By DEENA BISHOP and KELLY TSHIBAKA
Out of concern for the health of its students, staff, and teachers, the Anchorage School District (ASD) recently announced that its schools would be closed to in-person education for the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, due to the widespread transmission of COVID-19 throughout the Anchorage community.
While this development presents a challenge to our community, ASD and ASD parents remain committed to partnering together in providing an education that promotes student engagement and facilitates the attainment of students’ learning objectives.
To that end, ASD is deploying a digital curriculum to provide instruction to students at home. For their part, in order to effectively partner with ASD under this educational paradigm, parents will need to assume much of the responsibility of schooling their children at home.
While ASD parents and guardians are committed to their children’s education, many of them are working outside the home, are seeking employment, are infirm or disabled, are raising children with special or unique needs, or are fostering children they had not anticipated a homeschooling-like responsibility.
They need assistance to ensure their children remain engaged, complete their curricula, and learn effectively from home. Recently, many ASD parents signed a petition requesting an allotment equivalent to the one Alaska homeschooling parents receive.
Their objective was to keep their children enrolled in ASD by securing the resources and assistance they needed to ensure their children’s “time on task” was effective and productive (e.g., tutors and academic assistants, special needs educators, supplemental materials, etc.).
However, ASD is not in a position to reconfigure its budget to support homeschool allotment equivalents for every student without affecting teacher’s salaries, which would be an unacceptable outcome either to ASD or the author of the petition.
Nevertheless, ASD is sympathetic to the concerns parents have articulated both in the petition and in other fora. Accordingly, the school district is diligently working to develop solutions that will better address the needs and concerns parents have raised, including the following:
· Teachers will work closely with support staff who will, in turn, liaise directly with families and students as learning advisors to assist with engagement, teaching, and distance learning.
· ASD is building greater community capacity and engagement to support learning, such as partnerships with daycares and learning pods to which students and families can be directed for additional support.
· ASD has created a new virtual option, in addition to its E-learned blended in school model, to support families’ desires to have flexibility in their schedule and a more independent facilitation of learning.
Our intent in sharing these solutions is to give the Anchorage community confidence that the school district remains committed to supporting parents in educating their children, even if parents are unable to remain home during the day or to provide for their children’s educational needs on their own.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a rapidly changing environment to which ASD must rapidly adapt. As much as possible, the plans we develop must work for all involved: the district, the teachers and staff, and the parents.
But, above all, they must always work for our students. As a school district, we remain mindful of our critical role in ensuring educational excellence and equity for all our students, and we remain ever grateful for the advocacy and support of ASD parents, including the author and signatories to the recent petition, in achieving that shared objective.
We will overcome this challenge as we did those that preceded it: Together.
Deena Bishop is the Anchorage School District superintendent. Kelly Tshibaka is a parent of school district students.