The saying “leave no child behind” may have to change to “leave no child offline.”
School is out—but in, online.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced March 30 the extension of school closures through the end of the school year. Now, districts like Peoria Unified School District must refine plans to continue teaching, in line with Ducey’s orders.
For the likes of Linda Palles Thompson, superintendent of Peoria Unified School District for the last three years, “This is quite extraordinary.”
Palles Thompson has been with the district for 30 years.
Though the district, which serves 37,000 students with its Glendale and Peoria schools, has never experienced closures of this magnitude, “We always have contingencies,” Palles Thompson said.
PUSD put together a COVID-19 task force six weeks ago. “That has put us—we’re talking a lot about curves—we’re on a good curve,” she said.
Board members and administrators used spring break to plan for how to deliver meals and online education, she added.
While the breakfast and lunch pickup sites got off to a strong start last week, averaging nearly 3,000 meals served per day, PUSD is now looking to ramp up at-home education.
“Our curriculum department took everything we could find and put it online, so our kids knew before (March 23), ‘Here’s what you’re going to be doing Monday morning,’” Palles Thompson said.
For those who did not have computers or online access, “Teachers were delivering books to homes,” she added.
Last week, PUSD’s technology specialists started formatting and handing out laptops, delivering them in a similar fashion to the drive-thru meal sites.
Last week, PUSD provided 2,164 laptops to high school students.
“We’re offering a whole lot of online classes. We’ve been looking at personalized learning for a number of years,” Palles Thompson said.
The Learning at Home PUSD website, peoriaunified.org/Page/5362, offers information on how to pick up a laptop as well as a link to Cox Communications, which is offering the first two months free for qualifying families with children.
The PUSD site also has links to learning resources and guidelines on how long students should budget daily for each subject.
Students are asked to check in daily for assignments via the PUSD student portal.
“We’re making sure we have enough teaching and enough internet access for our children,” Palles Thompson said. “And we’re making sure we are working with all children, including special education children.”
She estimated 80% of PUSD students were able to access online learning last week.
Similarly, Glendale Unified High School District has online learning resources, laptop checkout, internet access and meal information available on its website, guhsdaz.org.
The Deer Valley Unified School District site, dvusd.org, has similar information on its COVID-19 page.
The Class of 2020
Palles Thompson noted she is putting “a big focus on (high school) seniors,” and met with student council presidents last week on a video conference call.
She said no decisions had been made on the two big spring events, prom and graduation. “If we have to cancel prom, hopefully we can reschedule it in October or whenever this is over,” Palles Thompson said.
“As far as prom goes, we’re telling students, ‘If you bought a dress, keep the tags on it.’
With graduation, a lot of families travel, so make sure tickets are refundable.”
For those who might be struggling with the stress of COVID-19 or who have other challenges, PUSD last week started a student support line, 623-412-5262.
The PUSD superintendent sees Ducey’s challenge to continue teaching while schools are physically closed as “a wonderful opportunity” with options for creativity.
“It’s wide open. The wonderful focus able to go back to this thing called learning. It doesn’t have testing affiliated with it; it just has learning. There’s creativity on the part of our teachers. What do we want our children to learn?” Palles Thompson said.
“I think we’re going to come out of this better in our education with the things we are training our teachers on,” she concluded.
“Our teachers are getting so innovative. This will be a positive thing.”
Two days before Ducey’s extension of closures through the end of the year, Palles Thompson was confident PUSD will provide for its students.
“There’s no rush for us to return,” she said.
“The safety and well-being of our students is number one.”
And she characterized the unprecedented time we are in as a learning experience.
“People become heroes when there’s adversity. My team is filled with heroes,” Palles Thompson said.
“And my (high school) seniors weren’t alive during 9/11. This is their moment. They’re going to be telling their children, ‘During COVID-19, this is what I did.”