Amid the unprecedented fallout from the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, local schools are also facing unprecedented challenges while attempting to complete the school year.
Since Gov. Mike DeWine ordered schools to close their doors and move to an at-home education model March 19, districts have been scrambling to put procedures in place, update online curricula and ensure the safety and health of their students.
For Grandview Heights Schools leadership, that means long days of finding solutions.
“When I say we’ve never worked harder, I actually mean that,” said chief academic officer and assistant Superintendent Jamie Lusher. “We’re working 20-hour days to get things where they need to be.”
Grandview students are on spring break until Monday, March 30, when instructional hours will begin online. With Superintendent Andy Culp on vacation, Lusher is serving as acting superintendent, and she said the district’s focus is solely on providing the best for its students.
She said district staff is working “very deliberately” to prepare for returning to classes virtually, and said she feels the district is in a good position to respond, though she knows the timing couldn’t be worse.
“I think as a district, we set a premium on the relationships we have with students,” Lusher said. “If you know anything about public schools, you know the importance of those relationships and building over time. Our teachers and students, you’re really heartsick for them.
“This is time of year is where routines are set, habits are forming and stamina is set,” she said. “You’re at a place where you’re getting them to high academic levels and levels of engagement. So to have to recalibrate and think about asynchronous learning and the use of tech – we’ve had to put lot of time and effort to maintain that high level of instruction.”
The Ohio Department of Education already has begun canceling standardized tests, with delayed end-of-course assessments for grades 3 and above. At the district level, Grandview schools are not administering the annual math assessment and will not hold standardized tests “unless absolutely essential,” Lusher said.
Cancellation of any standardized tests, which likely require gatherings, are just fine with Lusher.
“They should be canceled wholly,” she said. “There’s no way even to administer them.”
But it’s not just a fear of groups that prevents Lusher from wanting tests.
She said the district’s research indicates students perform significantly better on testing with a paper and pencil when compared to online scores.
With the district’s 16 Advanced Placement courses approaching their testing, she said she hopes the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the tests, will choose to cancel or postpone those tests, as well.
“The College Board hasn’t given any info yet,” Lusher said March 18. “They’re talking about things like online testing, but we have a concern with that because students test better with paper and pencil. We don’t know yet.”
Another challenge when schooling from home is ensuring that all students have access to lesson plans.
Lusher said Grandview schools sent every student home with a laptop computer and provided free wireless hotspots for houses that don’t have access to high-speed Internet.
In addition to the tech, Lusher said the district also wants to be certain students have food they need.
The district is offering “grab-and-go” breakfast from 8 to 8:15 a.m. and lunches from 11 to 11:30 a.m. weekdays in the commons at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School, and will deliver lunches over spring break.
More information is available at ghschools.org/apps/pages/covid19.
Lusher said somewhere between 7% and 11% of the district’s students are on free or reduced-price lunches, and leaders want to find ways to provide that service to people who may be uniquely affected by the coronavirus.
“We’re trying to find ways to assist families in need,” she said. “With the restaurant and bar industry and other industries like salons closing down ... a lot of our families’ income completely depends on that, so we know families are in fragile situations. … We’re collaborating to try to find opportunities to connect them to resources and also put together a repository of community members who have resources they can provide to families in need.”
For Lusher and other Ohio school leaders, the uncertainty of the rest of the year is another challenge.
She said Grandview schools officials aren’t contemplating how long schools will be closed, and instead are “just trying to find every way we can to maintain the student experience with teachers.”
“We’re trying not to make any speculation,” she said. “We’re focusing on taking these steps and preparing for now, but also keep in mind that this could become the new norm.
“Our hope is that every action and precaution we take gets us closer to being back in classrooms with our children,” she said. “We’re trying to be unwavering in that.”