Sep 24, 2020

Readout of the U.S. Department of Education’s Virtual Panel on Successful Strategies to Reopen Schools This Fall

Danielle Smith
Comprehensive Center Program Manager
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WASHINGTON –U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan hosted a geographically diverse group of education practitioners to discuss successful strategies and innovative ideas they have implemented to reopen schools, rethink education and improve student outcomes during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We are happy to see folks taking advantage of these opportunities to engage with and learn from local education leaders from across the country,” Secretary DeVos told the participants. “Many of you have been working hard to find new ways to keep learning going for your students this fall. Now it’s time to put those plans into motion, to be prepared to pivot as health realities on the ground change, and importantly, to do what’s right for students. I am inspired by the creative solutions some great school leaders, in concert with their communities, have come up with to serve their students.”

The forum engaged a broad audience of K-12 education leaders from across the country as they consider creative ways to help students learn this fall, including state and district superintendents, private and charter school leaders, teachers and state and local school board members representing traditional public, charter, private, and tribal networks.

Below are some of the highlights of successful strategies being utilized around the country to meet students’ learning needs this fall:

ACCEL Academy, Mobile, Alabama

ACCEL Academy developed three options for students to learn this fall: regular in-person instruction, a hybrid option with remote learning and a night school with small class sizes ranging between one and six students per class.

“We are always testing new ideas to seek success. We felt that it was very important to give [students] the opportunity to return in person safely and also give them the opportunity to learn from home. The strategy has worked tremendously well, and we’ve been able to serve as many students as can fit in our building,” said Jeremiah Newell, headmaster of ACCEL Academy.

Lake Mead Christian Academy, Henderson, Nevada

Lake Mead Christian Academy focused on their early effort to build confidence in their community for returning to in-person instruction by assembling a parent task force, which includes an infectious disease specialist, and ensuring that the school stays in constant communication with parents to address their concerns.

“We’ve been able to be open since August 27. Students are exceedingly grateful, and our students know that they are in a coveted position, being able to attend class in person. The confidence [in the community] came from communication: putting experts together and making sure that you are hearing parents’ opinions,” said Sue Blakeley, headmaster of Lake Mead Christian Academy.

Homestead School, Glen Spey, New York

Homestead School, a Montessori school, created informational videos to show parents and families what to expect when the school reopened, including measures the school is taking to clean the building each day.

Additionally, the Montessori school took steps to ensure students remain socially distant by placing dots on the floor to indicate where students can establish workstations, increased their stock of materials so students do not share classroom resources, and experimented with outdoor learning.

“Our goal is just to keep the learning happening and make it be outdoors as much as possible where kids are safest and honestly where they are happiest,” said Nisha Gupta, head of academic and financial affairs, middle school teacher at Homestead Montessori School.

Gulfport School District, Mississippi

The Gulfport School District in Mississippi has taken steps to ensure learning continues if a student or teacher tests positive or quarantines due to symptoms of COVID-19. The district prepares take-home backpacks with the week’s lessons so that students do not miss their class activities while learning continues from home. Additionally, the district has hired assistants that can help in the classroom in the event a teacher must teach remotely.

“Our goal was to make sure that if a child or teacher was away from school for quarantine, they were able to still learn or instruct. We use a synchronous approach so that they feel like they are in the classroom. None of the 16 high school students who tested positive missed a day of school due to the option of remote learning,” said Glen East, superintendent of Gulfport School District.

Kershaw County School District, South Carolina

Kershaw County schools emphasized the need for community engagement to innovatively and successfully reopen schools. This includes partnerships aimed at advancing public health, effective communication, internet connectivity, and confidence in school operational procedures.

“We started by organizing a taskforce of about 50 community members that we broke down by subcommittees as we began to brainstorm what our operational procedures were going to look like. The subcommittees consisted of a lot of local health care officials, parents, teachers, and school administrators. Any community will find that if you’re willing to look, you’ve got an immense amount of knowledge and resources at your fingertips. We wanted to leverage those individuals to help us build a plan – but also build support,” said Shane Robbins, superintendent of Kershaw County School District.

Participants from the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogan

K-12 Education Panelists

Sue Blakeley, headmaster, Lake Mead Christian Academy, Henderson, Nevada

Glen East, superintendent, Gulfport School District, Gulfport, Mississippi

Nisha Gupta, head of academic and financial affairs, middle school teacher at Homestead Montessori School, Glen Spey, New York

Jeremiah Newell, headmaster, ACCEL Academy, Mobile, Alabama

Shane Robbins, superintendent, Kershaw County School District, Camden, South Carolina

A full video of the event can be found here. Closed captioning will be made available in the coming days