Educational Challenges During Covid—An Interview With the Middletown City School District in Ohio
What Started Your Journey as an Educator?
Jessica: So thank you guys. If I didn’t already say thank you so much for joining our Teach Beacon podcast. This is with Middletown City School District. And today we have Amanda and Kee Edwards. So Kee you are an elementary principal for the school district and Amanda, you’re the middle school assistant principal.
Is that all correct? Okay. So I’m curious before we jump into the questions, I would love to know Amanda, what started your journey as an educator and how do you feel about your school district? I’m very excited to have you on our podcast. I have to say, about Marlon. I’m pretty exciting. I feel like there’s a lot to be said for that.
And I’m so grateful that he has all three of you offered up for our podcast. So I do want to know a little bit about your career, your path and how you got started with Middletown.
Amanda: So I spent 12 and a half years as a high school science teacher before entering administration. I taught in several different school districts and then landed here in Middletown the same year that Marlon started.
So this is my fourth year as the assistant principal at the middle school completely coincidentally Marlon and I had crossed paths in our careers and socially I worked with his wife, at Northwest local schools. She was actually my assistant principal for part of my time there. So he was interviewing while I was interviewing actually.
So just coincidentally, we landed here at the same time and this is my first time having an opportunity to work with him. And I have just really enjoyed this journey with #MiddieRising and just the growth that we have seen here in Middletown.
Jessica: That’s fantastic. Yeah, I agree. It’s very impressive. Being a middle school principal- have you always been in middle school education then?
Amanda: No, I actually spent my entire teaching career at the high school level. However, I did spend a good portion of my time teaching freshmen ninth graders. And I have said that my experience with seventh and eighth graders, it’s very similar.
They’re a little bit more moldable in the seventh and eighth grade age. Once they start to enter high school, I feel like that’s, and Carmela can speak to this, they start to get that chip on their shoulder. They know more than you do, and they’re ready to forge their own path. Whereas in seventh and eighth grade, I feel like they’re still open to our guidance.
Jessica: I could not agree more, although I am by no means a principal, but I’ve been a coach since 2005, myself at my local school district here. And I started out coaching middle school and I love it. And most people, when they hear that you like working with middle school kids, they look at you like you must have five or eight heads.
Like, why would you like middle school? And for me, it’s very similar. I do find they’re more fun. They still know how to have fun, but you’re so dead on about the high school, getting that chip on their shoulder, they start to get jaded and don’t think the world is as pretty and hopeful as I think they used to when they were younger.
When I was offered a high school coaching position. That’s actually how I felt. I’m like, you guys are no fun. Once you turn about 16. You’re not quite as fun to be around, but. Very good. That’s excellent. I’m glad to hear your perspective and Kee, I’m very interested. So elementary school, I have heard from many different perspectives, but elementary, I feel like has gotta have quite a few challenges, school education before COVID-19 hit. If you don’t mind, similarly, give me your background, how you came to Middletown and your interactions with Marlon’s vision and where you guys are at and how you like your role and what your role is in elementary education.
Kee: I happened to be a home-grown born and raised in Middletown, went away to college at alabama A&M University came back to help and the community was a second grade teacher for eight years and coached at the middle school basketball for several years before I went to the high school at the varsity level, coaching. I’ve been in administration for 14, 15 years. Elementary is my niche. The other two spoke to the clay and molding and the chips, our students are more like jello.
They’re a lot easier to mold and form and definitely take our perspective as more gospel than they probably do when they’re a little older. With that being said, the challenges in elementary are quite different. I appreciate our new superintendent balancing academics with future ready skills to prepare these students to be ready beyond high school at a much greater rate than a complete focus on academics, because it will take a combination of the two to prepare them for the future that they will be walking into.
And regardless of our challenges, we are more reliant on parents to help us with the duties of educating their children when we cannot have our hands on them inside the school and partnering with parents and the community is a lot more of the focal point in our elementary endeavors to ensure that students are educated.
Jessica: That is a that’s also. Yeah, that’s a great perspective for those of us that don’t, I don’t have any elementary age children in our house. They’re all middle school, high school, college. So. Having parents involved, how was communication with keeping them as involved as possible during COVID, how has that worked for you guys in the elementary school?
Kee: I’m sure if you’re involved in just about anything, you are completely aware that texting has become the new form of communication. We have been fortunate enough throughout the elementary schools to all use the dojo app, and we are finding that parents are more likely to read a text and text teachers back and in regards to communicating messages, feedback, and other important information that we need to get to them.
And so we’ve had a lot of success using the dojo app and texting parents as our primary mode of communication, because we’re finding we’re not getting sent to voicemail and we’re getting to respond, getting responses from parents. So.
Jessica: That is very good feedback – we live in the same house and texting is how we communicate it feels like, 50% of the time. Our school district does a similar, they do both. We get, we get text messages as well as automated voicemail. I’m not sure if Middletown does or not, or just texts, but you’re right. It gets the message and you get to make sure it’s read and then at least pass on and communicate better that from that regard.
What was your first priority in finding a solution when COVID-19 hit?
Jessica: When COVID-19 hit your school district, what was the first priority finding a solution for students and how were problems identified? I know you guys are all the same school district, but I am so excited to have each of you from elementary, high school, middle school perspectives.
Amanda: I think what was great and this was district-wide, but it was really imperative. I think for our families and our community we set aside the entire first week of back to school as our deployment of devices. So that’s how we got all of our students. , originally to 12 grade, two through 12 with a device in their hands. Obviously, with social distancing, we needed to use that entire week to divide up different parts of the alphabet.
To bring students in with their families to get those devices, give them brief tutorials on what to do. And then we took it a step further. And then once we had the students walking into zoom, we spent the first two weeks with their teachers and with their classes really going through the tech piece, going through the social, emotional piece of – you haven’t been in school since March. And that was a hard pill to swallow. I think for some of our teachers because they are so passionate about their content and they do know that the students have fallen behind and they do know that they’re going to be, see their students less frequently using the schedule that we were using.
So they definitely wanted to jump into their math or their social studies or their language arts content, but they knew how important that social, emotional piece was. They knew how important it was to acclimate some of our students that aren’t tech-savvy, to those needs and to address those deficits that, that we needed to do.
So the tech was a piece, the SEL was a piece and then also meals are important for our community. We have a hundred percent of our population on free and reduced lunch. We are providing meals for our students, both breakfast and lunch on a daily basis. So we also had to come up with a plan for – how are these kids going to get meals when they’re not coming into the school? So those were kind of the three most important things. And then we could deal with the academics and the engagement piece.
Jessica: Fantastic feedback. I think that definitely speaks to the school district priority-wise because the kids needed the technologies. So you guys spent the first, you said two weeks getting what they needed into their possession and that’s important, but more so than just getting them the tech that they needed, being able to show and do tutorials on how to use it because I know at that age, most of them know, but it, sometimes it’s new and it’s learning. It’s not just watching YouTube videos all day or Sims videos and things like that. So more educational. The food is – being we’re both Ohio school districts and I’m based in Ohio, I know our school district is the same.
And that was definitely one of the first priorities that ours had as well, was getting meals to families and how they could set up. I know originally it started out with actual delivery. Our school district used school buses to actually drop off food at first, and then they were trying to figure out – we had volunteers delivering food directly to homes.
Ours now has settled on pickup times. So they have the meals prepared, same thing, lunch, breakfast, and even as far as dinners combining with our local food pantry. So is that something that Middletown similarly did? Was it based just out of the school district? Did they combine with local food pantries?
Amanda: We’ve definitely relied on local churches local community outreach to help staff that we do have our food providers Sodexo that has managed all of the, the prep and through federal aid has been able to provide those meals. We originally, when we were remote first quarter, we had kind of bus stops in various parts of the community, as well as school pickup points for families to go to.
I can’t remember the exact number, but you were pretty much within walking distance to, to a place where you could go pick up your five meals for the week. And then as we’ve transitioned into the hybrid model, we have reigned it in a little bit. A lot of it is due to volunteers and just our teachers are now teaching every day whether they have students in the classroom or remote at home.
So in terms of staffing, we’ve limited now to picking up at the schools, in a very specific window. So. We’re still doing it. We’re still making sure that our kids’ bellies are full and that our families have that resource available to them because we know that it is so critical for them.
Jessica: I definitely agree with that. For the next question, I’ll go over to Kee – as the elementary, similarly, what was the first priority from an elementary standpoint, once COVID hit, was it all the same as what Carmella and Amanda have listed? Did you guys have your own challenges at that education level?
Kee: As Carmella (*Carmella had audio issues, her portion of the interview will be posted at a later date) stated first and foremost safety for the staff and students was a primary concern. And as Amanda mentioned, social, emotional learning. To make sure we were still connected with our students and their experiences and deployment of the technology was a huge piece, but something interwoven in all that that was a higher priority. Given that she stated that we were a district of poverty is equitable access opportunity for those who aren’t fortunate enough to have opportunity and access that some of their counterparts had.
So we partnered with Verizon to ensure that not only did they have the devices, we partnered with Verizon to make sure that students who did not have wifi access receive hotspots so that they could stay connected and have the same access and opportunity that all students had in our district.
So along with social, emotional learning, making sure that they had the computers and the devices, the staff safety and student safety, equitable access to opportunity was a very high priority in elementary schools.
Jessica: That’s fantastic feedback. The getting internet connectivity is a challenge in our school district as well. That’s fantastic that Verizon was able to really help and make a big difference because I think every single one of you mentioned the social and emotional wellbeing of your students on top of safety.
I don’t know that I’ve heard a whole lot about that as how you guys have accomplished. I think that’s a really good insight and it’s important piece of schools and what they do and what they’re able to do for students is to really help students grow or socially, emotionally, how have you guys been able to do that with the remoteness of COVID-19 or what tools and resources have you guys used to make sure you’re taking care of the students in that way? I’ll start with Amanda.
Amanda: So we have a homeroom period in our traditional school day that we have had for years. We call it app it’s a 25 minute class period where our counselors put together lessons for our teachers to go through that social, emotional piece.
So that’s already been built into our curriculum. So when we built our remote schedule for when our students were at home, we still had in the middle of our school day, that app time as for counselors were still very intentional with their planning and creating remote lessons. And, and I actually stole something from Twitter.
I saw another educator somewhere in the country. Had created kind of a morning meeting slide to put up on the screen during a zoom. And I really felt that that would help frame the conversation for our students. You know, they’re not getting to sit, you know, six feet away from their classmates or, you know, two feet away from their teacher as they circulate the room and have those conversations with students.
So I thought it was nice that our counselors could have that lesson in a format that they could put up on the screen that students could then see. And it was everything from those important topics that do relate to their social, emotional wellbeing, but then also silly stuff so that they can get to know each other.
I think about, you know, I have the seventh grade class. Yes, they all came from Highview together, but they’re brand new to us. I don’t know them. Their teachers don’t know them. So just things like, you know, where would you rather go on vacation? Cruise or into, you know, camping in the mountains.
How do you like to, you know, spend your weekends? Playing video games? or outside playing sports? So everything from making sure that they’re okay just with building those relationships with their peers and with their teachers, but also some of the more important things about making sure that they’re safe and making sure that they are thriving socially.
Jessica: So Kee, you’re also shaking your head if you don’t mind unmuting. So is that accurate? Do you guys do the same thing in person as well as COVID like we are at the middle school with Amanda?
Kee: I will say the expectation changed once COVID hit all 10 schools in our district, were responsible for creating a social, emotional learning plan that would hold us accountable for ensuring that we spent a little bit more time dealing with the student experience. COVID and distance learning and remote learning seem to take the human element out of educating our students.
And we just wanted to make sure that we gave that personal touch and that human touch to the experience that our students were having. So as she stated at the beginning of our day, every day, every classroom elementary, from 8:45, 9:15 to 9:30 is our social emotional learning period.
And so the students who are at home, they can zoom in and participate and those who are face to face, they can participate. And it’s all about getting students to learn about each other personally, to share their experiences and to share their emotions and feelings. And so that we’re all connected as a family as we try to learn together.
So it’s been a priority. And I really appreciate the district, but making that a priority for our students, because otherwise it turns into basically being on a computer, getting the lesson and turning off your computer. And so we’ve added that human element to the education experience for our students that I think there’ll be better off for having.
Jessica: Absolutely. I completely agree. That is some other solutions, if you will, virtually and even school districts, I think it’s not that they don’t care about those things. It just became a challenge, right? During COVID-19 as to how do you do that and how do you keep it a priority? So I think that’s obviously fantastic for the students to have kept it a priority like that.
What unexpected challenges did you face during COVID?
Jessica: What unexpected challenges did you face and what were the positive experiences or outcomes? I know I’m sure each of you have experienced some form of challenge throughout this. I would prefer obviously to hear what the positive outcomes were, what the challenge was to begin with. So. Amanda, we’ll start with you.
Amanda: I think the most concerning thing as we prepared for remote learning back in the fall was how do we get our teachers prepared for things like Zoom? That was brand new. How do we make sure, even though we’re all accustomed to using our learning management system Schoology, how do we make sure that everyone is using it in a similar fashion?
Because, like Kee mentioned, we are going to have parents taking a more, you know, important role in making sure that their students are in all of their different content areas. And if it’s different when they go into their math Schoology versus their language arts Schoology, that’s difficult for parents.
So our district dedicated the first five days of the teacher contract to provide professional event. And the most positive thing that came out of that I have a very distinct memory. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those first five days. My custodial staff recreated our cafeteria into a ginormous lecture hall for my staff.
We moved all of the science lab tables down to the cafeteria so that each teacher could have their own personal workstation. We were all socially distanced very different than what we’re accustomed to. You know, I usually have my teams sitting together so that they can collaborate. So, so just that image is very memorable.
But as we worked through those five days and we tried to chunk the material very similar to what we would do for our students. While myself and my teacher leader were the primary presenters, there were so many times that questions were asked and I’m like, I don’t know. And immediately hands would come up or people would just shout from the back of the room, a suggestion, or I’ve done it this way, or I Zoomed with my family during quarantine. And this is how we were able to unmute ourselves or prevent people from sharing their screen when we don’t want them to – the suggestions and the collaboration were phenomenal. We are a teeny middle school. So our teachers do collaborate a ton within their team. However, I also think that brings a bit of a silo effect where they work with the same group of teachers all of the time.
And they’re collaborating with the same group of people. To have almost 75, 80 people in a classroom, just sharing out. And then during collaborative work time, seeing that continue was really phenomenal. I think we all expected challenges. We all expected the unexpected but to see people really rise to the occasion.
I remember thinking, you know, typically during PD, you’ve got your veteran teachers that are like, I know how to do this. You’ve got your veteran teacher that maybe did some wonderful PD or workshop on their own. And they’re just ready gangbusters to implement that this school year, you’ve got your mediocre teachers that, you know, they just fly in and they’re like, just let the kids show up.
And then you’ve got your newbies that are like I have great ideas, but I don’t want to share them. Everybody was a first-year teacher. Nobody had a leg up on anybody. And so we really did have to band together, listen to suggestions, offer suggestions, and really create a team that really wants the best thing.
You know, we want to get the kids back into school at some point. We want to make the distance learning the best possible experience for the students as well as ourselves, as well as our families. So we’re going to have to work together. And, and that was like I said before, the most incredible and phenomenal thing I think I’ve ever experienced in my 16, 17 years in education.
Jessica: I would have to probably agree with you on that perspective, especially everyone becoming a first-year teacher at the same time.
And the good thing of having everyone just shouting out answers. And that was a great visual representation of what you guys want through being in the cafeteria.
What information have you used in your district, and is there any data you wish you had access to?
Jessica: What information or data have you guys utilized in your school and is there any data or information that you wish you would have had access to earlier that would have been able to really contribute to your school’s overall success? And what would that be if you have it and if not, what would you love to have now, if you did have access to it that you currently don’t. And I’ll pose that to Amanda first.
Amanda: Our teachers, when we were fully remote first quarter, really struggled with not having MAP data. So that’s something that our, our districts and our school has really gotten in the habit of using so that we can tailor and personalize student learning. You know, in a normal year.
So when you have students at home, we weren’t able to administer that test. And so we got students back into school in October. So I think that teachers just felt like they were struggling with knowing where to meet kids. Where are my students? And they didn’t even have OST data from the previous spring to look at.
So they’re trying to teach to the middle, which we’ve for years been telling them not to do. So I think that they just struggled with that piece. So I know that they’re excited to have that data we’ve actually just administered or started administering the winter MAP. So teachers are able to see where students are growing and then as we head into scheduling for next school year, at least for the middle school and high school, you know, we’re having to look at new MAP norms that are set nationwide.
And really adjusting, you know, where we push students into those advanced classes because we’re not going to see as much growth. Like we have to be realistic. We’re not going to see students where we may have seen them in the past. And we certainly don’t want to limit our offerings or limit students that maybe are headed in that advanced track because of a pandemic.
So we’re having to consider those different things. So we’re still looking at data. I think our teachers are still hungry for as much data as possible. And kind of like what Kee was mentioning with the various platforms that we do have available digitally, if you want the data it’s there, we just have to figure out where it’s at, how we’re going to get it and how we can best utilize it, to make sure that our students are receiving the most personalized instruction available.
Jessica: That’s great. So that is something that I hadn’t actually considered that depending on the grade level and the testing, because they’re not tested by the state every year so that you can see the growth and have that information. So just to make sure I understand that is what you’re referencing. Like you guys didn’t get a chance to have the state testing before this started to know where your students were before beginning instruction and have that data so that you can best make informed choices for your instruction as a whole.
Amanda: Correct. So we don’t have the previous year’s testing data that’s mandated by the state. And then we also administer MAP in the fall. When our students first walk into school, we administer it halfway through the school year. And then again in the spring. And that kind of is used as they are progressing through their pacing guides and through the school year to adjust, you know, you’re going to have kids that need remediation in certain areas, but maybe needed enrichment in others.
You’re going to have those kids that are straight middle of the road. So our teachers are constantly adapting their lessons to meet the needs of the students that are in front of them. So your first period may be different than your second period, depending on the students that are actually sitting in front of you.
So that data has become very important to their lesson planning. And I think because we’ve been driving that home to them and really encouraging them to use it, to drive their instruction, to not have it was just kind of another like, okay, we’re really, now that we’ve built the plane, we’re flying with like no controls, like we’re flying it on our own manually. And that’s difficult.
Jessica: Oh yeah. I could bet. So I know Kee mentioned Google classroom and you guys, I think all of you have mentioned Schoolology is that if I’m saying it correctly, so. Do they each offer, do they work together well? Or how are you guys finding that data to help your MAP? Cause I’m assuming you obviously still have something that you’re trying to do, as you said to not really, you don’t want to teach just from the middle.
You want to be able to have the information you mentioned, the information is there. It’s just finding it or getting it all put together. There are those each, each of the different platforms that you guys are you utilizing, are you pulling it separately or is there a way that you have right now to pull it all together so that you can actually not fly the plane as blind, so to speak?
Amanda: MAP scores follow a student throughout their entire educational career. Whether they’re a Middletown student or whether they’re in another district if they’re administering that test. I n terms of Schoology and Google classroom, those are really just the platforms that we use. It’s a place where we’re able to house all of the different lessons, different assignments, different activities that students may be engaging in.
K-5 is where we decided to use Google classroom. So Kee can definitely speak to that. For 6-12 really about three years ago, we went full bore into using Schoology for all of all of those students, 6-12 so that our teachers were able to even in a traditional classroom start transitioning to more digital content for our students versus, you know, pen and paper. Hard back textbooks. You know, a lot of our textbooks, even at this point are accessible to our students through their Chromebooks and an online platform versus them physically taking home a textbook.
Jessica: Yeah. That is, that is impressive for sure. So, okay. And then, so Kee, she mentioned the elementary, you guys. I’ll ask you the same question, but I’m curious how you guys are pulling your data. What you have used to be driving all of your successes at the school level, throughout this if there’s any information that you guys wish you had earlier, and if there’s any information that would really make a difference data wise for your school.
Kee: I’ll answer the question in regards to information that we wish we had. Throughout this experience, I’ve learned that with limited time and limited exposure we find our teachers trying to cover the entire gamut of the indicators and standards for students.
I would have loved, and we had started working this prior to the pandemic in our own building. I would have loved to seen some of those standards and priorities shrunk. And to a basic five or basic 10 list of priorities of skills that we definitely want students to have when they leave a specific grade level.
Because like I said, with limited exposure and limited time we can cover everything, but how far and how, how deep can we go in the learning of that material with such limited time and exposure for students? And so that’s something that I would have liked to have my hands on. And as I said, we’ve been working in our building to develop those grade level priorities that will become a part of our practice from this point forward. In regards to data and Google classroom, it’s basically just where we house the activity, the lessons, the videos. Our district did a great job in shrinking down the digital platforms that we’re able to use. And so between MobyMax and who’s Ella, and a few other platforms, we have those actual platforms, house, all the data.
Teachers can pull reports from there that make it really easy to access and know exactly where students are. So if teachers want information, it is definitely out there and it is not a struggle to get their hands on in regards to know where students are. The one downfall to that is when we do have to test and students are at home remotely, the accuracy of the information we we’ve found ourselves getting into a situation where parents were kind of helping with assessments because they didn’t want to see their children struggle. But once we got over the hump of trying to explain that we needed an accurate picture of where they are and their ability that kind of helped with that process.
Jessica: Very good. I think it’s funny that you mentioned the parents, because every parent has the best of intentions and they, like you said, they don’t want to see their child fall behind. The system that our youngest one is using I happened to check one of her assignments and she thought, I wouldn’t notice because it said it was submitted, but there was, it was not graded yet.
And I happened to click on it and I was blown away that this was even a possibility that went through her head. But she just submitted the questions. She just copied and pasted and submitted the questions just so she could move on to the next thing. But again, with the pacing, I think she was afraid of getting behind.
But I’m like, you didn’t like, I’m going to see your grade. Why did you just, what do you think the teacher’s going to think when she sees you just submitted the questions, but the fears and anxieties, as you guys have mentioned, having the social, emotional part taken care of, but parents and students learning through this together is definitely a challenge.
And everybody wants, like you said, the best for their kids. They don’t want them to fall behind.
What are you biggest operational challenges going to be in 2021? Will they be the same as 2020?
Jessica: So in 2021, I’ll start with Amanda. What do you think your biggest operational challenge is going to be? And do you think it will be the same as it was in 2020 for the school district?
Amanda: So I think what’s coming next, at least here in Middletown is we are really embracing virtual learning. We’ve seen it.
Anyone that’s been in education has seen over the last, you know, 10, 15 years virtual options become more prevalent. Whether it’s a K-12, whether it’s an OVA, whether it’s an ECOT and we lose students to those programs kind of like you mentioned, you know, because virtual could be a good fit for a family, for a student, for whatever reason.
However, at least in my experience, those students boomerang back to us at some point whether it’s a short time that they’re gone, whether it’s a long time they’re gone. So what I think Middletown is going to start doing is we’re going to continue to offer this virtual option for our families so that those students can remain here in Middletown.
They’ll be taught by our teachers, even if it’s virtual. We’ll have a little bit more control over the content that they’re learning. Whether it’s on a boxed curriculum, you know, that we purchase for those students and that we follow with that teacher guiding them through a self-paced program or whether we start to, you know, offer hybrid options where they can maybe take some courses in house, but then, you know, do their core classes on a platform at home online.
I think that’s important for our community. I think that that is one of the things that Marlin has really brought to the table in terms of – how can we grow what we’re already doing here in Middletown? And how can we make it more beneficial for our families? Something that they want to come to something that they want to be invested in versus looking for another option.
If we don’t pivot as a school district if all school districts don’t pivot and really start to cater to the needs of our community, they’re going to find it elsewhere. Like I said, , we’ve seen that happen over the last 10 to 15 years, whether they physically uproot their family to another school, or whether they just search other options, you know, open enrollment or virtual options that they can choose for their child. So I think Middletown is making a good move to make sure that virtual is always an option. Not just in a pandemic, not just in a COVID year. And I think that that is in the long run, going to benefit our community and our school district for the better.
Jessica: That was a great answer. And you actually already answered the secondary part of that, which was how will COVID-19 change the future of education. I think you definitely hit the nail on the head, so to speak with discussing that if the kids’ needs aren’t being met the way traditional other schools are, they will find another way parents will find whether it’s open enrollment at another school district. Or another platform/program online. Why not offer all of it at your current school district? And you guys were already ahead of the game trying to create some virtual content, virtual learning for your students and working it in so that they’re better prepared for the future. I couldn’t agree more that you guys sound like you’re really on top of it for the students and school district and the parents.
So what about you Kee, what do you think, do you agree with everything Amanda said? Is there anything additionally that you think might be an operational challenge for the elementary level?
Kee: I agree with Amanda.
I believe our largest challenge will be converging the best of remote learning with face to face so that we are able to compete with those entities that for our students who had wonderful experiences virtually and, and grew and learn being able to compete with those entities that may steal them away from us, to be quite honest, offer what we need to offer for our students and meet the needs of our families as Amanda said, so.
Jessica: Is there anything, Kee, that you think COVID-19 specific that’s changing as far as the future of education?
Kee: I would say – force is a strong word. COVID has forced us to see the limitless potential for learning opportunities. Some of the things that we did this year and part of last year may not ever have happened, or maybe wouldn’t have happened until a few more years down the road, had we not been forced to due to this pandemic. So I feel fortunate that we’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow and that we have discovered some more potential for learning experiences that may better meet or meet in a different way, the needs of our students.
Jessica: That is fantastic. I can definitely see why you are on the map, so to speak. You guys have definitely, you have a unique, as a Amanda had said, just a learning mindset, you have to have a growth mindset having school districts or teachers and leaders in your district that are, you know, can’t wait to get back to the old ways of teaching, there’s definitely a lot to be said for that.
More so taking what you know, and looking forward to the future as to how you’re going to be able to benefit your students and having that student focus of keeping your kids safe, keeping your administrators safe, keeping everyone safe, having the technology figuring out how to keep parents connected.
Text messaging is definitely a good thing to use and parents having to stay on top of kids, but also looking forward to all the different platforms that are really working, not having the same constraints time-wise on your students and their learning, and just having more data available so that you can better map your student’s progress as they grow.
Thank you all for your time. I definitely, we were over the 15 to 20 and I promise I was showing restraint. I could talk so much more, but you guys have had some really good insight that I’m sure everyone’s going to benefit from having so thank you so much for all of your time. And I look forward to hopefully maybe staying in some contact to see what you guys are up to down the road. Because it sounds like some really great things are happening there.
Amanda: Thanks for having us.
Kee: Thanks for having us.
Extra Insights From Carmella
Carmela: Hi, Jessica. This is the answer to number one. When COVID hit in March last year, we were very fortunate at Middletown High School. We have been working on preparing digital lessons and using our Schoology learning management system to embed those lessons and to communicate with the kids while they use those lessons prior to March COVID hitting. So we were already talking about doing some virtual learning early on the following year in January, then when March hit we were kind of immersed in it. Instead of doing just a few courses and starting in a slow fashion all of a sudden we were in a deep dive with the entire virtual learning situation.
But we felt as though we had the tools to be able to move forward with that. It was a huge help that Marlon tyles, our superintendent was a digital expert and brought that learning to us the years prior. And it was also a help that we have been studying universal design for learning at the high school.
So we were in the gear of designing courses that were specific for virtual learning. Now having said that we obviously hadn’t done it yet. And so the, you know, there were some stumbling blocks, but the teachers were ready to embrace it. They did so and actually it went pretty well. So you know, what needed to happen first when COVID hit was definitely full emphasis on safety, full emphasis on connecting with the kids, keeping the relationships in contact and making sure that we were doing what we needed to do for them personally, during such a scary time, but also moving those lessons forward, moving that instruction forward and making sure that we were supporting them in that. So it was a quick immersion, but it turned out to be quite, quite successful.
And I can say that this year, at the start of this year, we were much stronger, much more ready. Had used that experience, that experimental time and the experience that we had with it during fourth quarter last year to be even stronger this year.
The second question was what unexpected/ unexplained challenges did you face and what were the positive experiences or outcomes?
Probably the biggest one was zooming. We had not used zoom before and finding a way to embed zoom and to be able to make sure that we were connecting with all of our kids every day in kind of a real time method was very, very important. So that was both a challenge as well as an opportunity.
And it turned out to be quite a gift because we are still using zoom for a number of different ways to communicate with the kids and with our parents. And with one another at Middletown high school, we have done all of our meetings this year on zoom in order to keep a very large staff, very connected. So that’s what we have done there.
Number three, what information or data have you utilized? And you wished that you had it earlier. Or if there was information or data that really could contribute to school success. We’ve been using MAP data here to inform some instruction and, and to definitely make some personalized changes for students. And, and we have a wealth of other pieces of data at the high school that we rely on to inform instruction best practices and also some personalized programming for kids. We continue to use all of those and to stay up to date with that. But probably one of the biggest additions that we have done is office hours.
Our teachers, when we were on remote made use of office hours to contact and work with students in small groups to be able to talk to parents and to be able to tutor students one-on-one and making use of office hours in the, in the, afternoon was an absolute, tremendous gift. It is the number one piece that my BLT members, my building leadership team teachers who are all very experienced and have served in the role for a number of years.
It is the number one piece that they say they hope does not go away in the future with virtual learning. They really feel like that made a big difference in the connection with Number four was how have expectations on teachers and students changed or remained constant during this pandemic? Obviously we still want students to attend every day. We still want students to complete their work. All of those pieces that you would expect from, from any good high school. But also I think that one of the other pieces has been, we are much more malleable. We are much more open to different ways for students to be assessed. And a different way of looking at what is important.
We want to make sure our students have mastery over those big concepts. We want to make sure that they are ready to be able to move forward in their learning and that the COVID has not kept them from being ready for the next stage. But we have let loose of some of the smaller pieces that just due to time constraints maybe have not become as important during this particular Number five was in 2021, what do you think your biggest operational challenge will be? And is it the same as 2020? Well, I hope it’s not the same. I’m not a big one in, I’m not a big one in repeating past mistakes. I like to make sure that we’re well past that and we move on to a better future. But what I’ve said to my staff over and over is that we will not be returning to how business was in the past. Actually, I believe that we will be moving on to a new and improved normal that will take into account, many of the wonderful positives of the past, and also many of the wonderful positives we’ve learned out of this time. I think that both of those pieces are really important and that’s the way that, that we move forward.
Virtual learning is not going to go away. It’s fast, it’s personalized. And it, and it meets the need of a lot of students for a lot of different reasons. So I do believe that there will be a lot more virtual learning, and different types of virtual learning in the future that we’ll make use of.
Number six was last but not least, how will COVID-19 change the future of education? I think it will be options. I think that there is an expectation now I’m very happy to say there’s an expectation that students be treated more equitably that we definitely make sure that students have what they need, supplies, materials wifi access computers in order to be able to learn and have a fair shot in the world. I think that’s very, very important. And in Middletown city school district, we have spent an enormous amount of time, treasure and talent moving toward that particular goal. I think that personalization will not go away and I think options will not go away.
And I think those are. At the same time, I think that good old fashioned connection, communication and, and being a part of the human spirit together will always be the foundation for those pieces. I hope that helps. I’m sorry that my, my sound went out earlier today, but hopefully you can use some of these pieces and I enjoyed, I enjoyed conversation.
And as I end with most things, let’s have a great Middie day.