First week of at-home learning for public school students seen a success

Diana Yanok and Libby Page pass out meals at a distribution area near Walmart Monday, April 6, 2020 in efforts to provide meals to students and keep them well-nourished. [Photo: Kaila Jones]

The first week of at-home learning in Indian River County wasn’t flawless, but the rollout of School Superintendent David Moore’s provisional plan for continuing to educate students during the coronavirus pandemic was more successful than anyone had a right to expect.

“We are a model for the nation,” School Board Chairman Laura Zorc said.

With Florida’s public schools closed through May 1, the county’s students returned from an extended spring break last week and resumed classes virtually, connecting with teachers via computers and telephones.

The online program allows students to take classes using home computers or laptops, including the 6,000-plus laptops distributed by the school district during the break. The district also has made available what Moore called a “paper-based option” for students whose families lack the necessary technology.

Moore said 90 percent of the district’s students were connected to the online program by the week’s end, and he expected that number to increase this week.

“It was a busy week, but a successful week,” Moore said. “We’re in a really good place, given the reality of this pandemic. We’re prepared to ride this out as long as we need to – not just put a Band-Aid on instruction.

“We’re already looking ahead, exploring how we can become the best online teachers moving forward,” he added. “We’re continuing to educate ourselves on how to modify our practices and platforms to make sure we’re doing the best job possible.

“We’ll never be satisfied with ‘just OK,’ regardless of the circumstances.”

Both Moore and Zorc praised the teachers for their extra efforts and willingness to embrace different ways to connect and interact with students and educate them remotely. In fact, nearly 1,000 of the district’s 1,200 teachers accepted the superintendent’s invitation to begin familiarizing themselves with the online, at-home-learning program during their spring break.

Moore said he needed teachers to fully buy into his plan for it to achieve the best possible results.

“We’re implementing a program that keeps teachers at the forefront and in control yet provides them with the flexibility they need to design lessons unique to their kids,” Moore said. “At the same time, this program is adaptive enough to be modified for each student’s home.

“So, for this to work – and for us to get up and running as fast as we could – we needed to get everyone on board, particularly our teachers,” he added. “The teachers have been troopers through this whole thing, and they’re a big reason we’re doing better than most districts around the state.”

While all this was going on, Moore said the district’s Mobile Café provided more than 34,000 breakfasts and lunches to students throughout the county last week.

Moore expressed his appreciation to all district employees, including administrators and support staff, in an email sent to them Friday, when he thanked them for their “extraordinary efforts” that produced a “tremendously successful” week.

“Over the last several weeks, I have heard countless horror stories and tremendous frustrations as it relates to other districts’ implementation of their plans during this time of uncertainty,” Moore wrote. “Reorganizing how the entire district works and responds to the need of children in such a short time period could have been a recipe for disaster.

“However, as a result of your resiliency and commitment to our students and to one another,” he added, “our district has demonstrated to the state what can be accomplished when educators join together to serve in the best interest of children.”

Zorc said Moore, who was hired in November, has provided the foresight and leadership the district needed to address the current crisis.

“The level of organization and the thought that has been put into every detail can’t be matched,” Zorc said. “I don’t know where we would be right now if we didn’t have Dr. Moore here.”

At Moore’s urging, district officials announced Friday they had postponed the Class of 2020’s graduation dates at Vero Beach and Sebastian River high schools to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Vero Beach’s graduation has been rescheduled for June 12, one day before Sebastian River’s ceremony. Both dates are tentative, with a final decision to be made no later than May 29 to give seniors and their families enough time to prepare for the big day.

However, school officials will continue to monitor federal, state and local guidelines to determine if it’s safe for such a gathering to take place. If the current social-distancing recommendations remain unchanged, the graduation dates will be pushed back to July 10 for Vero Beach and July 11 for Sebastian River.

“Our seniors have worked for 13 years to earn the right to walk across the graduation stage,” Moore said. “We are taking a proactive approach in postponing the date to ensure the health and safety of our students – and community as a whole – and allow families to be part of the graduation celebration.”

As for operations, Moore said the coronavirus’ impact on the district budget has been minimal, and he has managed to keep support-staff employees working. Any additional expenses incurred have been offset by the money saved not running schools and other facilities.

“Budget-wise,” he said, “we’re fine.”

Moore said next week’s School Board meeting will be held as scheduled at the district’s administration building, which will be open to the public, but social distancing will be enforced.

Instead of sitting at the dais, board members and staff will be spread around the chamber. Members of the public will be able to watch and listen from the lobby. Anyone wishing to address the board may do so via written comment or be called into the chamber one person at a time.

“It’s been a crazy ride,” Moore said of his first four months on the job.

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