Students of the Tigard-Tualatin School District (TTSD) won’t be returning to a physical school building for quite some time.
Following Governor Kate Brown’s guidance, TTSD Superintendent Dr. Sue Rieke-Smith announced that the school district would start the 2020-2021 school year online in comprehensive distance learning.
“As educators, we are painfully aware of the importance of in-person instruction and relationship building, and all of us cannot wait for the day when we can welcome our students back into our buildings,” Rieke-Smith said. “This decision was made by weighing evidence-based data from our county and state health officials alongside my obligation to protect the safety and well-being of all our students, teachers and staff.”
Rieke-Smith identified that the main reasons for the preemptive closure were due to the continued spread of COVID-19 in the metropolitan area and the mandated health and safety measures to keep school facilities open. There would also be a significant disruption to schools and learning caused by a 14-day quarantining of staff and students with the shutting down of classrooms and buildings when positive cases are reported.
With the district’s new calendar, the first online school day for students will be Monday, Sept. 14, and this form of instruction will continue for the first nine weeks at minimum.
As confusion and complications plagued the temporary online education system in spring after the abrupt switch from in-person learning, a planning committee of more than 100 district educators worked on this year’s schedules and curriculum choices.
“There was really an attempt to get some balance in the schedule. We were thinking ‘How do we balance active instruction with independent practice?’ and ‘How do we balance providing structure and rigor versus flexibility for some of our students and families that have different schedules?’” Principal of Bridgeport Elementary, Jordan Mills, said. “We also had to make sure that we fitted the Oregon Department of Education’s requirements while making sure that the schedules are a good fit for our students.”
Many community members found that the most substantial issues with the previous system stemmed from a lack of consistency and predictability in student work throughout the district. Thus, TTSD decided to purchase the online curriculum, Florida Virtual School (FLVS), for grades K-12.
FLVS contains pre-made lessons across all core subjects (math, science, language arts, social studies and PE) to give teachers a foundation that they could supplement while also providing a smoother transition to in-person schooling if/when that is possible.
TTSD also decided to use the online learning management system, Canvas, for students to use as a one-stop-shop when accessing content, assignments, quizzes, etc. Canvas would also replace the use of the other platforms, Google Classroom and Seesaw, as it provides a more robust multilingual interface.
“Our adults in the building are going to be able to hop into those classes, support our learners, see where they are in their progressions, and that is the same thing that will be happening on the home front,” Fowler Middle School Principal Andrew Van Fleet said. “Parents will very easily be able to get in and see [their student’s] progress.”
To prepare for the sudden switch to new systems and platforms, educators will be given a two-week in-service before Sept. 14 with training available to students and their families.
Another issue through the middle schools was that students needed to keep track of seven or eight teachers a day while at home. In the coming year, they will now only have four to five teachers per week, including two core subject teachers (math/science and English language arts/social studies), one elective teacher and one PE instructor.
Although on most weekdays, students will be in and out of classes until 2:30 p.m. for elementary school students and 3:30 p.m. for middle and high school students, the district reserved Wednesday as an independent workday across all grade levels. Since teachers will be teaching more classes per day in the new system, they will be able to use this day for planning and collaboration while students can have more self-paced learning.
The district has also been in constant discussion with the community about what should happen after the first nine weeks of school. The options were a 100% online education for the school year or a hybrid model where groups of students would attend in-person school on some days and online school for others. The voting finished on Aug. 13, and the hybrid model was agreed upon for first semester — but whether the district will meet state metrics by then is still up in the air.
The school district had to adapt without much preparation to follow state mandates. Online school wasn’t even a consideration before last February. With much unpredictability over the spread of COVID-19, time will only tell if returning to school will even be a possibility. Should no return be available, this plan will remain in effect for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year.