3 ways a state ed leader is helping schools weather the COVID storm
Just a few weeks ago, the outlook for the 2021-22 school year had officials expecting instruction would return to something resembling a pre-pandemic normal.
And while New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut still expects schools in his state to conduct in-person learning five days a week, he also says administrators should again prepare to quarantine classes and cope with other COVID-driven interruptions.
“It may not be like last fall or last winter but it’s probably not going to be completely back to normal,” Edelblut says. “I think there will continue to be some instruction disruptions into the fall and winter. We’re going to have to remain quite nimble.”
The good news is that the 2020-21 school year equipped New Hampshire educators with the skillset, technology and mindset to shift online or make other accommodations should the pandemic surge in the start where infections remain low and vaccination rates are high.
Here is how Edelblut and his agency are helping New Hampshire districts weather the COVID storm:
1. Ed-tech infusion
To help schools become more flexible—and equitable—the state in 2020 purchased and gave all schools access to Canvas’ learning management system and then, in July, integrated Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform.
The LMS means all students, in all schools, are working on the same platform. That means parents won’t have to learn different systems if they have multiple children in different grades. Through the learning platform, all schools can give their students access to the same quality content, Edelblut says.
“We’re making a substantial investment to eliminate the idea of the ‘haves and have not,'” he says. “Part of my job as a state leader is closing learning gaps and one of best tools is giving high-quality instructional materials to every teacher.”
Part of that flexibility includes using technology to help students create engaging, individualized learning pathways, Edelblut says.
“Too often, when people think about technology, it’s all or nothing—no technology or only technology,” he says. “We need the technology to empower the pathways that individualize instruction for students with their instructors.”
2. Learning pods
The state department of education is using some COVID relief funds to helping districts set up small-group learning pods over the next two years. These pods can accommodate students of multiple ages and be tailored toward specific academic pathways.
The pods will appeal, for instance, to families who remain concerned about COVID, including those who want their students to wear—or not wear—masks. Without a state mandate, masking decisions have been left to individual districts in New Hampshire.
Administrators will now be able to offer learning pod options to students and families, at no financial risk to their districts.
“Sometimes there are districts leaders who want to innovate, who want to experiment, but they run into a brick wall of education financing,” he says.
3. Tutoring help
New Hampshire Yes, Every Student initiative assists families with non-public school tuition. Since the COVID outbreak, the program will give $1,000 tutoring stipends to families whose students have struggled or fallen behind during the pandemic.
The tutors will be certified New Hampshire teachers, who get an opportunity to earn an additional paycheck. Teachers also get a little more autonomy when they work with students outside of the school day.
“It creates a digital wallet for kids to hire a teacher to help at nights and on weekends to fill in the gaps,” he says. “It also allows educators to connect with students on their own terms.”
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