisor for our school leadership cohort.

Ann Clark:

Hello there.

Anne Wicks:

Thank you all for being here. When we talked about this panel, we realized there're all sorts of great expertise and work that's happening in Chesterfield, particularly this partnership between the Chief of Schools and the Chief Academic Officer, as you navigate this incredible complexity for the school year. We wanted the chance to learn from Lisa and Sharon, as everybody around the country is grappling with some of these same questions, about how you two have thought about this as you keep in mind safety and health for the people you work with, and the people you serve, and how to make sure that kids are learning despite a really unusual structure and lots of ambiguity to the year.

Anne Wicks:

We'll start with the shutdown in March happened pretty fast, and people had to adjust on the fly and try to figure it out. I wonder if you both could talk a little bit about what you thought worked in Chesterfield, and what didn't work as well, and how you used that as you started thinking about this school year.

Sharon Pope:

Okay. Lisa and I are making contact, eye contact, with offices across the hall from each other. The statement that it all happened very quickly, absolutely we experienced that. We really looked at our work with a staged approach.Stage one, stage two, stage three basically is how we flushed out the language after the fact. Sometimes when you're in it, you're not naming it as you're doing the work.

 

I think where every school district was around our nation, we jumped in and we considered the needs of our students and our staff first. Those needs really were those at the most basic level. We've served over two million meals to date in Chesterfield County Public Schools, but getting those services and supports up and running immediately for our families, that was obviously our first layer of focus.

Sharon Pope:

Instruction did stop in Chesterfield for several weeks. After our spring break, we came back and we entered what we call stage two where we tried to resume our learning. We, of course, met struggles because we did not have the access and opportunity to get learning structures established for all of our students, pre-K through 12. Of course, that's something we have had to since work on for this coming school year.

 

 I think we attacked the work in stages, and I will say to your question about what did you do well, I think when you're in the work and you're surviving the work, you have this illusion that you're doing it all very well. Then you get some clarity, and hindsight being 2020, you begin conducting focus group surveys and town halls, and you get a little more clarity on what you thought initially was going really well that maybe had some significant areas for improvement.

Sharon Pope:

I'm not sure if that's what other school districts have experienced, but I think we had some common perceptions when we talked to our community members.  One of the common perceptions that we all shared in the midst of our spring experience was a sense of being overwhelmed on both sides of this: the parents' side, the school staff side.  But we shared some differences as well. There were some differences in how we saw things, and we know clearly now that our parents want more consistency, they want more engagement, they want more accountability, rigor, and schedules for this coming year.

Sharon Pope:

I think we did some things well, but I think we're very clear on what we absolutely must do better when we hit fall and September 8th of this coming school year when our district re-opens.

Lisa High:

Yeah, and I'd like to add to that. One of the things that I feel was very important was the communication and making sure that we communicate with the right people at the right time. On March 12th, when we knew that we were going to close, the first thing we did was meet as a cabinet group. Then the second piece was get our principals involved. They happened to be in the central office at the time, so we met with them briefly. Then we had a conversation that was an opportunity to have one day to really figure this out. So, we had all 64 of our principals, and APs joined us as well, to find out what are the questions that you have starting out. We started a document to collect all of that information.

Lisa High:

Really, from March 12th through the end of April, it was a running document where there were questions post, there were answers, and it was constant communication with our principals. I think that helped us know that we were in this together. At that time, we really were focused on what can CCPS do to get through, and were not able to as much look at what was going on in surrounding districts, but later on we were able to do some of that. Lessons learned that we reached out and have gotten surveys from our Recovery of Learning teachers. We reached out to daycares to provide information in terms of what they will need moving forward. We definitely communicated to a wide range of our audiences to make sure that we knew what we were perceived as doing well, and maybe what we were perceived as not doing so well so that we can continue to move forward.

Anne Wicks:

We'll talk about communications in a little bit. There's so many interconnected elements to re-opening, whether it's virtual, hybrid, in person, all of the above. There's lots and lots of interconnected layers to this from how you staff, how you do transportation, how do you feed people, what are the protocols along the way should something happen, how do you... Just the list goes on and on, and on, in terms of the complexity. The ground keeps shifting. So, tell us a little bit about where you two started and asked, "Okay, how do we take a bite out of this raging out of control elephant to get a plan in place for 2021." Where did you start, and were there values you relied on to help you guide decision making?

Lisa High:

I would say we started with what does guidance from the state say, what are we hearing in terms of health officials in terms of what we can do. Then the next piece was okay, we are a large school division. We have over 64,000 students. If we were going to come back in some fashion: hybrid, face to face, every student, can we really do this? What does that mean based on the six foot distancing, based on face masks and all of those pieces?

 

So, I would say that Sharon and I, we spend more time in our offices  together than we do apart. I wouldn't say that that's just because of COVID. I'm blessed to have that relationship because I started here just in November. So, she's been my partner from the beginning. So, it was an easier transition I think for us to do this work and know that it's difficult, but we have each other's back. If she sees that I'm going to step into something, she's going to let me know, and the same thing for her.

Lisa High:

I think having that strong partnership alone helped us navigate this as a team, and be able to go to the Superintendent and the Deputy to say, "From an educational/instructional piece, this is where we are, and this is what we think." I couldn't do it without her. Matter of fact, when she went on vacation a week or so ago and she sent me a picture of the beach, I said, "Are you social distancing? Because you have to come back and you can't be quarantined." So, I just think relationships, as we always know, make a difference.

 

We started there, and then we had six options that kind of they tweaked along the way. Our school board did just move to us being able to do virtual until it's safe to return. So, that work will continue. We started with really number of kids, transportation, can you get them on the buses, kind of as a starting point.

Anne Wicks:

Can you talk a little bit about those options? You built models, essentially, right?

Lisa High:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anne Wicks:

If this, then this, sort of the Choose Your Own Adventure, to try to see what this could look like. I know you did that in part actually to try to design solutions, but I think you used those models to engage stakeholders. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that worked, and what you learned.

Lisa High:

You want to take that, Sharon?

Sharon Pope:

I'll start, and you finish. How's that?

Lisa High:

All right.

Sharon Pope:

The conversations with our stakeholders, I feel that is something we've done very well. The town halls, for example, were an hour and a half each in length. We had 11 town halls. We hit each magisterial district at least twice with our school board member and cabinet members answering questions live as they were coming in from our community, as well as questions that were pre-submitted. I think Lisa may have some of the numbers, but thousands and thousands of questions received.

 

Of course, the themes surfaced, so that helped us as well figure out where the points of highest interest were, and where our different magisterial districts and community members were leading. Beyond those town halls, we also had focus groups immediately on the heels of that experience, and making sure that we were reaching our families that were not fluent in English by beefing up some of our translation efforts.

Sharon Pope:

We also, through the focus groups, had again like 15 different groups. I think we had themes in those focus groups, so there were basically five questions answered with each. I think the listing was we talked to them about support for learning, we talked to them about communication, we talked to them about technology and future suggestions. Then they were broken into groups of lessons learned, moving forward, and student perspective.

So, we've just gleaned so much information from those conversations that I feel like we're at least informed and we're trying to get it perfected for the next go round, or at least improved. I think when Lisa talked about our relationship and the trust, and the "I have your back. You have my back," and even late at night I'm emailing, she's texting. Of course, we're still up plugging away at it. We know that that's just who we are with each other.

Sharon Pope:

Those things, it all comes together. You have hard work and you have good intentions, and you're well informed. I think good comes from that. We're very optimistic about where we're going. Lisa, we've had so many other forms of communication as well. Do you want to jump in and cover some of them?

Lisa High:

Yeah, I'll start with the summer Recovery of Learning. When our students were coming in, and we opened it up to any family/any student who wanted to participate in, and we have over 15,00 students who are participating over the summer. That's more than double than what we normally have. They are taking coursework in elementary school, the same grade level that they participated in this school year. So, it really is to continue to grow. We reached out to our Recovery of Learning teachers, and we have provided some expectations for what that should like. We've asked them how did the technology work now that we have the learning platform - we know it's going to be Canvas, we have some learning systems like Lexia, and Edgenuity. How is that working?

Lisa High:

We wondered how they were communicating with families, and how often. So, we send out a form for them to answer those questions for us to then share with our school board. The second area that continued to come up during the town halls was about daycares. Families, if we are virtual and we need to go send our kids to daycares, how will they be supported? So, we created a form that asked, "Do you have Internet access? Do you have spaces for our students to work if they're with you? What kind of support would you need? We have some professional development or videos that we will share will families. Is that something you'd also like for us to share with you in this whole work that we're doing to be a partner?" We sent it out to 109 daycares. We had probably about 80 respond, which I think was a pretty good response, in terms of what their needs are. Then even in emails and beyond that, they've been emailing to say, "So, how are you going to continue to support this work?"

Lisa High:

I know Sharon was answering one last night that she sent me at about 12:30. I'm like, "Oh no, it's 12:30. We should go to bed." But, we were both up and responding to each other

 Lisa High:

The communication just continues. It's always just trying to be more proactive than reactive. In this unprecedented time, a lot of what we do is reactive. So, we're really working hard to think ahead. We're anticipating what's going to come next so that for our families we can answer that question when they ask, and they don't have to wait for several days or a week for us to say, "Here's the plan."

Anne Wicks:

I think that's really important what you were just talking about. I was having a conversation this morning with someone who was trying to figure out guidance for districts to help informal pods, whether it's in a daycare or some other resource, to support virtual learning with working parents. We all know that is one of the big elephants in this room, is how do you help both your teachers who have young children, who have to themselves be teaching and managing, and your families that are trying to balance all the things that are happening. The proactivity, I think, is a huge bonus when there's so much that's unknown.

Anne Wicks:

I want to talk just a little bit about your experience with the pivot to virtual learning, because I know you've done so much work to try to get a system and a plan organized. I know that virtual learning at its best is a really different way to teach. It's a different way to engage students. It's a different way to teach. It can be challenging, especially for the younger grades. So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you've done to support teachers and principals, principals who are now managing virtual schools, and teachers as they're managing the virtual classrooms, and what you've done over the summer to help prepare them.

Sharon Pope:

First and foremost, I would say that it was essential in March. We did respond very quickly to the procurement process. We needed to be sure that we were purchasing what we needed to purchase early on in case virtual continued for teachers to have the tools that they actually needed moving forward. So, district-wide purchasing very early in March to be sure that we had everything. Then of course, having folks trained and comfortable, and test running through the summer learning opportunity, those platforms and those learning apps. That's been critical.

Sharon Pope:

I am very pleased to say that we were able to pool together a professional learning experience for our teachers and our school leaders that is unlike any we've ever provided before. In the past, you would get in your car, you'd hire a babysitter if you had children, you'd drive in, and we would have kind of a PowerPoint-palooza for a day or two. That would be your summer PD, and then you would go back home and hopefully hang on to some of it, and apply some of it in your future year. I know one of the things we'll talk about at some point in this call, are where are you optimistic, and where do you see things happening that could really benefit in the long run? I think just the re-design of our teacher professional learning has been amazing, and the response from our teachers has been amazing.

Sharon Pope:

There were 24 optional sessions that we offered this summer to tackle exactly what you just mentioned, Anne.

 

Teaching virtually is different. How do you engage students? How do you do checks for understanding? How do you communicate effectively? How do you build classroom rapport and engagement? If our teachers chose those 24 optional opportunities, they're going to be rock stars. I am amazed at the number of teachers who are taking their time when they're not under contract, and diving into that work. Their comments, not only do they love the content, but they love the structure. Because now, they watch a colleague who is already in our school system doing it well, give a little intro, they learn some of the techniques, they learn the buttons to push and what makes the exemplars the exemplars.

Sharon Pope:

Then, they sign up for discussion boards. They actually speak with other teachers on the feature or the practice that they just learned about, and they have that dialogue. Just the reforming of that, and the virtual nature of it so that we can offer sessions anytime: day, early, late, early evening, the teachers have loved it. We have many comments where they're saying, "Please don't go back to the way it used to be." That's a win, right? That's a win, and that preparation I think is key if we're going to truly help our teachers be comfortable and confident, and successful delivering instruction virtually, and then of course if they're successful, our students are successful.

Lisa High:

For the leadership, our Leadership Academy, we did it virtually. It was over two and a half days, and we focused on what's the school improvement plan going to look like. That was one large component. We know that social/emotional learning for both our students and our staff will be a big focus. That's something that we said should be a strategy, a goal in your plan, in planning out how to do that. So, teams worked on that.

 

We did work around our strategic plan. We talked about cultural competencies. Then moving forward with all of the racial injustice and unrest that have been going on in the world before, but more now, we've done disruptive racism with our cabinet members, all of our principals. This week we've had all of our central office specialists participate in that. So, we're really looking at ways to make sure that when we are back, whether it's face to face or virtual, that we're in a place where we are looking to make sure that every student feels that they are included in the learning.

Lisa High:

The other thing we're doing is we meet with principals weekly. Every Wednesday. We were meeting once a month, but we're meeting with them weekly and giving them updates on what's going on. Also, they're a strategic partner in deciding what the re-opening plan is. There are many times where it happens at the central office, but our principals are getting the work with us so that they're able to answer those questions when they get that, and really have buy in to the plan that we will have when we reopen.

Anne Wicks:

Before I bring Ann and Mikel into the conversation, I want to ask one more Chesterfield-specific question for you, Lisa and Sharon. How are you defining success this school year for your students when you think about learning? I'm thinking about some of the things you were just mentioning, Lisa, about social/emotional health, and helping students, and staff, and families navigate the important but complex discussions around race, and the impact in schools, but also thinking about reading, and math, and the academic goals that you have to make sure your kids are ready for what's next. Tell me how you're measuring success.

Sharon Pope:

We have taken up to 130 of our instructional guides, and we've modified those. We deliberately removed the pacing rigor and expectations that have been pretty heavy in the past, because we want our teachers to have that freedom to slow down a little bit, and to truly address social/emotional learning needs that will surface and manifest during the first days of school, first weeks, first months of school. We've added counselors as well, and we've built time into the schedule to address those needs for our students.

Sharon Pope:

We're a little blind, obviously, going into the fall, knowing where all of our students will be. By not pressuring our teachers or our students to immediately jump back into academics, or to feel pressure to make up that lost time, and that lost learning immediately, we keep emphasizing the point that as a school system, we expect that by spring 2022, all of our students will be back on track socially, emotionally, and academically. We keep saying, "This is a marathon, not a sprint." So, I think we're leaving the pressure and then providing modified instructional guides that not only highlight the essential learning that serves as a prerequisite for future learning that was missed in the spring, making that a highlight.

Sharon Pope:

Also, looking at what would normally be taught this year in each subject area, and highlighting out what are the essential, or we call them "power strands" of learning that we really should cover. And kind of just letting the rest of it subside a little bit, and focusing in on those important learning aspects for content. That will take some of that pressure off of our teachers. I think the expectation is reasonable. The timeline, I believe, is reasonable. Helping guide our teachers into where they really should focus effort and energy when our students return, that's some of the work that we're happy to say is behind us and we're ready to go in those areas.

Lisa High:

In terms of some of the social/emotional components, in our elementary schools our day will start with a morning meeting, and it will be focused on social/emotional learning. We have a unified health team which includes counselors, psychologists, social workers, who have put together some lessons and modules for our teachers to use with our students. That's one of the things we're doing. One of the other things that my friend Ann had given me an idea, and so we've started to run with, is a care plan. I've talked with a couple of my directors and said, "We want to create something that says 'Who's your one?' Who's the one person that the student knows that they can go to, and that adult knows that they're going to check in with that student?" Maybe academic, but maybe it's because they're not engaged, they're not showing up.

Lisa High:

We're not going to wait that length of time that usually a student would be unenrolled. We want to know within a day or two if a student's not engaged, how can we connect with them and make sure that we are engaging them, and engaging with families and making sure we have that connection. We want that to be two way communication. So, on all of our schedules, there are times set aside from elementary through high school for our teachers to be able to have those parent conferences and check ins with families. For me, that's going to be success if we can say that if not 100%, which is our goal, but most of our students are engaged at all times, or feel included in the learning. We can support them if they feel a part in the academics piece, but we have to engage them and meet their human needs, and safety needs, feeling safe and secure.

Anne Wicks:

That is one of the big risks, making sure that kids don't get lost in the cracks when you're away from physical campuses. We all know the kids who were vulnerable in early March are the ones who are disproportionately impacted by this kind of disruption and how you manage them.

Sharon Pope:

I think part of your question was about measurement. There are points in time where you do have to take some hard measurements. We are able to give our math assessment in grades two through 10 virtually this year. We have that permission, so we're piloting some test runs of that in the next week or two to see how it goes with smaller numbers. That will be a growth measure that we will depend on for those age groups, because we can administer that virtually. That's given three times a year. Then our research and evaluation team, we've got a guy over there who lives and breathes predictive analytics. He has been working on some dashboard features for our principals as well our teachers, and our central office staff. We call them the "Easy Buttons" because if we need nothing else moving into the school year, we need a few things to be easy rather than harder.

Sharon Pope:

So, we are teasing out of the different learning apps and our learning management system a few key indicators that we feel will just be that "take the pulse" moment where I hit the easy button and it gives me a very quick read of engagement levels with our students, and progress. That will be more of our progress monitoring and our connection social/emotion learning-wise to be sure that we're all plugged in, and we're all moving forward. We do have some of those hard measures in the works because we know that those are also very important.

Anne Wicks:

You know we love those at the Bush Institute, that we always think about. We don't want the data to be punitive, certainly not personally punitive to kids. But there data that is essential so the adults in the system can intervene on behalf of kids. What does that look like now, and what are the right assessments and measures to be using I think is a really interesting question, and we'll be glad to see what you guys learn through the year.

Anne Wicks:

Ann and Mikel, I want to bring you in to the conversation because you know the principals and the four districts that we're working with in our cohort quite well, and you work with other districts and other principals around the country right now. When you think about the responsibility principals are shouldering in this year, what support is most meaningful for them? What recommendations would you be making to districts about how to support their principals?

Ann Clark:

As I've worked with Chesterfield in Ft. Worth and other districts across the country, and really thinking with Chiefs of Schools, like Lisa, and Chief Academic Officers like Sharon, is really first and foremost how do you help your principles lead virtually? Leading virtually is very different and much more challenging than obviously having the opportunity to be face to face sitting in your office. How will you coach a teacher? How will observe teachers virtually? Really, helping principals understand how they focus on school climate and culture, which is still an opportunity as a leader even if you're in a virtual environment. You need to have your finger on the pulse of the morale of your faculty, even in a virtual environment.

Ann Clark:

So, that was my first priority, is to help principal supervisors specifically think about how to support principals in this idea of leading virtually. As we look at reopening school virtually, and potentially for some parts of our country being in a virtual environment all year, imagine yourself as a brand new principal stepping into a school, you'd not met anybody face to face, you've not met students, parents, faculty, you're hiring teachers virtually and not having that face to face interaction. It's going to be all the more important to support principals in this notion of potentially leading an entire school year in a virtual environment, if not a hybrid.

Mikel Royal:

Yeah, and I would add in addition to supporting the principals with leading virtually, it's also supporting the principals with how do I lead in such ambiguity? So, things are uncertain, that's for sure. Things are changing, and they need to be flexible, but also articulate and connect with the communities, and their teachers. There are so many questions that are just constantly evolving every single day, minutes within the day. Part of our work is helping districts and principals understand what are the standards for leading. We've always focused a lot on instructional leadership, and now I think these other competencies are clearly starting to surface, but how do you lead during this ambiguous time, what is my messaging?

Mikel Royal:

I think supporting principals with the communication, and the different types of communication, is going to be key. How do I make decisions? What's my decision making framework? That may seem like we're going back to basics of leadership, but again, the focus recently has been on instructional leadership so much that we don't want to forget that we need to lean in and support with these other competencies right now.

Anne Wicks:

Yeah. I'm so glad you mentioned that, Mikel, because we know that education, schools, it's an intensely human endeavor. We've had the opportunity, the three of us, and Mikel,Ann, and I, to watch Chesterfield do a pretty interesting and amazing job with communication. There's a lot of things that they've tried in their district to engage stakeholders. I'm wondering, Ann and Mikel, if you could speak a little bit about what strong communication looks like, why it's so important now, and how to think about your stakeholders. It's not just saying something all the time, but how listening plays a part in that, and what you're seeing.

Mikel Royal:

Ann?

Ann Clark:

I would just say I would agree with what Lisa said earlier about how important that regular clear communication is with a variety of stakeholders. I've seen superintendents and districts, much like we've seen in Chesterfield, have a really intentional strategy around communication. What and who will the superintendent communicate with on a weekly basis, and what media format will the superintendent use? What will the Chief of Schools communicate, and to who? What will the Chief Academic Officer or the Student Services lead? Who's going to be communicating to students on a regular basis? Who's going to be communicating to parents, and what is that coherent message?

Ann Clark:

Everything as if Mikel mentioned is ever-changing, and it requires flexibility, I think taking the time to be clear what your core values are as a district when you're leading in a crisis, and to decide that perhaps student and employee safety is a priority, on-grade level learning is a priority, regular communication that's transparent, figuring out what those values are, and being clear to all your stakeholders how decisions are going to be made, they're going to be made based on some core values that we've committed to as we go through this process. All of those are things that I've seen many districts do exceedingly well. I think the magic in Chesterfield, from my view, is the authentic partnership between the Chief of Schools and the Chief Academic Officers.

Ann Clark:

In so many districts, those two individuals are very siloed with huge teams and huge responsibilities. There isn't that intentional coherent message, particularly getting to principals and ultimately to teachers and districts. So, there's immediately a disconnect. As I've watched over the last five months, and I was actually in Chesterfield the day they closed down, and I got to actually see behind the curtain, if you will, how that team pulled together, how they communicated with their principals, how they prioritized the steps that needed to happen. It was a unique opportunity for me to see that the well-established partnership between Lisa and Sharon served the district really well. It wasn't Lisa sitting with her team, the principal supervisors in one room, and Sharon sitting with her team in another room, it was the two of them together with their teams, or the key people on their teams making those decisions, working on a communication strategy.

Ann Clark:

It was, I think, a key to their success, and to how quickly they stabilized their district in the midst of a crisis, that it took many districts many, many weeks to get where they got in just a few.

Anne Wicks:

Yeah, and there are still some districts who are just now starting to think about this. I always think sometimes in education we want to hear about oh it's this curriculum, or it's this intervention, or it's this platform, but actually good work happens because there's a good organization and strong relationships in collaboration. Those are things we know about any organization and how it works well, with great capacity and expertise. So, Mikel, is there anything you'd add around the communications side and the role of stakeholders?

Mikel Royal:

Yeah, and Sharon and Lisa mentioned this as well. I think it's about also having a communication strategy that is diverse enough that you're communicating in different ways. The town hall is a really good way to get that two-way communication. It serves as an opportunity for districts to reinforce... As Ann said, these are the values. This is how we're making decisions. This is why we're doing what we're doing as well as we can, as well as we could actually know what we're doing during this time. It serves a way to... An example is, we have these phases or these options. We're going to be going back and forth, and making these decisions that really impact your life.

Mikel Royal:

To be able to say, "What we're striving for is to know when the education becomes compromised, we've got to shift here. We're preserving this. This is why we're making these shifts." But the two way communication gives districts an opportunity to not only partner with various stakeholders, principals being critical, parents being very critical partners, the more you're able to do that it establishes that trust to be able to say, "Okay, here's what we know, and here's what we don't know." But we are operating, and we are striving for this mutual achievement, which is around your students. Our students. It helps to build that trust and that transparency along the way. I think just having those different venues and ways to communicate, and especially that two-way communication, is important.

Anne Wicks:

As we start to wrap this up, I want you all to give some advice to the policy makers of the world who sit in conference rooms, Zoom conference rooms or otherwise, and make decisions that impact the day to day for each of you. If you could give advice to policy makers or supporting organizations about what your district needs, what would you recommend? What would be most helpful to you? It could flexibility. It could be a resource. What would be most helpful?

Sharon Pope:

I'm waiting to see other mics unmute. I think some consistent directives that go beyond a school district, a region or a state, and are actually more nationally focused, would benefit us tremendously. We are spending a lot of time distinguishing metrics in this district versus the neighboring district for what might define safe, and what might define the go to return, et cetera. I think we could benefit so much from not putting so much time into that conversation. I hear folks that say well there's benefit in autonomy, and if you have the power of the choice, that can be a good thing. But I think it would soothe the anxieties of so many people if there was a more unified direction being given.

Ann Clark:

I would agree, as I work with districts in probably 20 states across the country. It's clear to me that for some of the things that are not in the wheelhouse for public educators to be thinking about, which is in the medical space primarily, that somebody in the air traffic control really setting benchmarks, setting targets, flagging when metrics reach a certain point, this should trigger these types of decisions for districts and communities would be helpful. I was just on a call this morning with a local school trying to make a decision about what temperature is the temperature that triggers kids going home. I mean, something like that should be decided by the very best minds. We should have a national standard around that.

Ann Clark:

The other area that I think policy makers in the coming years specifically, to be really thoughtful about thinking about assessments. I think accountability is important at every level of student, parent, teacher, principal, school district, school board. To Sharon's earlier point, there have to be assessments to understand where we are and where we need to go.But in my mind, for this year, we should have absolute clarity of the purpose of any assessment we are giving to students or to teachers, if it's a climate survey, or to parents, that we should be very clear about its purpose because time is going to be the most valuable commodity this year. We lost a lot of time last year. I think many times you hear folks saying we lost learning. Well, learning happened, but we lost a lot of time.

Ann Clark:

In order to get that back, anything we're doing in the assessment space I think has to have a purpose that at the end of the day is about improving outcomes for kids. So, just striking the right balance there I think is really important. I also will just say a guiding principle perhaps for policy makers might be to remember what I've said to a number of districts, is we've had tough conversation, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs comes first, Bloom's Taxonomy comes second. Last spring, we were very much focused on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: food, shelter, safety, health, wellbeing. This coming year, we've got to strike a balance. We've also got to provide grade level learning for kids across this country.

Ann Clark:

So, how do our policies help and support districts in striking that right balance, to me would be incredibly important.

Anne Wicks:

Thanks, Ann. Lisa or Mikel, anything that you'd suggest?

Lisa High:

I'm right in line with both Sharon and Ann. The one thing that I think about is attendance and how we, in a traditional sense, calculate attendance. We know that there are students who come to school every day, but are they really engaged and are they really learning? So, I'd love for someone to take a look at that and see if there are other ways that we can ensure, other than the average daily membership, that kids are really making gains and growing as individuals so they really are prepared for when they leave us.

Anne Wicks:

That makes a lot of sense. Mikel?

Mikel Royal:

I think what everyone has mentioned is very critical. I would just add in terms of policy to really... I think now more than ever we're living in a time where people are open to being innovative, to rethinking things, to... I say leverage that energy to not go return back to the status quo. Take everything that's going on and leverage it to improve the systems, and the policies, and the structures for our most vulnerable students so that at the end when we're coming out of this, there are more students finding themselves in a better place than when we came into this.

Anne Wicks:

Well, that's the great segue to our last question, because I know you all are thinking about this in addition to the tactical, every day, how do we get through this, what is giving you the most hope as you enter the 20/21 school year?

Mikel Royal:

I'll start this one. I'm really, really hopeful and encouraged by the parent engagement. Parents are at the forefront, and will be this upcoming school year, of navigating, guiding their student's learning. Now more than ever, I think the partnership between the school and family, it's growing stronger and it's benefiting the whole community.

Anne Wicks:

Lisa, it looked like you were ready to say something. Thanks, Mikel.

Lisa High:

I just think that this is an opportunity for us to do learning differently, because I know that the way that did learning didn't work for all of our students anyway. So, this unprecedented event has made it necessary for us to look at how we can teach differently. My hope is that all the professional development, and all the things that we will do during this time, will not be lost once we're back to a face to face, and we won't go back to that traditional way of teaching and learning. I'm looking at how we can build principals' capacity, and enable them to keep the momentum once we are back in our building, and really have then move from the traditional leaders to that more equitable leader whose looking at making sure that every student has what they truly need, and go with those Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. That's what I hope.

Anne Wicks:

Thank you. Sharon or Ann?

Sharon Pope:

I will say that when I think of my career span, and how much of it is behind me, and how much of it may still be ahead of me, I as an educator, always had the dream, the stretch goal so to speak, that public education would land in a place where it was highly personalized and customized. In our strategic plan, when we wrote it two years ago, it was most likely a stretch statement, when we said our dream was that every student would experience any time, any place, any path, any pace learning opportunities. Probably as we wrote the words, I thought well that'll probably roll into the next plan, or the plan after that. But disruptive change can be a really great thing. That's what our situation and our world today has taught me, that the traditional structures and resistance points in public education that I have seen the length of my entire career, have dissolved in less than six months. That's amazing, and it's incredibly exciting to be experiencing it.

Sharon Pope:

While we all wake up a little tired every morning and start a new day, and there's a long to do list, that's what energizing me because I see now that we actually can make those things happen for our students. We are at that shift point. It has been disruptive, but I think we're going to land in a place where much of it will be retained as we move into an entirely new way to educate our students. I'm really excited about it.

Anne Wicks:

Ann, we'll give you the last word.

Ann Clark:

Well, I was just going to give credit to Bob Runcey, who's the Superintendent in Broward County Schools in Florida, who said recently to me that community trust of school districts across the nation at this time will only be as strong as the community trust of their school's principal. What gives me hope is that as I work with a lot of districts that have prioritized the critical role of the principal, I am seeing those districts have success because they paid attention, they develop, they've selected in strategic ways, and they've supported their principals and realized that was a key role. In turn, those principals have supported teachers who have supported students.

Ann Clark:

I see those districts being set apart across the country because of that work, and I share Sharon and Mikel's hope that we are going to pull many threads forward for March, and make them a part of the future of public education. In that process, I hope we shed some threads that have been a part of the fabric of public education for a really long time, like out of school suspension, how we do high schools, how we deliver professional development. There are so many things that I see as promising that we don't need to get lost in the moment of the crisis.

Anne Wicks:

Yeah. Yes, that is great. I think what gives me hope in all of this is that expertise is shining, and leadership is shining in ways that sometimes that doesn't happen in our system, and that you can see places where people who are kind of leading into the complexity and actually leading with the focus on kids and families. It's really great. Sometimes in a big public education system, it's easy to make broad assumptions about educators and how the system works, and who leads, and every day I feel very grateful to get to learn and see, and hear from experts like you all who are actually doing this every day, and trying to make some hard decisions. You all give me hope. Thank you very much for joining us today. I think this was really helpful for people just to hear how you approached it in Chesterfield, and Ann and Mikel to bring their expert view on what else is coming. So, thank you all for doing this. I really appreciate it.