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Answering Questions, Setting Expectations: Week 1 Of Remote Learning In San Antonio


With only a week to plan — and new information on the coronavirus coming in daily from health experts and state and national officials — San Antonio’s school districts launched remote learning this week with a lot of unanswered questions.

As parents, students and teachers dipped their toes into a new world of video lessons and homework packets, district administrators spent the week fine-tuning their plans and distributing technology.

Teachers in San Antonio’s largest school district started out the week with mixed messages from principals, according to Northside AFT President Wanda Longoria. Some principals told teachers to grade multiple assignments a week, while others told their teachers not to worry about grades.

“We need clarification,” Longoria said on Wednesday. “We're not getting that kind of direction. Maybe the principals are, but how they're dispersing that information is all over the place.”

The next day, Northside Superintendent Brian Woods held a live stream for all district staff, thanking them for their hard work during the rapidly evolving situation.

By Friday, teachers were given clear expectations for the next month of online instruction. Teachers are to give students one or two assignments a week and about 20 minutes of work per class per day. Middle school and high school students will be graded; elementary students will not.

“We've asked teachers to focus also on really giving rich feedback to students, giving them some choice in how they complete those assignments, and also being flexible about due dates, especially if, you know, some students may not have a parent at home to provide assistance,” said Janis Jordan, deputy superintendent of curriculum at Northside.

Longoria said Friday that teachers feel much better about their workload and expectations.

“We feel like the district is beginning to send out a very consistent message to principals and they're expecting principals to follow it, which is wonderful,” Longoria said.

According to district leaders at Northside, the first week of remote learning was supposed to be about reconnecting with their students and ensuring families have the equipment they need to learn online, not grades. Students are expected to log in to Google Classroom to access lessons and turn in assignments.

Jordan said Northside has distributed more than 17,000 laptops or tablets and 3,000 hotspots to families. The district has ordered 1,000 more hotspots, which are expected by Wednesday.

“Every family who needs a device has had the opportunity to get the device,” Jordan said. “Our requests have slowed down considerably.”

Northside spokesman Barry Perez said families with multiple children have been given one device for every two children to share.

Getting families access to devices and the internet has been a harder task for Edgewood and San Antonio ISD, where census records show about 50% of families don’t have a computer or an internet subscription.

“Not everyone has tech yet,” said Theresa Salinas, senior executive of academic services at Edgewood during a Facebook Live on Friday. “We’ll be taking grades, especially in high school. But we’re taking it slowly. For now just hold onto your work.”

Salinas said Edgewood had ordered iPads for elementary students, but they don’t know when they’ll arrive. For now, the district is offering paper homework packets as a “low tech” alternative.

“If you can’t get through all of your work and you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your teachers or make a note of that,” Salinas said. “If you haven’t received a phone call (from a teacher) yet, you will.”

During a video with the City of San Antonio on Wednesday, San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said the digital divide is his biggest concern.

“Our goal was to put this (technology) in place over the next few years. We're putting it in over the next few days. So I would ask (you to) be patient. Be flexible with us,” Martinez said.

SAISD has ordered 30,000 Chromebooks and 4,000 hotspots, with the first orders coming in late in the week. Schools began distributing the technology on Friday.

“Our goal is for every child to have a device, but in the first round we want every family to have a device,” Martinez said.

SAISD, like Edgewood, is providing paper packets for each family as an alternative to Google Classroom and the digital learning playground it launched last week.

“Parents, one of the things that I want you to know is that our goal is not to replicate a school day,” Martinez said in the video. “Don’t feel under pressure to get 20 things done in a certain day.

“Parents who want a structured set of lessons throughout the day, you will have that, and many of our schools are starting to give it to parents now. Or if you just want something that children can do in terms of reading or in math, we're going to give you that as well.”

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.