What in the heck is “Distance Learning 2.0”? And how will this affect all the work I am already doing to teach my classes, keep in touch with kids and families and everything else I am doing to try to make this crazy remote learning work?
In what has to be described as one of the most confusing emails in the recent past – and that’s saying a lot — earlier this week, the Superintendent said that the district would soon “reveal our Distance Learning Plan 2.0, an exciting and rigorous program designed to cover the extended duration of school closings, which we had anticipated. Our teachers are integrally involved in modifying lessons and units to ensure this plan’s continued effectiveness. We look forward to sharing our ever-evolving plan with the community soon.”
To many staff members, it seemed as though everything we had been doing since March 13 (or 11) was about to be cast aside for some new programs that no one had ever heard about, much less had any input into its creation. The fact that teachers and staff were hearing about a plan for distance learning from an email that was sent to parents was especially galling.
When asked for clarification about what exactly this seemingly new instructional plan encompassed, Dr. Feijoo explained that “The Distance Learning Plan 2.0 builds upon our current distance learning plan. Our initial plan created opportunities for learning with a shorter increment of time in mind. This enhanced plan contemplates an extended closure period which requires the district to create more detailed guidance to schools and teachers on instructional practices, student needs and a wide variety of practices including grading, attendance or engagement, social emotional support, and more.”
In other words, this “new” plan is simply a more complete and up-to-date summary of practices and policies for distance learning, now that it seems clear that we will be out of school for a longer period of time than originally thought when schools first closed in March.
I think everyone agrees that, had these facts been expressed more clearly — and explained to teachers before announcing it to parents — the roll out of this summary document would have been a lot less stressful and concerning.
What is the Curriculum Council — and who are its members?
The “Curriculum Council” is the district’s designation for a committee of administrators and FUSE leaders. (Mary Breslin, Aisha Cook, Ann Marie Manganiello, Anthony Stirpe and me)
I was asked to select teachers for this panel and chose members of the union’s leadership team who I thought represented a broad swath of our membership and could articulate many of the concerns — and frustrations — that members had been expressing to the union since we embarked on this “distance learning” experiment.
The goal was to bring the voices of our members into the discussions about how teaching and learning, staff and students were affected by this closure and help shape the district’s policies going forward.
Originally, it’s only role had been to discuss grading options for the 3rd and 4th marking periods, assuming that the schools’ closure would extend indefinitely. The recommendation made by this group to the Superintendent was to implement Pass/Incomplete for the 3rd and possibly 4th marking periods.
However, shortly after the union communicated our members’ universal frustration and confusion caused by the introduction of the Distance Learning 2.0 document, particularly noting that the plan lacked any input from the teaching staff whatsoever, Dr. Feijoo and Dr. Marrero asked to meet with the “Curriculum Council” to discuss those concerns and make an effort to include the perspectives of the faculty in the “2.0” document.
The group met on Wednesday and again on Thursday for over two hours each day in an effort to construct a document that achieves that goal. I believe our efforts were productive and that our participation in the conversation helped to clarify and better define the role of the pedagogic staff during this emergency.
On a related note, I think members should know that the building principals who serve on the committee – Nick Cracco, Franco Miele and Joe Starvaggi – could not have been more supportive or more appreciative of the work that teachers and staff are doing in their respective buildings to instruct and engage students in a caring and reassuring manner. This opinion of our efforts is shared, they reminded us, by all of their administrative colleagues. This was more than just a “kumbaya” moment, it was a tangible reminder of the effective partnerships formed between administrators and staff that serves the best interests of our students and their families.
I understand that grades for marking period 3 — and maybe even marking period 4 — are Pass or Incomplete. When will teachers receive definitive answers on how marking period 4 grades and final grades will be calculated and reported?
It is unclear, at this point, what will happen with those grades. Using Pass/Incomplete, (P/I), was the unanimous recommendation of a committee consisting of members of the FUSE Leadership Team, district administration and school administrators. Despite an email indicating that the MP 3 grades may be converted to numeric or alphabetical grades at a later date, the union remains committed to keeping MP 3 grades as P/I. We believe that this represents the best choice in the interests of fairness and equity.
Decisions on how grades will be reportfor the marking period 4, as well as decisions on how to calculate and report final grades for the year are still under discussion and, it is hoped, will be made early next week.
I am a General School Aide and have been told that I must report to work to assist in the distribution of food to eligible students. That is not part of my job specs. Can the district do this?
Generally, yes. Employees are considered essential if they are assigned to support any of the work deemed mandatory by the Governor in his most recent Executive Order. In this case, General School AIdes will assist with the transportation of food to designated distribution sites as well as assisting in making sure that those waiting to receive food maintain the required “social distancing” protocols. This is to comply with the Governor’s orders that food distribution to eligible students/families must continue while schools are closed.
The union has consulted extensively with NYSUT and was informed that, due to the state of emergency and the terms of the Governor’s Executive Orders requiring school districts to provide certain services (continuity of instruction, food distribution to eligible students/families, childcare for the children of first responders), the district can use certain staff in ways that are not specific to their job descriptions. To be clear, this can only be done while the Governor’s Order remains in effect — once the emergency is over, the ability to assign staff outside of their normal job descriptions ends as well.
If there are health concerns due to medical issues– your own or an immediate family member’s– you may seek to be exempted from this assignment. You would need a document from your physician verifying the medical issues that increase your health risks in accepting this assignment.