AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin, Round Rock and Leander ISDs all start their distance learning programs in earnest Monday, providing more than 170,000 students in Central Texas opportunities to learn from home while schools are shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all schools in the state to close their physical campuses until May 4, and Friday, AISD announced it was closing classrooms “indefinitely.”
Local districts, meanwhile, have spent the last couple weeks scrambling to put together plans to allow teachers to push out assignments to students digitally and through printed packets parents can pick up if they don’t have devices or a reliable internet connection.
The key for all the districts, leaders say, is flexibility for parents, teachers and students.
“I really want our parents to know that it’s not the expectation that they become full-time classroom teachers,” said Jennifer Collins, Leander ISD’s executive director of curriculum.
Here’s a breakdown of what parents can expect in each of our area’s three largest districts.
AISD is implementing the next stage of its Continuous Learning plan, “teacher-facilitated instruction that students participate on their own schedule.”
Unlike the last couple weeks when schools were closed, the district says, assignments are no longer optional. It won’t look like a traditional classroom, but teachers will be assessing and reporting students’ progress.
Resources are available for students and parents at a central learning-at-home portal AISD set up, but the district notes parents are not expected to provide instruction themselves.
The district has been working to expand access to devices for families to keep up with lessons. All students in 8th-12th grades already have Chromebooks through AISD’s Everyone:1 program, and 6th- and 7th-graders have gotten or will get them through the expansion. The district is also issuing wireless hotspots for families without a reliable internet connection and is outfitting 500 buses with WiFi to park in neighborhoods in need. Paper packets are also available at meal distribution sites.
The Board of Trustees meets Monday to discuss how grades will be handled during the final weeks of the school year, but the district notes students won’t have to repeat a grade as long as they “progress toward demonstrating or showing proficiency in their learning.”
Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz also wants parents to focus on social-emotional learning during the closure.
“Take time to talk to your children and process what is happening together,” he wrote to AISD families. “It’s okay to acknowledge and get their thoughts on the fact that we are in a much different place and time than we were last week, last month and even a year ago.”
Round Rock ISD
Like AISD, Round Rock ISD is implementing an “asynchronous” approach to learning at home, meaning students and teacher work at their own pace throughout the week to complete assignments.
The district launched a Home Learning Hub, and will use Google Classrooms, email and other tools to facilitate communication between campuses and families. “Through these tools, teachers will also have the ability to send recorded messages or lessons to students, which will allow them to view and repeat as needed in the timeframe that works best for their individual needs,” Dr. Steve Flores, RRISD’s superintendent, wrote.
The remainder of the school year will see the district move to a pass/incomplete grading system. Students at all grade levels will need to demonstrate proficiency in various subjects to pass. The final weeks won’t count toward a student’s overall grade point average (GPA); those final tallies will be calculated using the first semester grades (accounting for 75% of the GPA) and grades from the fourth six-week period (25%), which was scheduled to end on April 3.
District leaders gave 7,500 Chromebooks to students who needed devices last week, and will continue assessing needs. Printed packets are also available at meal pickup sites.
Leander ISD, the third-largest district in the area, is also moving to an “asynchronous” model for at-home learning.
The district has been determining “essential learning targets” for individual grade levels for the last couple weeks.
“It was probably the Thursday and Friday before spring break that we really started having dialogue about, what if we can’t come back?” Collins, the district’s curriculum executive director, told KXAN via Zoom video chat over the weekend.
Teachers are working under guidelines that limit how much time students can spend on each subject. For pre-K students, the district recommends 2-3 hours total per week for remote learning; the limit is 4-6 hours for kindergarten through 2nd grade, and 6-8 hours for 3rd-5th grade.
Middle and high school teachers are advised to limit instruction to 90 minutes per week per core subject area, and 45 minutes per week for electives. It will be up to individual teachers to create and push out assignments and lessons to students.
The district is also moving to a pass/incomplete grading model for the remainder of the year.
“That’s going to help us better identify, what are those gap plans that we may need to put into place in the fall, knowing that students aren’t going to be receiving the same kind of teaching and learning that they would receive if we were inside the buildings,” Collins said.
Starting Tuesday, Leander ISD will start distributing Chromebooks to elementary school students in need. Most secondary students already have district-issued devices.
Most important for families, Collins said, is to have flexibility during this uncertain time. “Our kids are going to really remember the social-emotional feeling of being at home with their families, and we want that to be a positive experience for them,” she said. “So if they’re sitting down working on work with kids, and it’s starting to get stressful, leave the table. It’s okay to get up and to do things in kind of a different way.”
Collins added the district is still holding onto hope that students will be able to return to physical classrooms before the end of the year, but safety will come first.