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SchoolCEO The Great Distance Learning Experiment How to Host Online Meetings (That Aren’t the Worst) School Culture and COVID-19 Dr. Martin Bates Dallas Superintendent: Dr. Michael Hinojosa


Great challenges make for great stories. Who’s telling yours?

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Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Apptegy is an education technology company dedicated to helping school leaders build a powerful identity for their schools. Learn more at apptegy.com


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Deep Roots: Dr. Michael Hinojosa

This prolific Texas superintendent is leading one of the largest districts in the nation through the impossible.

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Survey: The Great Distance Learning Experiment

Over 1,200 parents across the country tell us the ups and downs of learning from behind the screen.

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How to Host Online Meetings (That Aren’t the Worst) We outline several methods for hosting effective virtual meetings that won’t turn your audience away.

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Q&A: School Culture and COVID

We spoke with Dr. Martin Bates of Utah’s Granite School District to learn how he’s preserving school culture amid our current crisis.

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Leadership Matters: Superintendents’ Response to COVID-19 Guest author and contributing researcher Don E. Lifto, Ph.D., shares a snapshot of Minnesota superintendents’ leadership through the first months of the COVID-19 crisis.

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Crash Course Q&As

Four expert professors share their thoughts on innovating in schools, teaching remotely, building strong online communities, and envisioning a better future for education.

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Just a Minute of Your Time Guest Writer Dr. Joe Sanfelippo, Superintendent of Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin, shares his unique approach to staying connected with his community and challenging others to lead.

Vol. 2 No. 4 © 2020 by Apptegy, Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint or quote excerpts granted by written request only. SchoolCEO™ is published 4 times a year (November, February, May, and August) by Apptegy, Inc., 425 W Capitol Ave. Suite 800 Little Rock, AR 72201. Send address changes to SchoolCEO™, 425 W Capitol Ave. Suite 800 Little Rock, AR 72201. Views and opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the magazine or Apptegy, Inc. Accordingly, no liability is assumed by the publisher thereof.

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From the SchoolCEO Team When we sent out the last edition of SchoolCEO three months ago, we hoped that by now, the world would be back to normal. But of course, today we’re still working from home, still social distancing, still doing our best to fight the spread of COVID-19. Now, you’re facing perhaps even more difficult decisions than you did in March, deciding how best to keep kids not only learning, but also safe. Amid these minute-by-minute choices, a greater change is bubbling under the surface of public education. It’s now becoming clear that the systemic problems brought into sharp relief by COVID-19 can’t be ignored once it’s over. In many ways, the pandemic has ushered in a new, more critical relationship between education and technology, and we believe that relationship is here to stay. In this issue, we’re focusing on how the effects of COVID-19 will continue to impact your district long-term. First, we wanted to know how parents feel about distance learning after this emergency trial period. We’ll offer a SchoolCEO Study of over 1,200 parents’ experiences: what they liked, what they hated, and what they hoped their districts would improve about remote learning. We’re also excited to feature work from Dr. Don Lifto, a researcher and former superintendent previously featured in our School Bonds issue. With his team at Baker Tilly, Lifto surveyed Minnesota school leaders to gauge their response to the pandemic. We hope that by learning from their successes, failures, regrets, and missed opportunities, you can better prepare for future crises.

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In keeping with this theme of growth and change, we’re sharing a series of short “Crash Courses”—conversations we’ve had with leading professors and researchers about school innovation. They’ll offer their most exciting ideas about building online communities, teaching remotely, and imagining a better future for education. We’ll also bring you the stories of superintendents seizing the pandemic’s unlikely opportunities. In our latest Superintendent Perspective, Dr. Joe Sanfelippo of Fall Creek, Wisconsin, describes how he’s engaging his community and cultivating leadership through bite-sized videos. Dr. Martin Bates sat down for a long distance Q&A to share how he built culture in Utah’s Granite School District—and how he’s leveraging that momentum to deal with COVID-19. Finally, we’ll show you the transformative leadership of Dr. Michael Hinojosa, whose rise to the superintendency in a diverse set of Texas districts is being brought to bear in Dallas ISD. As always, thank you for doing what you do as school leaders. For the last two years, we’ve been endlessly impressed by your tireless dedication to kids, and our admiration has only grown over the last few months. In these next few months, remember to take care of yourself. We’re excited to see the innovation you create for students across the country.

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Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. - JAMES BALDWIN

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Good News in Public Schools Seattle, WA

Rochester, NY

Logan, a high school student in Seattle, recruited around 70 local high school volunteers to virtually tutor elementary and middle school students in the area. Through her website, StudentsHelpingStudentsSeattle.com, Logan matches each student to the tutor who best fits their academic needs. The program has matched around 50 students so far and plans to continue throughout the next school year. (The Seattle Times)

To combat summer reading loss and prepare students for the fall, teachers in Rochester City School District are delivering bags of books to students’ homes. RCSD also plans to hand out bilingual and multicultural books to parents at district food sites and distribute books to local Little Free Libraries. Through this initiative, teachers are helping students “keep up with their skills, one book at a time.” (Spectrum News)

Bethesda, MD

Moorestown, NJ

Olivia, a high school student in Montgomery County, has devoted her summer to teaching children through her traveling science lab. Setting up in students’ yards or driveways, Olivia conducts science experiments, including her favorite: making color-changing slime. Olivia believes that her lessons will keep students “growing and learning, and [show] them that learning can be fun.” (WTOP News)

Keyan, a freshman high school student, has raised almost $4,000 for essential workers through his fundraiser Signs for Service: Virtua COVID-19 Relief Fund. Anyone who donates $20 or more will receive a sign that thanks essential workers; the remainder of their donation, after the cost of the sign, will go towards Virtua Health’s Coronavirus Emergency Fund. (Yahoo! News)

Santa Fe, NM

Philadelphia, PA

After concerns about the pandemic canceled their class rafting trip on the San Juan River, a group of eighth-grade students repurposed the $2,800 they’d raised for the trip to help the Navajo Nation, which at the time had the nation’s highest infection rate of COVID-19. The class donated toilet paper, cleaning products, thermometers, and other supplies the community needed. (ABC News)

Middle school teacher Kelly Wyatt raised over $30,000 for local high school seniors through her scholarship fund Adopt-a-Senior. The Facebook group, originally meant to encourage graduating seniors, now has 7,000 members across the country. Over 2,000 have “adopted” seniors. (Good Morning America) SUMMER 2020

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Deep Roots: Dr. Michael Hinojosa

As the old saying goes, Everything is bigger in Texas. Dallas Independent School District is no different. With 230 schools serving about 154,000 students, it’s the largest employer in all of Dallas. And for Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, it’s not just the district he’s always dreamed of leading—it’s home. In true Texas fashion, Hinojosa’s career has been quite expansive. In fact, he’s currently serving as Dallas ISD’s superintendent for the second time—he calls it “Hinojosa 2.0.” And though he’s grown in experience and skill, one thing has remained steadfast throughout his career: his devotion to meeting the needs of students experiencing the same challenges he once faced. “I was one of those kids,” he tells us. “You fly into Dallas and you see all these beautiful buildings and think we’re all well-off. We’re not. Our parents are the ones working in those hotels and restaurants, taking care of the city—and their kids deserve the same opportunities as anyone’s.” 8

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His second run leading Dallas ISD has been so successful that just last fall, his contract was renewed through September 2024. We recently caught up with Dr. Hinojosa—via Zoom, of course—to discuss his approach to learning, leading, and supporting students. When we spoke, one unprecedented school year was coming to a close as another loomed on the horizon. “If we knew what to expect, we could solve any problem,” Hinojosa says. So what will school look like for one of the largest, most diverse districts in the country amid our continued international crisis? This lifelong educator gives us a candid look at what he’s learned from the past, how he’s led his district through the impossible, and what he sees for the future.


The Winding Way Home With a deep commitment to his community, Hinojosa started as a teacher and coach in the place he knew best, Dallas ISD. “I grew up as an immigrant in the roughest part of Dallas, so I could see it all from the eyes of students and families,” he tells SchoolCEO. But despite his now record-setting time at the district’s helm, a young Hinojosa began hitting walls when he tried to transition from teaching to school leadership. “I was a student in Dallas, and I was a teacher in Dallas, but I couldn’t even get an interview for an assistant principalship in Dallas,” he says. “People encouraged me to become an administrator, and it just didn’t work here.” So Hinojosa ventured to the suburbs to be an assistant principal before quickly rising through the ranks to become an assistant superintendent. He would soon relocate to West Texas to lead a small district near the Mexico border. “When I got there, people asked, What is your goal? And I said, I want to be superintendent of Dallas ISD,” he tells us. “I can’t believe I actually said that out loud!” He later became superintendent of two suburban districts backto-back—Hays Consolidated ISD near Austin and then Spring ISD in Houston. While at Spring, Hinojosa was named the 2002 Texas Superintendent of the Year and was also elected president of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA). But after four years in the district, the superintendent was ready to go back home. When the top position in Dallas ISD opened up in 2005, Hinojosa— now with many diverse years of experience as an effective leader—was finally recruited for his dream job.

A Texas-Sized Problem Hinojosa’s dream, however, came with some serious caveats. “When I first got hired, our brand was really bad,” he says. “And some were saying, You don’t have the experience of an urban superintendent.” But Hinojosa knew where he belonged, and he knew Dallas. “So I said, No, but I have experience from the eyes of a child and a teacher and parent here. I think I’m prepared to handle this job.”

To address the district’s branding crisis, Hinojosa worked to immediately start building credibility with the community. After his hiring was announced, a reporter asked if he’d be placing his kids in Dallas ISD schools. His reply? Absolutely. “It gave me street cred,” he says, “Even the mayor asked if I was really going to put my own kids in our schools, so I put my money and my family where my mouth was—I decided to take that plunge, because I believe in this city, and I believe in this district.” One major issue had been an inconsistency in leadership in Dallas ISD. They’d had five superintendents in just five years. “They all brought in their own senior people and everything changed every year, so it was total chaos,” Hinojosa tells us. Not only that, but the district had also gone through its fair share of scandals—one former superintendent even served time in federal prison for embezzlement. With years of instability and controversy clouding their public image, things were looking pretty grim for Dallas ISD. “The community, the media, and everybody was just giving up on the district,” he says. Hinojosa is, however, quick to give credit to his immediate predecessor: “a guy who made the job doable,” he says. Dr. Mike Moses, who served from 2001 to 2004, “stabilized the district, got a bond passed, and brought some credibility back,” he adds. “To me, the job wasn’t even possible before he established the structure and framework.” Building off that structure, Hinojosa quickly worked to gain both insight into the district as well as the community’s trust. But he did things his own way, using a strategy he swears by and now passes on to other leaders. “I have a very specific entry plan that I’ve always used, and it’s worked for me every time,” he tells us. “I ask 100 people 10 questions each. I code their responses, I organize it, and it tells me what I need to do.” Hinojosa says spending his first 100 days meeting face-to-face with 100 stakeholders no doubt helped him sustain momentum as a leader. “People start realizing, Well, this guy may be in it for the long haul,” he says.

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Learning directly about the needs and expectations of the Dallas ISD community is also vital for understanding the district beyond its numbers. “It lets me know the lay of the land politically, and it also tells me what’s on people’s hearts,” Hinojosa says. “I’ve already studied the audit reports, studied accountability and our budgets, so I know all the quantitative data. But it’s also about learning the qualitative data to put the whole package together as to where we’re going to go.” The Dallas metropolitan area’s sheer size and diversity make it a uniquely challenging place to lead a district. “We never apologize for our demography, but Dallas is a tale of two cities,” Hinojosa explains. “We have 154,000 students with close to 90% economically disadvantaged. We are 45% English Learners; we have more English Learners than San Antonio has students.” Facing these challenges can be difficult in a place like Dallas, with its dichotomy of booming industry and generational poverty. Divisive politics certainly don’t make matters any easier, but Hinojosa knows the importance of working with anyone who can help his students. “We’re in a red state in a purple county in a blue city, so I have to juggle all of those things,” he says. “I have relationships with everybody—Republicans and Democrats—because I have to. That’s my job. Our kids need resources from everyone.”

During his first stint as Dallas ISD superintendent, Hinojosa oversaw countless initiatives to bring the district into the 21st century—both in terms of learning and equity. Doubling down on the importance of stakeholder feedback, he implemented a hiring system for new principals wherein staff and the community provide input. He also led the district through the successful passage of two separate billion-dollar bond referendums. The funds were used to build dozens of new schools, renovate existing campuses, and update hundreds of school facilities. After six years in the district, Dr. Hinojosa had established himself as a fierce advocate for Dallas kids. But, in 2011, two of Hinojosa’s sons—both Dallas ISD students—were accepted into Harvard and Princeton. To pay for their Ivy League schools, Hinojosa retired in Texas, leaving Dallas ISD, and accepted the role of superintendent in Cobb County Schools, the second-largest district in Georgia. Needless to say, this decision was a shock to many in the Dallas community—but, he wouldn’t be gone for long. After only three years in Georgia, Hinojosa and his wife decided to move back to Dallas to care for their aging parents.

Photos courtesy of Dallas Independent School District.

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Then something unexpected happened. Hinojosa’s replacement in Dallas ISD suddenly stepped down. “Lo and behold, things were very controversial while I was gone those four years,” Hinojosa says. “The superintendent very abruptly resigned, so the board asked me to come back as interim.” After three months on the job, the board asked if he’d stay on. “So I’m still here,” he tells us. “I’ve been back for five years. I call it Hinojosa 2.0.”

Hinojosa 2.0 Despite a warm welcome home, Hinojosa had a lot of damage to repair upon his second time entering the district. “The guy they hired after me was intense,” he explains. His predecessor had put into place a new merit-based hiring system called the Teacher Excellence Initiative that was so controversial that half the workforce left the district. “He was an implementer. He set it up, but then he left,” Hinojosa says. “So now we’ve fixed it, modified it, and made it work,” he adds. “We don’t have those fights with our unions anymore, and 12% of our teachers are making over $70,000—so if you’re doing well, you get paid more. It’s hard to do, because it’s so different, but because we’re having success, we’re getting away with it.” Now that Hinojosa and his staff have revamped the program, the district has been nationally recognized for the Teacher Excellence Initiative. “Fifty percent of our teacher pay is based on how they do with their supervisor, how they follow the rules, and how they do their professional development,” Hinojosa tells us. “Then 35% of their pay is how well their students do academically. And it’s not just the state assessment—it could be a local assessment, it could be a value-added assessment—whichever one of those statements makes them look the best, that’s the one we use.” The students in Dallas ISD also get to have their say. “Then 15% is the students. The students rate the teachers!” Hinojosa says. Student input is actually the highest indicator of teacher success in the district. Hinojosa is held to the same high standards as his staff: 60% of his evaluation is based on student achievement, 20% on financial stewardship, and another 20% on voice. “The students even get to rate my performance,” he says. “The students, the staff, and the parents.”

When he returned to lead Dallas ISD, he again put community voices at the forefront, meeting with 100 stakeholders over 100 days. “My entry plan for 1.0 was actually a lot different than 2.0,” he tells us. But he did ask similar questions like, If you were in my shoes, what would you do? What three things do we need to make this the best urban district in the country? “And I sat down face-to-face with these hundred people—a lot of them were principals, 25 of them,” he explains. “It was every board member, too, and the heads of unions.” Even though it was a huge time commitment, Hinojosa says it was worth it to build the trust and buy-in needed for future success. “You go slow so you can go fast later.” Hinojosa didn’t waste any time helping the district start to recover its reputation. And, again, he did things his own way. “You just try to make things better than you found them,” he says. “I think sometimes we get stuck in a rut, and I like creating new things. I think incrementalism is innovation’s worst enemy, so sometimes you just have to blow things up to make things happen.” Part of this meant facing some of the shortcomings of his previous time in the district. “I was very ashamed because my first time in Dallas, I just did a lot of blocking and tackling,” he says. “Now I think we’ve actually been able to innovate and get more success. But part of this I own. When I was here before, only 15% of our kids ever got any kind of higher education within six years of high school graduation. And by next year, we’re going to try to have at least 50% of our students graduating from high school with an associates degree. That’s because we’ve been able to innovate.”

Student Voice and District Accountability Hinojosa’s childhood made him a firsthand witness to inequality in the school system, which has greatly informed his approach to school leadership. “I was a kid in 1971 when there were no suburbs in Dallas. Then integration was finally here, and boom, all the white people left,” he says. “Ever since, it’s been chaos.” Of course, like most urban areas in the United States, white flight after the end of school segregation has created decades of inequality and underrepresentation in the classroom and beyond. Hinojosa has spent his long career trying to correct that chaos—by listening to the students he serves.

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Since equity is always on Hinojosa’s mind, he’s led the district into several new initiatives in an attempt to meet the needs of every Dallas ISD student. “We have something called CAP: Creating Accelerated Performance,” Hinojosa explains. “We take our lowest-achieving students—rising third-graders, rising sixth-graders, rising ninth-graders—and pair them with the best teachers and give them the best technology, even in this pandemic situation.”

in our toughest schools, and we’ve had tremendous improvement and achievements at those campuses.”

Student voice is a big priority in Dallas ISD, and Hinojosa speaks about it with vehement passion. “We have a climate survey on every campus,” he says. “Student voice is weighed into what our principals are evaluated on. We believe in this. I believe that culture trumps strategy all day long. You can have the greatest ideas, the greatest strategy, but if your people don’t believe in you, they think you’re mistreating them.”

Dallas ISD has also made equity one of its strategic initiatives. “It’s something that costs us more money and that we fund first because it’s a priority,” Hinojosa says. “We also have public school choice. We want families to pick their neighborhood school, but if they don’t want to, we get them where they want to be.” For instance, arts programs and Montessori schools in the district are in high demand, but they can also be expensive. “We provide transportation, because if we don’t, then students don’t actually have a choice,” he adds. “So that’s our biggest expense—that’s how we get the kids to those specialty schools that they’re interested in. And actually, now we’re getting more money from the state to help students who have that kind of need. If you have that lens, and you go in and implement, you can actually make things better. So we’re very proud.”

To even further ensure a healthy and thriving school culture where students come first, Dallas ISD is one of only two districts in Texas with its own local accountability system. “That’s because we’re tougher on ourselves than the state is,” Hinojosa explains. “Fifty percent of our accountability rating is based on state data. But the other 30% is on value added—how did we improve the students when they were here? And then 20% is on voice. So we have to have improvement; it’s part of our DNA. We believe in the whole child— that’s why we put so much emphasis on the culture. That’s why we have social and emotional learning for the district.” Messaging is also a key part of upholding that positive, supportive culture. “By the way, I hate the A-F scale,” he tells us. “You’re going to give a kid’s school an F? So we changed our narrative on that: Accomplished, Breakthrough, Competing, Developing, and Focus. We don’t call them an F school anymore; we call them a Focus school because we’re going to give them more resources. It sends a message about your belief systems.” With such sharp, structured emphasis on student voice and high performance, the district is able to address many of the inequities that have plagued Dallas for so long. “Some people want to believe in racial equity, but they don’t want to do it because it’s too hard,” Hinojosa says. “Well, we have a policy of racial equity where we actually do equity. In the past, we used to have the most inexperienced teachers working at the hardest schools, and therefore the results were awful. Now, we pay our best teachers more money to go and work 12

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The district has also partnered with a local nonprofit to convert an unused campus into a shelter for students experiencing homelessness. “It’s called After8toEducate,” Hinojosa says. “It’s a shelter for students to come in, spend the night, take a shower, and then they go to school the next day.”

The Secret Sauce Another thing Hinojosa takes great pride in is mentoring other school leaders. “Forty of my employees have become superintendents, and I get my energy from other leaders,” he tells us. “It’s kind of like my Professional Learning Community—being around my peers. I dig into the ones I respect to try and get as much knowledge as I can out of them.” In terms of how he views leadership, Hinojosa is very specific—and he takes it all back to what matters most. “It wasn’t until my third superintendency that I learned the secret sauce: the leadership triangle. At the top is your board, on one corner is your staff, and then on the other corner is your diverse community. And, in the middle of the triangle are the students, always. I teach this to young superintendents all the time.”


Hinojosa’s version of a leadership triangle focuses on interaction with every stakeholder group in the district and centers all conversations and actions around students.

Board

the same superintendent, Alberto Carvalho. So, for 12 years, they’ve had stable, strong leadership. And, yes, we both make mistakes, but at least people know who we are—they can rely on us. You can build relationships with the community, with staff, with the board. It just becomes organic.”

The New Frontier Students Staff

Community

Hinojosa doesn’t just teach the leadership triangle, either; he lives it. “My calendar is color coded, and I spend time in all three parts of that triangle every week,” he says. “Every Wednesday I go to schools unannounced and build relationships with cafeteria staff and others at every site. Now they see me as being real and not just some guy who’s on TV occasionally. And I’m building relationships with them at the same time.” Despite his current success, Hinojosa is candid about his past missteps and what he’s learned. “I wish someone had talked to me during my first superintendency, because I didn’t do that well,” he says. “And shame on you if you don’t spend quality time in all three parts of that triangle. If you’re going to be a micromanager, then you’re not going to be successful. You hire good people and make them do their jobs, then you spend your time coaching in all parts of that triangle. If a superintendent can get that down, they’ll be successful.” The other secret, he says, is more obvious: stability. “The reason we’re having success now is that we’ve been having one leader for 11 of the past 15 years,” he tells us. He believes strongly that consistent leadership is critical for an urban district’s success. “If you go back and look—who was the superintendent of LA five years ago? Who was the superintendent of New York or Detroit? In any major city, there’s such a churn. If you look at the tenures of most urban superintendents, it’s three years at best. People aren’t in there long enough to be held accountable for their work.”

Dallas ISD has made huge strides since Hinojosa returned as head of the district in 2015. But, as our readers know all too well, things came to a sudden and screeching halt in March when the pandemic started closing schools across the country. “Our biggest problem is that we had 36,000 households who did not have broadband connectivity,” Hinojosa tells us. “So we had to buy between 10,000 and 15,000 hotspots for all of those in April. But a hotspot is not as good as broadband—if you’re on broadband, you can experience what everybody else is experiencing.” Another key to handling this crisis has been staying accessible to the public and communicating with them as much as possible. Fortunately, these are Hinojosa’s strong suits. “I’ve made myself very available to the media and to anybody who wants to talk to me,” he says. “And sometimes I have to tell them that we don’t know the answers yet.” Instead of daily briefings, he updates the district every two to three weeks when there’s something significant to lay out. “I’ve done that several times during this crisis,” he says. “When you make yourself vulnerable, it disarms people, and it builds credibility with your community. I’m a known commodity now.” Hinojosa says getting through this crisis is all about strategy—but not the kind you may be thinking. “There’s a difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking,” he says. “Strategic planning is a five-year plan; you’ve got it all laid out and it’s all linear. But none of us know where we’re going to be in five years. We know where we’d like to be, but we can’t know that for a fact. With strategic thinking, you kind of know where you’ll be in 18 months, and then every quarter you strike the next chord as things become more clear.” Recalling a tornado that severely damaged three district schools just last January, Hinojosa adds, “A tornado and a pandemic were never on my calendar. You learn how to pivot. You learn how to think ahead. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now.”

Looking to the country’s other successful urban districts further proves his point. “You think about Miami-Dade,” he says. “In 2008, they were in the tank. But since then they’ve had SUMMER 2020

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When his contract is up in 2024, Hinojosa will have been superintendent of Dallas ISD for 15 of the last 19 years. “I don’t plan on going anywhere,” he says. “When I was retired, I was miserable. So I’ve ordered a pine box for my conference room; when I get tired, I’m just going to climb into that and shut the lid.” With a big smile and light in his eyes, Dr. Hinojosa is excited as he speaks of the unique opportunities that so many years as Dallas ISD superintendent will bring. “That’s when you can go deep,” he says. “That’s when you can implement. That’s when you can pass multiple bonds. My senior team have all been with me now for about four or five years. We’re building some deep roots here—and that’s very unusual.”

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“A tornado and a pandemic were never on my calendar. You learn how to pivot. You learn how to think ahead. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now.”


Survey: The Great Distance Learning Experiment Over 1,200 parents across the country tell us the ups and downs of learning from behind the screen.

As you well know, the rollout of distance learning wasn’t anticipated. It wasn’t organized, and there wasn’t the time or funding to properly test out this new system. The emergency solution to school closures was just that—a stopgap created in response to an unprecedented crisis.

semester. Did the model fit in with families’ lives and students’ aptitudes? What was most appealing about online learning, and what was most challenging? What did parents learn about their students, their teachers, and their children’s educational opportunities?

But even though districts didn’t have the time to perfect their remote learning experiences last semester, the situation still opened a proverbial Pandora’s box. Households across the country have been introduced to a significantly new schedule and method of instructional delivery for K-12 education—and those experiences can’t be put back into the box. For better or worse, school closures have functioned as an important test of distance learning.

In March of 2020, we surveyed a diverse set of over 1,200 parents from across the country. Respondents represented rural, suburban, and urban schools; reflected a range of income levels; and had students in grades K-12 (see Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4). Using participants’ answers to both multiple choice and open-response questions*, we’ll summarize key insights we collected from parents as well as their advice for school leaders on improving the distance learning process.

There’s an opportunity for COVID-19 to speed up innovation, enabling rapid changes and growth in school systems across the nation. So we wanted to know what K-12 parents thought of remote learning during the Spring 2020

*Answers have been edited for grammar and clarity. SUMMER 2020

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How did it go? Overall, most parents were dissatisfied with their online learning experiences. We asked, “How attractive is the idea of online or blended learning now that you have experienced it firsthand?” with responses ranging from “significantly more attractive” to “significantly less attractive” (see Figure 5). Around 47% of parents selected “less attractive” or “significantly less attractive,” with 22% indicating “no change.” Still, a notable 31% of parents found the system more attractive. The disaggregated data offers a more complete picture. Parents in urban areas found distance learning more attractive than suburban or rural parents. The number of children in each family made a difference as well; the more children a parent had, the less attractive they found online learning. Generally, this question breaks families into three groups—a large group for whom online learning is either impossible or unattractive, a handful of parents ready to work online permanently, and a neutral group of parents interested in improvements in the system. Each group provides different, critical insights into the system’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.

For many families, remote learning isn’t an option. Distance learning in its current state just isn’t feasible for some households. Many parents work during the day and are unable to be fully involved in their children’s virtual learning—or simply aren’t home to care for their kids. A few parents wrote that their student needed a paraprofessional during the day; without their help, learning wasn’t possible. In some households, there simply isn’t the time or capacity for learning to occur with kids at home, which disproportionately affects some of the nation’s most vulnerable children. We asked respondents to finish the sentence, “Fitting my child(ren)’s learning into my work/personal schedule during the switch to distance learning has been...” with a range from “very difficult” to “very easy.” Around 64% of parents indicated that online learning did not fit in with their schedule by marking “somewhat” or “very difficult” (see Figure 6). Only 13% marked that it was “very easy,” while 23% expressed that it was “somewhat easy.” What’s more, responses were similar across income levels—even wealthier parents struggled to fit distance learning into their schedules. 16

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Setting up a learning environment—internet, an electronic device, a quiet workstation, etc.—was also a challenge. When completing the sentence, “Setting up a learning environment for my child(ren) at home due to COVID-19 has been...” with the range mentioned above, a little more than half of folks indicated difficulty; 16% marked “very difficult” (see Figure 7). Not surprisingly, the ease of setting up a work environment for students varied by income. Higher-income parents were more likely to indicate that this was “very easy” or “somewhat easy.” What’s more, technology tended to pose a greater challenge for lower-income families than for higher-income ones. Parents completed the following sentence with responses ranging from “very difficult” to “very easy”: “As a parent or guardian, learning how to use technology introduced during distance learning has been...” (see Figure 8). For the most part, parents seemed to adjust well; around 60% indicated that learning to use pertinent technology was either “somewhat easy” or “very easy.” But again, disaggregating the data tells a more complex story. Higher-income families had less trouble learning the technology used for distance learning, perhaps due to increased access to higher-quality devices—and technology in general—before COVID-19. In many districts, these challenges exacerbate systemic problems. Some, like Georgia’s Chattahoochee County School District, ended distance learning early due to complications with their system, while others faced delays in getting their online learning systems up and running. Of course, these challenges disproportionately affect districts with lower funding as well as more vulnerable students. One district in Pennsylvania began online learning more than 40 days after schools closed, placing the district’s students—90% of whom are children of color, and three-quarters of whom live in poverty—weeks behind their suburban peers.

What did parents like most about online learning? After last semester, only a handful of respondents came away from their distance learning experience as advocates for the new system. However, parents across the board noted its benefits. While not all parents are ready to permanently switch their child’s mode of learning, their comments reveal weak points in the traditional K-12 structure that are remedied online.


DEMOGRAPHICS

Fig. 1

Fig. 3

Fig. 2

Household Income:

What grades will your students be in for the 2020-2021 school year? (Select all that apply.)

I am the parent or guardian of ___ student(s):

$0-$9,999

K 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th

$10,000-$24,999 $25,000-$49,999 $50,000-$74,999 $75,000-$99,999 $100,000-$124,999 $125,000-$149,999 $150,000-$174,999

1 44% 2 35% 3 14%

$200,000+ Prefer not to answer 5%

15%

4 4% 5 2% *Parents with >5 children accounted for <1%

27%

Fig. 4

How would you describe your child(ren)'s school(s)?

5%

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Fig. 5 How attractive is the idea of online or blended learning now that you have experienced it firsthand? Significantly less attractive Somewhat less attractive No change Somewhat more attractive Significantly more attractive

Fig. 6

Fitting my chld(ren)’s learning into my work/personal schedule during distance learning has been:

0%

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Fig. 7

Setting up a learning environment for my child(ren) at home (internet, an electronic device, a quiet workstation, etc.) due to COVID-19 has been:

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Somewhat Easy

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Fig. 8

As a parent or guardian, learning how to use technology introduced during distance learning has been:

Very Difficult

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10%

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Somewhat Difficult

40% 35% 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5%

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Very Easy

Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding and multiple-select responses. SUMMER 2020

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Most prevalently, the switch to online learning seemed to present a welcome change of pace. Working from home cut out the dreaded commute, creating a more relaxing atmosphere for students to work at home with family. For many parents who started working from home during COVID-19, distance learning meant more time with their children. And with less time in class, students could work at their own pace, either allowing for extra free time or more time to work through problem areas in the curriculum. When asked the open-response question, “What do you and your child(ren) like most about distance learning?” around 32% of respondents made some reference to their students’ comfort and well-being: waking up later, spending more time together at home, having less hectic mornings (see Figure 9). “I like having my kids home with me,” wrote one parent. Another mentioned “the ability to be at home together more with some flexibility as to when the learning takes place. We also did not need to start as early so my kids got more sleep.” “More sleep” and “no commute” were some of the most common answers. These types of logistical responses may not seem significant, but the frequency points to a real appreciation for a relaxed routine throughout the school year. Flexibility was the next significant category at around 16%; answers highlighted positive factors like flexible hours. “My son liked that he could get his work done in half the time and still make good grades, since he doesn’t need all of the allotted class time,” explained one respondent. The flexibility in pace also proved beneficial for kids who need more time with the material. “We both appreciated that my child could take his time to complete his work,” said one parent. A few respondents mentioned flexibility as a benefit to children with disabilities. (Generally, however, parents of students with disabilities were quick to point out cracks in the distance learning model.) The third most popular response captured a vocal group displeased with distance learning; around 15% of respondents actually wrote in the word “nothing” or a similar phrase. “Nothing,” sums up one parent. “They hated not being with their friends and favorite teachers. It made it hard on us parents to find the right amount of time to get everything needed done, because they were given a lot of work.” For comparison, less than 1% of respondents wrote “everything” or a similar answer. 18

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Only around 5% of parents noted something related to the creative structure of distance learning, such as Zoom calls or innovative online course content. One parent liked “the outside-the-box learning on how to access materials, people, and support electronically.” For around 6% of respondents, though, the best part of the distance platform was simply safety—most responses to this effect were related to COVID-19, but some also referred to bullying at school. The last significant segment of respondents—around 6%— enjoyed having a greater role in their child’s learning when working from home. “I love being able to have hands-on knowledge of what my children are learning,” wrote one respondent. Learning remotely allowed some parents to focus on areas where their child was weakest—“I like being nearby to help them faster with any learning concerns,” wrote another parent. In a separate portion of the survey, parents were asked to finish the sentence, “During distance learning, I understand what my child(ren) is/are learning...” with answers ranging from “significantly more” to “significantly less” (see Figure 10). The results are somewhat mixed. Around 38%—the largest group—indicated that they understood what their child was learning “more” or “significantly more.” However, 32% indicated that they had about the same understanding, and a surprising 30% said that they actually understood less. While the majority of parents are more involved in their child’s education through distance learning, there is clearly room for improvement.

What did parents miss most about the traditional school environment? When parents were asked the open-ended question, “If applicable, what do you and your child(ren) miss most about a traditional school environment?” almost 63% of parents wrote in a similar response: friends and socialization (see Figure 11). For comparison, the next highest category was “teacher” at 15%. “She misses the interactions with her teachers and friends,” wrote one parent, summarizing the comments of more than 700 others out of over 1,200 respondents. Most parents just wrote the word “friends,” but some were more elaborate. “Social interaction,” one wrote, ”the ability to explain and work through problems from multiple perspectives. At home,


Fig. 9

Fig. 10

What do you and your child(ren) like most about distance learning?

During distance learning, I understand what my child(ren) is/are learning:

35%

35%

30%

30%

Fig. 11 If applicable, what do you and your child(ren) miss most about a traditional school environment? 80%

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they only have me to bounce ideas off of—no peers or teachers.” About 5% of parents indicated that they and their kids also missed extracurricular activities. Besides friends, teachers, and extracurriculars, another 5% of parents mentioned missing independent time away from their children. One respondent wrote about missing “everything: an actual education (lessons being taught by an actual teacher), the social component, and time apart from one another.” While time apart seemed critical for maintaining healthy relationships, others again noted the challenge of working with a student underfoot. “My partner and I both work full time,” shared another respondent. “I have been going into the office this whole time, and he has been working from home. It is hard for us to fit the extra time into our days, especially since we both work 50+ hour weeks.” Though flexibility was noted as a benefit to distance learning, around 5% of parents’ responses indicated that they missed the structure provided by the school day. “I miss him being on a schedule,” wrote one parent. Another 5% indicated that they didn’t miss anything at all, while only 2% indicated that they missed everything about traditional school. Is all that enough to encourage parents to transfer their students away from their current schools? For nearly a third of parents, the answer is yes (see Figure 12). A little less than 10% of parents expressed a desire to move their children to private school; 8% say they will homeschool; 7% will move their children to online or blended programs; around 6% will move their student to public school; 3% will move their students to a charter school. Despite lukewarm support for distance learning, parents’ level of trust in their child’s school actually tended to stay consistent, or even improve. When completing the sentence, “Considering how my child(ren)’s school(s) have handled the COVID-19 crisis, I now trust my child(ren)’s school(s)...” most parents—46%—indicated “about the same.” Around 34% of parents had more trust in the district compared to 20% with less trust (see Figure 13). Even if distance learning wasn’t a smashing success, many families were impressed with their district’s response.

What needs to be improved? While small groups of parents either loved or hated distance learning, the majority took the time to recommend improvements to the system. At the end of the survey, we asked participants to give school leaders advice: “What would you like school administrators to know about your experience with distance learning?” (see Figure 14). Right in line with the rest of the data, 17% were enthusiastically positive about the program without providing advice; 13% were negative, but also declined to give advice; 8% were neutral; and 22% did not answer. The largest group of participants—43%—suggested improvements for their school’s distance learning program. Of these recommendations, the most common suggestions were for increased engagement, streamlined programming, and more support for and communication with parents. Of course, around 10% of respondents who suggested an improvement noted that without significant support for working parents, their systems were unsustainable. Around 8% noted that their current system excludes vulnerable students, especially those with IEPs. Parents also addressed more divisive issues: whether they preferred flexibility or a strict schedule, whether student workload was sufficient or overbearing, and whether teachers’ expectations were fair or unfair. Parents had differing opinions, but on the whole, more parents called for a tighter schedule with more high-quality learning than a looser schedule with lower expectations. About 3% of parents called for a blended learning option on their campuses. Now we’ll dive into some of the most commonly mentioned problems with parents’ suggestions for improvement.

X Problem: Student Engagement The most common suggestion for improvement was better engagement with students. Parents indicated that, generally, there wasn’t enough one-on-one attention paid to their students, instruction wasn’t engaging, and there were few opportunities for collaboration. “Teachers need to be more involved,” wrote one parent. “There was not enough one-on-one learning. My student only had 25 minutes a day with her teacher,” another responded.

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Fig. 13

Fig. 12

Considering how my child(ren)’s school(s) have handled the COVID-19 crisis, I now trust my child(ren)’s school(s):

I plan to change the way one or more of my child(ren) is/are educated by moving them to (select all the apply):

10%

30%

50%

70%

I don’t plan to change the way my child is educated

Charter School

Private School

Homeschooling

Public School

Online or Blended

Fig. 14

Significantly more Somewhat more About the same Somewhat less Significantly less

13% 21% 46% 14% 6%

What would you like school administrators to know about your experience with distance learning?

Wanted Improvement Generally Positive Generally Negative Neutral Didn't Answer 10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

Wanted Improvement (specifics) More Engagement Streamlined Program More Parent Support Currently Unsustainable Lacks Social Opportunities Excludes Vulnerable Students Workload Too Small General Improvement Workload Too Large More Structure Blended Option More Flexibility 5%

10%

15%

20%

25% SUMMER 2020

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Parents were asked to complete the following sentence with answers ranging from “significantly less” to “significantly more”: “During distance learning, the amount of one-on-one attention my child(ren) received from their teacher(s) was...” (see Figure 16). A majority of respondents—56%—said their children had received less one-on-one attention from teachers than usual. For 27%, individualized attention stayed about the same, while only 18% said their children received more one-on-one attention than normal. Notably, suburban and rural parents indicated less one-on-one engagement for their students than did parents in urban districts.

Parent Solution: Build Relationships • “My kid would actually listen and do his work when he could see a video of his teacher telling him to, even if it was pre-recorded. Having those videos was a lifesaver.” • “One-on-one meetings with students weekly were a vital part of my kids’ school week.” • “Hold teachers accountable for real lessons. Some teachers were excellent with daily online lessons and office hours; others never contacted my student the entire three months and made up a grade; others emailed once a month with no teaching material.” • “I hope to see an improvement in teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction. My daughter struggled with the loose teacher supervision and lax goals. It would be great if social clubs and sports can be resumed in some revised manner.”

X Problem: Lack of Organization The next common issue raised by parents was simply a lack of planning—which is clearly an extension of the circumstances. Around 21% of parents wrote in advice for school leaders to streamline their program: implement teacher training, pare down the number of apps and platforms used, and provide tools to create an effective learning environment. “At

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the beginning, we were using a total of nine different learning websites, which is way too many to keep track of and navigate,” noted one parent. Across the board, parents called for more streamlined access. We asked, “How many apps do you estimate you use to keep track of your child(ren)’s education (For example: Remind, Moodle, Canvas, ClassDojo, Bloomz, district app, etc.)?” (see Figure 15). Though a little over half of parents used one or two apps, over a third used three or more. “Going to 7-10 different websites, programs, and platforms was overwhelming and time-consuming,” wrote a respondent. There is also the common question of accessibility. We asked parents their preferred technology: “When accessing information about my child(ren)’s education (grades, homework, communication, etc.), I would prefer to use a…” (see Figure 17). While 10% preferred a tablet, 35% wanted to access information on a smartphone. And though 55% of respondents preferred a laptop or desktop, we noticed something striking. Almost every participant—95% of parents—took our survey on a smartphone. Clearly, parents are reaching for their phones. But when it comes time to look up information about their child’s school work, there’s a barrier—we would guess this is from ease of use. Later in the survey, we directly asked parents about ease of use. As parents completed the following sentence with the range of responses mentioned above, “Accessing information about my child(ren)’s education (grades, homework, communication, etc.) from a smartphone was…” about 58% indicated that access was “somewhat easy” or “very easy,” which indicates that ease of use might not be as significant of a problem as expected (see Figure 18). However, disaggregated data shows a complication: both urban and rural parents indicated that they found accessing this information to be more difficult, on average, than did suburban parents. A higher proportion of rural parents—41%— prefer to use a smartphone to access information about their schools (see Figure 17). Income made a difference as well; lower-income families are having a harder time getting information off their phones. Parents making less than $50,000 a year were significantly less likely to mark “very easy” or “somewhat easy.” We know that lower-income families are more likely to depend on a smartphone to access the


Fig. 15 How many apps do you estimate you use to keep track of your child(ren)’s education (ex. Remind, Moodle, Canvas, ClassDojo, Bloomz, district app)? 60%

Fig. 16

During distance learning, the amount of one-on-one attention my child(ren) received from their teacher(s) was: Significantly more

50% Somewhat more

40% 30%

The same amount

20%

Somewhat less

10% Significantly less 0

1-2

3-4

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>7

Fig. 17

When accessing information about my child(ren)’s education (grades, homework, communication, etc.), I would prefer to use a:

Laptop/Desktop

55%

Smartphone

35%

Tablet

10%

5%

15%

25%

30%

Fig. 18 Accessing information about my child(ren)’s education (grades, homework, communication, etc.) from a smartphone was: Very difficult 7% Somewhat difficult 21% Somewhat easy 33% Very easy 25% I didn’t try to access information 11% on a smartphone Information was not accessible on a smartphone 2%

Fig. 17 Disaggregated by school type Suburban

Rural

Urban

70%

50%

30%

10% Smartphone

Laptop/Desktop

Tablet

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internet. If apps, programs, and district websites are not easily accessible on mobile devices, the district risks excluding students.

Parent Solution: Streamlined Programming • “I would like them to rethink the whole school experience to be an optional on-site and mostly remote learning experience, like work. There’s an evident lack of a well thoughtout plan of how to improve remote learning. Think outside the box!” • “With more preparation, it could work well. If all of my kids’ assignments and grades could link up to one site, it would be great! Having one in middle school and one in elementary, they are wildly different. If I could access one place for both kids, it would help tremendously.” • “Use fewer apps. It is difficult to keep track of everything.” • “Many faculty are incapable of teaching online. Faculty also need more training about how to use an LMS and how to engage students with distance learning tools.”

X Problem: Confusion In around 12% of open-ended responses, parents called for more support: better communication with their child’s school, training in distance learning plans, and less hands-on work. We asked parents to evaluate the frequency of communication from three separate groups: their children’s teachers; building-level school leaders like principals or other school administrators; and their district—the superintendent or other district administrators (see Figure 19). Each question prompted participants to indicate a range of responses from “far too frequent” to “not frequent enough.” Surprisingly, parents indicated similar responses across all three questions: in each question, around 60% marked that communication was the right frequency. Otherwise, responses generally skewed towards “infrequent,” with between 27-30% of respondents indicating that communication was either “very infrequent” or “somewhat infrequent”

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across each question. Suburban parents were more likely to indicate that communication with their district was not frequent enough or far too infrequent. Still, a little more than an average of 10% of respondents were overwhelmed by communication.

Parent Solution: Communication and Support • “Although our district has a ‘home portal’ where parents can see their children’s assignments and grades, teachers weren’t keeping them up-to-date, and I couldn’t keep track of my child’s assignments. There were times a teacher would update after weeks of no communication, and I would suddenly realize my student was far behind. It would be so helpful if there were a daily update on student work.” • “There needs to be more efficient communication. I received so many emails and calls every day, and it was often hard to organize the information. I felt overwhelmed a lot of the time. I think fewer emails, combining information, would be better. Also, I received multiples of the same email day after day. Once a week should be sufficient.” • “Be mindful that most families have multiple students. So sending emails—especially to parents of high school students—is highly confusing not knowing which of my students the information is directed at. Also, highly overwhelming to get multiple emails per week from more than 20 teachers.” • “There needs to be more detailed instructions for parents to monitor and understand assignments and due dates.” • “I think teachers need more training on this style of teaching, and parents need more resources to be able to help our children.”

X Problem: Too Much Busy Work Student workload and learning expectations were divisive issues, highlighting inequities in the system. We asked parents to complete the following question with responses ranging from “far too small” to “far too large”: “During distance learning, my child(ren)’s academic workload (coursework, homework, lessons, etc.) was…” (see Figure 20).


Fig. 19

During distance learning, communication from my child(ren)â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s teachers was:

Communication from the school district (superintendent or other district administrators) was:

Communication from building-level school leaders (principals or other school administrators) was:

70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10%

Far too frequent

Too frequent

The right frequency

Not frequent enough

Far too infrequent

18%

5%

Fig. 20

During distance learning, my child(ren)â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s academic workload (coursework, homework, lessons, etc.) was:

9%

24%

44%

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Far too large

Too small

The right amount

Far too small

Fig. 20 Disaggregated by income 50% 40% 30% 20% 10%

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Only 44% of respondents said they thought the academic workload was the right amount, with 33% saying there was too much work and 23% saying there was not enough. However, when we disaggregated the data, we found that the concern about a light student course load goes up by income level. Parents with an annual income of more than $50,000 were more likely to indicate that the course load was “too small” or “far too small.” In short, wealthier parents could afford to have higher expectations for their students’ academic growth during the crisis. In the open response portion of the survey, 7% of parents indicated that expectations were set too low for their students. “I felt a lot of the distance learning assignments were busy work‚ and kids didn’t take it seriously,” wrote one respondent. Another indicated, “I don’t feel like my child was challenged at all.” On the other hand, around 5% of parents asked for more flexibility around workload and grading. “Be considerate of the workload given to students that don’t have access to technology,” wrote one parent. “There should be less of a workload,” advised another. While many parents indicated that workload was too high, the work provided was often described as “busy work”—students weren’t supported or engaged in learning. So it seems that teachers’ expectations in terms of quality were indeed too low—even if the workload was too high. What’s more, what is deemed as the “right” workload seems to be dependent on students’ circumstances at home. While some students weren’t challenged by the work, others struggled to keep up while babysitting siblings or driving to reach a WiFi signal.

• “I would say that kids are not getting anywhere near the same level of education at home that they would at school. Most assignments since March were just practicing what was already learned earlier in the year, and not new material. Most parents are working and may have more than one child at home. Especially with younger children that need guidance, parents I know do not have the time to spend teaching (if working).” • “Some teachers gave an ample amount of work that wasn’t necessary. However, they did manage to do a good job on upgrading grades constantly.”

Supporting School Leaders While this survey focuses on ways for school leaders to improve, we wouldn’t be telling the full story without acknowledging the outpouring of support in parents’ open responses. A few parents even gave shoutouts to particular districts, congratulating leaders on a great response. (We’re looking at you, Robertson County School System and Anne Arundel County Public Schools.) In general, words of thanks and encouragement abounded. • “I would like school administrators to know that we appreciate the effort they’ve put into making this transition as easy as possible.” • “You guys hit the ground running and did a fantastic job of teaching my children from a distance.”

Parent Solution: Raise Expectations • “Some families have more than one child to help. Teachers’ demands and constant emails and calls were cumbersome as we had more than one child distance learning, and I was working 40-45 hours a week as essential personnel.”

• “Thank you for rising to the challenge of implementing distance learning curriculum so rapidly.” • “Thank you for all you did to quickly adapt to the situation and keep the kids on track!” • “God bless them—I don’t know how they do it.”

• “The workload was far too much, and they didn’t learn as much as they could have.”

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How to Host Online Meetings (That Arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t the Worst) Experts weigh in on the best strategies for hosting online meetings and webinars.


Community meetings: one more aspect of your life moved online by COVID-19. Whether you’re updating your community about your coronavirus precautions, providing information about a bond campaign, or getting feedback from parents, you have to figure out how to do so over the internet. So with the help of a few experts, we’d like to offer a quick overview on online meetings: everything from choosing the right format to engaging your audience to using a webcam (or not). Here are our best tips for a successful virtual meeting.

Getting started Let your function determine your format. As you begin planning for your online meetings, consider what you want them to accomplish. You’ve probably already had small, informal meetings over Zoom—giving updates to your staff or brainstorming with your district principals—but that casual, back-and-forth format won’t work for a largescale community meeting. A traditional Zoom meeting will be too chaotic for a town hall open to your entire community. “With a larger group, anything more than 15 to 20 people, you probably want to think along the lines of a formal webinar event, where the host has control over pretty much everything,” says Dave Clark, a webinar expert, producer, and founder of Clark Webinar Consulting. “Any interaction is screened in advance, and it’s through typed Q&A. That way you’re not giving that control to the audience where it becomes a free-for-all.” Pick the right platform for your purpose. If you’re holding a true community-wide meeting, you’ll want to look beyond Zoom’s traditional web call platform. For an added cost, Zoom does offer a webinar platform, but other paid options exist as well—GoTo Webinar, WebEx, and Demio, just to name a few. You could also go the social media route for free, using Facebook Live or YouTube Live to live stream your event.

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“Not every business or school district actually has the opportunity to choose a platform, because sometimes the platform is chosen for them,” says Corena Bahr, the webinar consultant and trainer at the heart of Corena Bahr Consulting. “But if you are in a position to choose, don’t let the bells and whistles distract you. Figure out your need-to-haves and your like-to-haves, and go from there.” For example, do you want questions for Q&A to be routed into a private chat box and vetted before sharing with your audience? If so, best to choose a true webinar platform over Facebook or YouTube. But Bahr is also careful to point out that features shouldn’t be your only concern. “Look and make sure what the support side is like,” she says. “That’s a piece that sometimes people don’t check out. Do they have video tutorials and training? How easy is it to find the support phone number? If it’s hidden and you’re in a crunch, that’s not going to feel good.”

Getting comfortable Understand what’s different about virtual meetings. As a school leader, you’re more than used to giving public presentations. Is a webinar really that different? Well… yes and no. “The big difference lies in the online environment versus the in-person environment,” Clark explains. “During an in-person presentation where everyone is in the same room together, you can obviously see your audience. You can pretty much tell whether you’re engaging with them or not; you can see how people are reacting, their facial expressions, their body language.” This, of course, influences the way you present. “If it feels like you’re not engaging with them, you can change your style or your delivery, make adjustments on the fly.” “But during a webinar, you can’t see the audience,” he says. “You don’t know who’s paying attention to you and who’s not, or whether you’re engaging with your audience or not. That’s a big challenge for first-time webinar presenters. They’re not getting any of that nonverbal feedback from the audience.” Naturally, this disconnect from the audience leaves a lot of first-time presenters feeling uncomfortable. When she presents, Bahr bridges that gap by reminding herself of the real people behind the screen. “I typically will look at the


audience list to get in my head that I’m talking to real people, with names,” she tells us. She also makes small talk with her audience beforehand, just as you might before an in-person event. “I might do an initial icebreaker to find out where they’re from, or where they went on their last vacation,” she says. “I address people by name—that’s another way I’m building connection. I can’t see them, but I can start to imagine.” Practice, practice, practice. There’s also the technical aspect of a virtual meeting—and for many of us, that’s the most intimidating part. The key to getting comfortable with it? “It’s just practice,” says Daniel Waas, a speaker, consultant, and webinar expert. “When you first had to speak on stage, it was awkward. You didn’t feel good about it. Then you did it again and again and again, and now it feels easy. It’s the same thing with being on camera in a virtual meeting; the more you do it, the easier it gets.” In the case of a virtual meeting, that practice means rehearsing not just your content, but the technology that goes along with it. “As a webinar producer, I always insist on a technical and logistical dry run,” says Clark. “That’s not really a rehearsal of content; it’s just a way to get the presenters comfortable with how everything will work on the day of the webinar, how to use the technology, how to mute and unmute, how to move your slides. You don’t want to find out about any issues 30 minutes before a webinar.” Bahr adds that these dry runs should always take place in the same location you’ll be presenting the meeting. “If you’re doing a dry run from your home but presenting from your office, the bandwidth could be totally different,” she says—potentially leading to technical difficulties and connectivity issues for your participants. These rehearsals won’t only improve the quality of your presentations; they’ll also make you feel more at ease. “The more you practice,” says Clark, “the more confident you’re going to feel, and that’s going to come across to the audience.”

In most virtual meetings, you’ll want to keep your audience muted, taking typed-out questions through a question-and-answer tool. If you’re running the meeting by yourself, you might find it difficult to stay focused on your presentation as questions trickle in—not to mention sifting through those questions when it’s time for Q&A. “You’re not going to have a very engaging Q&A session if you’re trying to facilitate your own questions and answers,” says Clark. “It’s very clumsy, very awkward.” That’s where a moderator comes in. “As the questions are coming in during the webinar, the moderator vets them and cues them up,” Clark explains. “Then when it’s time for the Q&A session, they verbally relay those questions to the presenter.” This keeps you, the presenter, from getting flustered by questions you weren’t prepared for—and keeps the audience’s attention. “It’s very much an interview-style format,” says Clark, “and that’s very engaging for the audience.” Moderators can also help troubleshoot technical problems behind the scenes. “There is virtually no event that’s without tech issues,” says Waas. “Someone will have a poor internet connection, someone will not be able to get their audio going because this is their first time using whatever tool. It’s usually a really small percentage of the audience—but they’re the most vocal.” If someone’s blowing up your chat with tech issues while you’re trying to present, you’ll inevitably get distracted. “That’s why it’s helpful to have someone on the side,” Waas says—someone who can help those with problems while you stay focused on the meeting itself. Who should moderate, you ask? “Many of the tools have paid moderators you can get, although I don’t think that’s strictly necessary,” says Waas. “Pretty much anyone in your organization that you work well with makes a decent moderator, if they’re comfortable with actually getting on the webinar. Most people in a school setting, whether it’s the teachers or administrators, are used getting in front of a crowd and speaking—so I would wager a bunch of people in the organization would be ready to help you out.”

Have backup. There’s another way to alleviate your anxiety about technology, says Waas: “Put that anxiety on someone else.” While you can run a virtual meeting alone, most experts recommend having help from a moderator.

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Keeping your audience engaged Look, you’re a public speaker. You know how hard it can be to keep an audience’s attention. Well, we’ve got a bit of bad news for you—it’s even harder from behind a screen. For one, “it’s much easier to check out,” Waas says. “Distractions are more readily available. There’s also no scrutiny. If you’re in a room with someone, it’s not really friendly to be looking at your phone. But in an online meeting, who will ever know?” The good news is that the tips and tricks we’ll share here are probably already familiar to you. Keeping people engaged over the web isn’t that different from doing so in person; it just takes a bit more planning. Provide value. Let’s start by thinking about why you’re having an online meeting. Maybe you’re informing your parents about your ongoing learning plans related to COVID-19. Maybe you’re laying the groundwork for a bond campaign, or sharing blueprints for a new school facility. Whatever the case may be, “you want to make sure that your presentation is providing something of value to the audience,” says Clark. If you don’t, you won’t keep their attention for long. “And provide that value early,” he continues. “A lot of presenters make the mistake of starting the webinar with 15 minutes of background information. Audiences just don’t care about all that. They showed up because they wanted to get the value that they were promised, and they want that value as soon as possible. Don’t make them wait for it.” Luckily, in a school setting, it’s fairly easy to provide your audience with value. After all, you’re closely connected with one of the most valuable parts of their lives: their children. As you work through your presentation, make sure that at every turn, you’re tying your content back to their kids—how you’re working to keep them healthy, to give them better facilities, or to improve their education in other ways. Remember, it’s not actually about you or your schools; it’s about the kids. That’s how you provide value to parents and community members.

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Keep it conversational. “I often see people script out everything they’re going to say,” says Clark. “But one of the least engaging ways you can communicate with people, whether it’s online or not, is by reading to them from a script. It’s extremely tedious. Audiences don’t need to be read to. They want a conversation.” Of course, it’s that much more difficult to keep a conversational tone when you can’t see your audience—but the same rules apply here as they would in person. “Develop an outline with topics and subtopics,” Clark says. “That way, you’ll be able to stay on track and you won’t forget anything; at the same time, you can deliver that content in a way that is conversational.” Don’t be afraid to use the same tricks you would in a live presentation: rhetorical questions, jokes, you name it. Remember: “You’re the expert here—that’s why you’re conducting a webinar,” says Clark. “You don’t need to script out your material. You probably have conversations about this every single day with your colleagues, and that’s what your audience is expecting: a conversation.” Make it participatory. At an in-person event, it can feel natural to introduce audience participation into your presentation. You might take an informal poll with a show of hands, split your audience into breakout groups for smaller conversations, or have a planned activity for people to work on. Online, it might be easier to simply present your material—but that’s not actually the way to go. “Presenting and not leaving any room for interactivity—that’s the single biggest mistake,” says Waas. “That’s what makes people zone out and do something else. The number-one encouragement I would have is to pre-plan for interaction and really think about how you can involve the audience in the event.” Of course, there are right and wrong ways to go about this. You wouldn’t unmute 50 mics and attempt to have one coherent conversation, anymore than you’d let 50 people at once shout their comments in an auditorium. But with some controlled participation, you can still help your audience feel like they’re part of the action.


“A lot of people put Q&A at the end; I think that’s a mistake,” Waas says. “You should make it conversational if you can— encourage people to ask questions all throughout.” He suggests talking with your moderator beforehand about what kinds of questions you want to answer as they come up; that person can then let those through as they arise. “It doesn’t mean you have to answer every question that comes in, but you can pick and choose the questions that fit your agenda and answer them right then and there,” he says. “As people see that questions are being answered, they ask more questions”—leaving you plenty of material for further Q&A at the end of the presentation. “Another way you can make a webinar engaging is through live, real-time interactive polling,” Clark adds. Most webinar platforms have polling functionality, allowing you to take the pulse of the audience. “It takes a break from the PowerPoint slides and gives them a chance to interact with their screens—it keeps people paying attention, because it requires them to do something.” If you do choose to use a poll, don’t forget our number-one rule of virtual presentations: provide value. “A lot of people come up with poll questions that are completely self-serving,” Clark warns. “But it has to benefit the audience in some way. If all you’re doing is asking them questions that will serve you in some way, they’re getting nothing out of it, and they’re going to think, Why am I having my time wasted? A webinar poll has to add value.” Rather than using a poll to collect demographic data, ask about parents’ and students’ experiences and opinions. And don’t forget to show the results! If your audience can’t see the outcome of your poll, it loses its value for them.

Many tools will even allow you to split your audience into virtual breakout groups. Here, your audience members can be unmuted and have an actual conversation with one another. “In those small groups, it’s much easier to have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into chaos, because you can manage it,” says Waas. If one person is dominating the conversation, they’re isolated to one group—not the entire meeting. “Yes, that one group might devolve into chaos, but at least you still have good conversations going on across the board,” he says.

“If you’re a successful speaker on stage, you have everything it takes to be successful online. You have nothing to worry about.”

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The question of video The experts we talked to were somewhat split on whether or not your virtual meeting should use webcam video. Some believed it was a risk not worth taking, while others thought it was a critical part of a successful presentation. Here are some pros and cons for using video, as told by our experts. Con: Video makes things more difficult for the presenter. “It’s really hard for a presenter to pull off a video webinar in a way that doesn’t look awkward,” says Clark. “It’s hard to get used to, because you really have to maintain focus on your camera pretty much at all times.” Of course, in a virtual environment, the audience can’t see anyone but you, the presenter—so they feel like you’re talking directly to them. “The moment you look away from your camera,” he says, “it looks awkward to them, and it’s disengaging.” But, naturally, “if you’re a webinar presenter giving a presentation with slides, there are a lot of reasons you’ll need to look away from your camera: looking down at your keyboard to advance your slides or looking at your notes,” Clark adds. “During an in-person presentation, you have the luxury of looking around the room, looking down at your notes, and maybe walking around a little, and that all looks perfectly natural to an in-person audience. But during a webinar, that’s not the case. You really have to maintain that focus on your camera to be engaging.” Con: Video creates a higher risk of technical issues. “The other risk is from a technical standpoint: the fact is that video uses up a lot of bandwidth,” Clark continues. “It’s hard enough to get good audio during a webinar because of the equipment that people are using, bad internet connections, and other factors. When you add video to it, you’re potentially 32

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compromising the audio quality even more.” And at the end of the day, audio is the heart of your presentation; they need to hear what you’re saying more than they need to see your face. “Audiences want good audio,” says Clark. “They’ll take good audio over video any day.” Pro: Your audience is probably expecting video. Bahr, on the other hand, believes that video presents more reward than risk. “These days, more and more people are responding to webcam,” she tells us. In her work as a webinar consultant, she receives “a lot of feedback that attendees do like to see the presenters.” Plus, over the past few years, your audience has likely come to expect video. In their latest Webinar Benchmarks Report, webinar platform ON24 reported that 38% of all webinars integrate video in some way—up 16% from just two years ago. It might be time for you to join the growing trend. Pro: Video helps build critical connections with your audience. Waas also believes video is borderline necessary for a successful presentation. “That makes such a huge difference,” he says. “People still shy away from it, and worry about whether they’ll look professional. But I think the reality is that people enjoy it if the other side is on video.” Afraid that you’ll embarrass yourself on video? Waas says not to worry too much. “People appreciate the presenter being authentic and real and themselves,” he says. “That might help you in fostering connection with the community and with the parents, just because they see you as a person more than as the School CEO up onstage.” Video tips At the end of the day, the question of video really is up to you. But if you do decide to go the webcam route, you need to consider two crucial details: background and lighting. “If you’re going to use video, consider your background,” says Clark. “Make sure it’s professional, and try to declutter whatever is behind you. It’s not very exciting, but that’s kind of the whole point. You want people paying attention to you, not your background. If it’s too busy, you’re going to distract people in your audience—even though you’re adding video to make it more engaging.”


“The other important thing to consider is your lighting,” he adds. “Without good lighting, you’re going to be in shadow. If you sit in front of a brightly lit window, you’re going to be in silhouette. You don’t really want any lighting behind you—you want all the lighting in front of you, and you want to make sure it’s as bright as possible.” And, of course, if you want to be comfortable presenting to your webcam, practice. “Get as good as you can at focusing on that camera, and get used to what you have to do during the webinar,” says Clark. “Do you need to advance your slides? If so, get used to having your hand positioned on the key you need to tap. Do you need to pay attention to what’s happening in a private chat box? Get used to where that is on the screen so that you can find it really quickly. The more you practice, the more you’ll get used to your camera.”

For more tips on video, check out schoolceo.com/video

Troubleshooting Still got a few burning questions? Luckily, we’ve left some time at the end for Q&A. (That was a webinar joke.) What if no one asks questions? Prepare for the possibility that the audience won’t have questions. “You don’t want to end the webinar early,” Clark says. “I always advise presenters to think of some seed questions beforehand. Come up with your most-hoped-for questions. Then, if you have to, just use these seed questions that you prepare in advance. The audience will never know.” What if people don’t show up? Of course, do your best on the front end to make sure your meeting’s time and setup work for the general demographic you’re trying to reach. “Just think about who your audience is and what’s typical,” Bahr suggests. “If you know what the timing is typically for your in-person town halls, that’s probably a good place to start.”

get a recording,” Bahr explains. “But with an online meeting, they will probably assume there will be a recording they can watch at their own pace.” The takeaway: be sure to record your meetings and send them to all your registrants. Those who couldn’t make live times are likely to follow up. My meeting deals with a controversial topic. How can I make audience members with grievances feel heard? You almost never want a virtual meeting to become an unmuted free-for-all, especially if you’re dealing with an unpopular or divisive issue. But there are ways to address your audience’s concerns without handing over the mic—and control of your meeting—to negative voices. For one, you’ll probably want to forego live Q&A. “Ask people to submit their questions beforehand,” says Waas. While you’re at it, give your audience the opportunity to offer critique: “have a pre-survey before the event and ask what’s going well and what’s not.” You could even take your prepared Q&A one step further by inviting a concerned community member to interview you on the virtual stage. “Set up a pre-call with them to prepare your talking points,” Waas advises. “If they’ve already talked to you beforehand, it’s harder for them to be mad at you onstage.” Of course, this strategy won’t work with a troll, but if your critic is acting in good faith, it could bring genuine transparency and interactivity to your event. Can I really do this? Definitely. As you might have noticed, holding a virtual meeting requires many of the same skills as an in-person one: good preparation, relevant content, and engaging delivery. Add in a few technical wrinkles—many of which will be handled by your moderator—and you already know what to do. In conclusion, “if you’re a successful speaker on stage, you have everything it takes to be successful online,” says Waas. “You have nothing to worry about.”

But the reality is that statistically, only about 46% of the people who register for your virtual meeting will actually tune in. “If something’s happening in person, people assume they have to go, because there’s not an easy way to follow up or SUMMER 2020

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Superintendent Q&A:

School Culture and COVID

Dr. Martin Bates, Superintendent of Granite School District, UT

This year has been a whirlwind of epic proportions. You’ve had endless meetings on crisis communications, fielded phone calls from confused and scared parents, and become an amateur virologist—all while moving your schools online for who knows how long. It has no doubt been stressful and sometimes exhausting. That said, many school leaders we’ve talked to have seen silver linings throughout this unexpected ordeal. For Utah’s Granite School District, the transition has been a vital learning experience—in terms of meeting student needs and maintaining a strong school culture. Granite is the third-largest school district in Utah with around 67,000 students in 90 schools. Since 2010, the district has been led by Dr. Martin Bates, whose focus on high standards and knack for connecting with his community earned him the title of Utah’s 2016-2017 Superintendent of the Year. We caught up with Dr. Bates to find out what he’s learned through this experience and how he’s maintaining a strong culture of connection as we all prepare for an uncertain return to school this fall.

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Can you tell us about the culture in Granite? Some years ago, we adopted what we call The Granite Way. We teach the curriculum in instructionally sound ways, measure kids and involve them in their own learning, and have systems in place to catch kids who are falling. That’s just the way we do our business. And over eight or nine years, we’ve really been able to build that culture. We’ve worked to incorporate that into all of our conversations. I’ve heard that some of the schools have betting pools on how many times the term Granite Way will be used in a faculty meeting.

The Granite Way • • • • •

Fidelity to the core Use of instructional framework Use of instructional and assessment tools Professional learning communities Multi-tiered systems of support

I also make sure to personally interview all applicants for administrative positions—upwards of 90 people who are competing for what may turn into only eight or so positions. And that’s just because, again, I think school leadership is the most important part of all this. Photo courtesy of Granite School District.

I also make it clear to my administrators that they represent me in the schools, and that helps. They feel that weight on their shoulders; they are an extension of me. And that’s not because I’ve got a big head, but because that’s how you keep everybody together on the same page, moving in the same direction. I work hard to help people see where they fit—not what their job is, but what their role is—and then empower them to do that.

How do you establish culture in the district? I really think the superintendency, as a position, has changed over the last decade. I’ve got to establish the culture, and I can’t do that by memo—at least not the culture I want. I want to establish a culture of engagement, of communication, of back-and-forth. To do that, I’ve got to make myself available. Specifically, we’ll do Walk-In Wednesdays. When we started doing those a decade ago—on the first Wednesday of every month—we’d have a line of people. Nowadays, nobody comes. People will frequently call to ask if I’m still doing it, but they don’t sign up. It hasn’t been a packed house in several years, but knowing it’s available is enough for many of them. It speaks to a culture I’m trying to model for my principals, who are modeling for their teachers. Most parents don’t have teaching licenses or administrative licenses, but they all know their kids and their communities better than we ever will. So it’s really a partnership. We bring pedagogical expertise to the table, and they bring knowledge of their children and community. We’re not in charge. We don’t have the corner on this market. We’ve got to work together on these things. To have that kind of expectation, I’ve got to model things the way I do. We also hire 300-400 new teachers every year, and at the beginning of the year, they all get together and I spend an hour with them. I tell them a folksy story, and I introduce them to the Granite Way—This is our mission, our direction, and where we are going. They get that from me firsthand. I really meet with every teacher and lay down what I expect. Every year we also have an administrative kickoff where I spend an hour in front of all of our 180 administrators. We talk about where we’ve been and our focus for the coming year. And they’ve finally figured out that my mid-year evaluation


questions are typically based on what I talk about the first week of August, so they pay more attention now. Because this really is the direction that we’re going. We mean this. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you work out the logistics, but I also spend an hour with every one of our principals in their offices, going over their data. We send out ahead of time what questions I’ll ask, and then I go in and spend time with them on their turf. Usually, we spend 30 minutes or so talking about different things—it’s not just a look-at-the-charts kind of talk. I get to know them personally a little bit. And then, in the last 20 minutes or so, I say, Who deserves or needs a pat on the back? They pick a few teachers, and we step into their classrooms so I can whisper into the teacher’s ear that their principal says they’re doing a fantastic job. I tell them two or three specific things, and then they just glow. Some of them even cry. That’s a way I try to establish our culture.

How do you build support for teachers in your district? I talk about them as experts—the very things I’ve said to you, I say in these town hall meetings. For each of our eight high schools, I’ll go spend an hour without an agenda and take questions. When we’re talking about teachers and collaboration, that’s the way I talk about it. I say, Your teachers really are the pedagogical experts in the equation—but it is an equation. You guys are the experts in your children and community. When we add those two things together, we have the best outcome for your kids. But then I really need principals to talk with their teachers that way, and I need teachers to step up and actually act the part. I share pointed examples with people from time to time, because angry parents will send me things teachers have sent them. And I’ll say, This can’t be the way we portray ourselves. When you send something out to parents with spelling or grammar errors, you can’t call yourself a pedagogical expert; you’ve just lost credibility. You’ve got to live it, you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to be it. Then, you’ll get the respect that you deserve.

What’s your role as a leader, especially during a crisis like COVID-19? You’ve got to be upbeat. You’ve got to be optimistic. This too shall pass, you know. It’s my observation that you can walk into a school and know what kind of leaders they have just based on the feel and the ambiance of their schools— whether this is a positive, constructive, happy kind of place or an oh my gosh, we’re dragging kind of place. It’s all about leadership; it’s all about the attitude and culture that flows right out of the leader. I see that in schools, and I try to do that same kind of thing at the district level. I try to communicate a lot, too. And I try to be positive and fun and have a can-do attitude. We’re the professionals, we know how to do this, but also we can rely on one another and have each other’s backs.

You’ve built a great reputation with in-person interactions—how have you maintained that through remote learning? One of the problems about making yourself accessible is that people access you. I get lots of emails and communications from lots of people that I try to respond to myself, but I farm some things out to my staff when I need to. We’ve also been utilizing more of our social media platforms and trying to be a lot more responsive in those places. We’ve beefed up a lot of those avenues as well to try to have that two-way communication that we don’t get in the more traditional platforms. Our communications director, Ben Horsley, does all of that work. He’s a wizard with that. If there’s a message to superintendents, it’s this: get somebody confident, someone you trust, to run communications. I don’t have to look over his shoulder and worry about him. He’ll ask me from time to time what I think about this or that, but mostly we’re on the same page. I trust him. That kind of help is such a benefit for a superintendent.

Can you describe the experience of scaling a school system online? Utah’s really lucky—the state funds an internet infrastructure, so all of our schools have had a lot of connectivity for years. Right now we’ve got more devices than we have students. We sent Chromebooks home, but more than 60% of our kids qualify for free lunch, so there were concerns about


connectivity and equity. So we sent buses that were mobile hotspots out to different neighborhoods. We really worked to give all of our kids access. During those last two months of school, almost all kids engaged online at some point. I’ve argued with our legislature for years—they’ve said, We just need to buy the right computer programs, and that will resolve any class size or teacher shortage issues. Now, I don’t think we’re going to hear those voices for a long time, because parents and families have found out that 100% online learning is not the most effective tool for the vast majority of kids. I know there are some—we’ve had a distance education department for several years that gets utilized quite heavily—but very few want to be 100% online. Online learning is a great supplemental tool and a great communication tool, but kids learn best in a classroom with peers and an engaging teacher guiding them. I anticipate that we’ll be back in the fall, but I bet 15-25% of families won’t send their kids back yet. We’re talking through different models depending on different possible situations.

How do you advise your teachers on maximizing time with students online? I don’t think that conversation is any different in a compressed, COVID environment than it would be in a regular one. Another lesson we’ve learned is that when people are focusing on the standards and objectives, it’s freeing. They find all kinds of time because they aren’t doing the extraneous things. The counterpoint is that teachers may say: Then we don’t get to do our beloved activities. And I appreciate that. But, let’s say November is coming up and we want to do all these Thanksgiving activities that we’ve always done—that’s the wrong way to think about this. The right way to think about it is: what standards and objectives do we want to teach in November? Now, having identified those standards and objectives, how can we use Thanksgiving activities to teach those objectives? We do the same beloved activities we’ve always done, but they’re just much more targeted. We’ve got to start with the standards and then overlay activities based on those. You start getting flexibility and time and freedom because you’re focusing on what we’re here to do, rather than just filling the time.

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Granite staff led teacher parades to safely visit student neighborhoods during the pandemic.


How are you preparing for school’s return in the fall? We fully anticipate both in-person and distance instruction for all students. Whether we have a staggered schedule to increase social distancing or a full-time schedule with other restrictions in place, we are hopeful for as much in-person instruction as possible. Many of our kids live in poverty, and it’s important for them to eat at school, because when they don’t eat there, they sometimes don’t eat at all. So maybe that means alternating morning and afternoon schedules, with an overlap at lunchtime so everybody can get a meal as well as class time. But that starts to play into our state’s required number of hours and days. There have been waivers for this year, so we’d need those for the next school year, too. We’ve got to think that through and see how it works, but I’m confident the state will work with us. What will make some of this interesting is Granite School District being so large. We have seven municipalities and an unincorporated county, so we work with eight different governmental entities. We’ve got eight schools—high schools and their feeders —and six of them are in what Utah calls the Yellow Phase, which means they are low-risk, and the other two are in the Orange Phase, meaning they’re at moderate-risk. So, what happens there? We are in the midst of a formal survey of our parents on a variety of options that we are considering for this fall and hope to publicize some firm plans in the next few weeks. We’re going to have fun with this—we can do it.

Granite still finds ways to support and uplift their teachers, even when schools are closed.

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We want to say thank you to the countless school leaders facing the challenges of this unprecedented crisis. Your leadership—and your hope—have kept communities strong in the most trying of times.

From our team to yours—thank you.


Leadership Matters:

Superintendents’ Response to COVID-19 Guest researcher and former superintendent Don E. Lifto, Ph.D., shares a snapshot of Minnesota superintendents’ leadership through the first months of the COVID-19 crisis.

By now, you’re probably experiencing a good amount of COVID-19 information fatigue. You are intimately familiar with the pros and cons of Zoom, you have a working knowledge of a school bus’s Wi-Fi bandwidth, and you’ve revised—then re-revised—your district’s emergency management plans more times than you can count. But while the adrenaline rush of the first few weeks of the pandemic may have faded, there are still lessons to be gleaned from leaders’ initial responses. In Minnesota, the timeline for school closures matched that of most of the country. In the first week of March, Minnesota news outlets shared a video clip of a tightly packed crowd reveling in former Vice President Joe Biden’s North Carolina primary victory with no mention of social distancing. However, just a little over two weeks later, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz shuttered the state’s public schools for a few weeks—then indefinitely.

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To get a clear picture of how Minnesota superintendents were managing the crisis early in May of 2020, Baker Tilly Inc. engaged 78 of the state’s school leaders in a short, online survey. Questions explored the leadership challenges school leaders faced as well as the strategies they executed in order to keep their communities safe. Those who respondended represented a range from the smallest to the largest districts in the state, and the majority carried over six years of leadership experience. In this article, we will highlight selected observations, insights, and lessons learned by superintendents managing the pandemic. Based on the timing of the survey, perspectives from these leaders in the trenches came after about six to eight weeks on crisis duty. We sought to create a snapshot of their situations, gauging their levels of preparedness as well as their successes, concerns, and expectations for the future of education.


Were districts prepared for a crisis of this magnitude? Looking at crisis management historically, successful leaders are defined by a common set of traits: flexibility in policy and plans, creativity, and a willingness to make tough choices. “Advanced planning is important, while also understanding that there will have to be an element of flexibility, improvising in the event of an actual unfolding crisis,” Dr. James Kendra, Director of the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center, shared in an interview with SchoolCEO. We wanted to know the factors that led Minnesota superintendents to success, as well as the degree to which these school leaders felt equipped to manage the crisis. Based on your experience to date, how would you evaluate your district’s level of preparedness and ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on your operations?

Highly prepared

20%

Moderately prepared 52% Minimally prepared

26%

Not at all prepared

2%

*Due to rounding, percentages may not always appear to add up to 100%.

Only about 20% of superintendents indicated that they were “highly prepared,” with just over half of school leaders indicating that they felt “moderately prepared.” For those superintendents who were most positive about their district's level of preparedness, some common themes emerged as to why: 1-to-1 devices, teachers' experience with technology, a synchronized learning management system (LMS), and some sort of technology infrastructure. Here is a sample of the feedback from survey respondents*: “Teachers have been using the same tools in classrooms for several years, and the transition was simple.” “We are a 1-to-1 [student-to-device] school. We have a number of staff in place to help us with our processes and policy adherence." “We have been building digital course content over the last three and a half years, and all of our courses are facilitated through our learning management system.”

Not surprisingly, superintendents who ranked their districts’ preparedness in the “not at all” or “minimally prepared” categories lamented some of the same factors mentioned above as relative weaknesses: “We are not a 1-to-1 district, which created chaos and inequities.” “There was a lack of technology and the training to use it by both staff and students.” “Courses were not designed to be provided via distance learning. We did not have digital devices for all students or hotspots for those families in need.” In addition to technology-specific readiness, more than one superintendent referenced their district’s master emergency plan. Some plans were viewed as essential and helpful; others lacked pandemic-specific action steps, focusing more on lockdowns and security threats as opposed to shuttered schools. Looking at the national response, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA)’s “Report of Initial Findings: COVID Impact on Public Schools” indicated in mid-March that only 79% of the 1,600 districts they surveyed had plans in place to respond to the pandemic. Based on your experience to date, how would you evaluate your district’s level of preparedness ability Based on your experience to date, howand would you to transition to distance learning for delivery of instrucevaluate your district’s level of preparedness and tion? ability to transition to distance learning for delivery of instruction?

Highly prepared

26%

Moderately prepared 51% Minimally prepared

21%

Not at all prepared

3%

Following the same storyline, the pivot from traditional to distance learning was overwhelming for some and relatively easy for others depending on several key variables: district-wide use of both an LMS and a data analytics dashboard tool (like those from Forecast5 Analytics); students' experience with 1-to-1 devices; highly trained teachers; and development of high-quality online curricula. Districts that *Open-ended responses have been edited for grammar and clarity. SUMMER 2020

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had these systems solidly in place were able to pivot adroitly. Unfortunately, districts that lacked these resources tended to stumble right out of the gate. For those superintendents who were most positive about the transition to distance learning, technology was again a major factor:

Did the abrupt closure of schools and transition to

Did the abrupt closure of schools and transition to distance learning require significant changes distance learning require significant changes in in existing policies? existing policies?

Yes, needed to adopt Yes, needed to make

“We’ve been a 1-to-1 school for many years, so teachers and students were already comfortable with software and hardware.” “We have been working toward upgrading technologies for the last five years. This event finally moved the negative individuals in a positive direction.” Districts without these systems in place reflected on very different and challenging leadership realities: “We have over 1,000 students without internet services.” “The biggest problem has been connecting with parents who have the biggest struggles in their lives. And this hits a large share of our students of color.” “Our high school was highly prepared. Our upper elementary was moderately prepared. Our lower elementary was minimally prepared.” These reflections reinforce the need to level the playing field so all school districts have the needed resources, systems, and training to provide high-quality distance learning to all students. Again, from the national perspective reported by AASA, 81% of school leaders identified lack of internet access at home as the greatest barrier to delivery of distance learning for students. Additionally, only 24% of school leaders believed that most of their instructional staff were equipped to deliver online learning at the time, pointing to a significant need for additional training.

No policy changes

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65%

With all of the changes in structure and operations, we wondered how extensively superintendents needed to or were able to adjust district policy—especially in such a short period of time. While 65% of districts indicated that they didn't make changes or adopt new policy, superintendents’ open responses show that most districts at least offered flexibility. What's more, many of those who didn’t implement changes in the spring planned to do so in the fall. Districts who have recently implemented policy changes have done so widely, addressing grading, sick leave, and privacy: “We made some unofficial policy adjustments to grading, employee sick leave, and communication with families.” “Confidentiality, parent involvement, etc., all went out the window.” Many districts who didn’t make formal changes indicated that they added flexibility to current policies or planned to do so in the upcoming school year: “We did what was right, without worrying about policy changes.”

“We will be modifying a couple of policies in the next year.”

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significant policy changes

“We changed existing plans and created new standard operating procedures moreso than made policy changes.”

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15%

formal policies

2


What challenges arose in managing remote instruction? As districts across the country adjusted to distance learning, we wondered how the superintendency worked as a remote Please rank the following from most challenging (1) to position. Were superintendents able to connect with their least challenging (4) as your school district employees effectively? What stood out astransithe most significant challenges? What advice did superintendents have as tioned to distance learning. to what worked most effectively?

Technology infrastructure and equiptment

Please rank the following from most challenging (1) to Platform or systems to least challenging (4)manage as yourdistance district learning transitioned to distance learning. Training and preparedness of teachers

“How would you evaluate the leadership How effectively have able to manage faculty and management ofyou the been COVID-19 andresponse staff with schools closed and communication from the state government to limited to Zoom or other remote platforms? Good Excellent Fair Poor 10%

30%

50%

As teachers adjusted to remote learning, we wanted to know how leaders were adjusting to online management. To our Knowledge or experience of students using online technology surprise, around 88% of school leaders indicated “excellent” or “good”; many superintendents felt their remote manage(1) (2) (3) (4) ment was effective. Written responses, however, provide a clearer picture of the situation. Because there was less time spent face-to-face, staff proved more difficult to track, reTeacher training & quiring more accountability and communication from teachpreparedness ers. In some cases, staff rose to the challenge. In others, the distance masked low performance.

Distance learning platform

Many superintendents reporting “excellent” or “good” praised teachers for rising to the occasion:

Student experience with online tech

“Our tech firm was on-site during the planning phase and training staff members so communication could be solid when distance learning began.”

Tech infrastructure 20%

60%

100%

Tech infrastructure and teacher training were each rated "most challenging" by 29% of respondents. However, tech infrastructure was polarizing; 37% of respondents listed it as the least challenging item. There seems to be a large divide between districts who had implemented remote learning technology prior to the pandemic versus those trying to make up ground. Teacher training, meanwhile, seems to have been consistently challenging. Only 17% of respondents rated teacher training as their lowest challenge.

“Our staff has rallied and feels more cohesive than ever. ” Those indicating “fair” or “poor” often focused on teacher accountability: “We know we can’t manage everyone all the time; there is a much higher level of trust needed in this environment.” “There’s considerable animosity between those who can work remotely and those needed on-site. We’ve seen fake notes and poorly written doctors' excuses to get out of emergency daycare or food service.” "It is difficult to maintain consistency and keep all staff engaged."

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How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your district’s delivery of distance How would you evaluate the effectiveness of your learning to date? district’s delivery of distance learning to date?

An article called “Managing During a Crisis” from Gallup Business Journal reads, “The next few weeks and months may be the most challenging time in any manager’s career. Returning to ‘normal’ will be easier said than done.”

Excellent Good Fair 10%

30%

50%

70%

When asked to reflect on the actual effectiveness of the delivery of remote learning, superintendents leaned toward “good” at 60% of respondents—only 27% felt confident enough to respond “excellent,” while 13% indicated “fair.” Sifting through superintendents’ open responses, those who indicated “excellent” or “good” reflected on their successful infrastructure for connection, noting the challenge to reach all students remotely: “As with any mode of instruction, some students are thriving, some are doing fine, some are struggling. I appreciate the work my staff is doing to ensure that every student has the support to succeed.” “We pushed out schedules and apps for families to use, set up a virtual principal’s office, and continued with staff PLC meetings every week.” “The quality falls off if we cannot connect with families.” Superintendents who marked “fair” noted the challenge to reach younger students, to connect virtually, and to provide all students with appropriate equipment: “Some staff have the ability to make this experience rich for their students. Other staff are working hard and doing their best, but this new way of delivery is challenging to them. Education is a people business, which was taken away for some with distance learning.” “We moved into a technology-based platform after using paper/pencil. We needed to purchase equipment for students who did not have it at home. Free internet was a game changer.”

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What made for an effective leader— and has the crisis changed the role?

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If you assumed the authors were talking about COVID-19, they were not. Their words were published on September 24, 2001—13 days after 9/11. But those words could just as easily have been hearkening back to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 when leadership shuttered public schools. Case in point—managing any crisis has similar challenges and obstacles, requiring leaders to learn on the job and adjust to meet the new status quo. The professional literature is replete with articles summarizing critical leadership strategies needed to effectively manage a crisis. What have you found to be the most important leadership practice to date in your management of the COVID-19 response? When our WordStat software chewed through the data, the word “communication” stood out in school leaders' open responses. Superintendents emphasized being fully present and providing ongoing communications with key stakeholders in a way that was honest, transparent, calm, positive, and empathetic. In the words of school leaders: “Communicate clearly and maintain calm, focus, and transparency.” “Maintain transparency, and immediately share crucial information.” “In a sense, with everything happening virtually, I'm creating a reality for people to live in. I haven't specifically seen that in the literature, but I think many of the strategies come down to seeing the big picture and being able to communicate it to the community—storytelling.” “Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be positive, direct, and real with people.” Superintendents also focused on analytical, decision-making, and attitudinal competencies needed in a crisis—behaviors and ways of being for superintendents exercising their critical leadership roles. One superintendent offered the


importance of balancing optimism with realism. Others emphasized the value of flexibility and understanding during a crisis, as well as the necessity to remain calm: “I believe it is important for leaders to be a source of strength and hope during a crisis, sharing the belief that together we can accomplish great things. People want to hear and see that leaders are confident that the organization will be successful.” “Flexibility and unbiased assessment; incremental implementation; keeping things simple; paying attention to timing; resisting being reactive.” “Being honest with what is difficult, giving staff grace during this time, helping them understand the psychological toll this takes on educators.”

“If an answer is not known, say so and express a willingness to find the answer. Praise others for their assistance and patience, even if they haven't displayed it yet. Make the communication about the audience, not the speaker.” To what extent have your leadership role and your To what extent have your leadership role and your relationship with the school board changed? relationship with the school board changed? Significant changes Moderate changes Minimal changes No changes 10%

“Breathe in; breathe out. Stay calm. Listen. Think. Use shared decision-making when appropriate. Make the hard decisions on your own when they need to be made.” What strategies and approaches have you found most effective to address the unique challenges of communicating with faculty and staff, students, parents, and the community? Given that communication was critical to effective leadership, superintendents suggested a range of successful strategies: utilizing multichannel communication, explaining the “why,” assigning staff to families for check-ins, staying consistent, and keeping messages brief when possible: “You have to use multiple channels to reach as many people as possible.” “Staff were expected to have communications with parents at least weekly. Principals were expected to be responsive to parent concerns.” “We spent time telling people not just what we were doing, but why. We also sent frequent reminders explaining that these are not ‘normal’ times.” “We sent messages consistently with a positive tone. We also had one person send the main messages so all information could be found in one place.”

20% 30% 40% 50%

The synchronicity of the board and superintendent is sometimes difficult to maintain—even without the extra challenge of remote meetings. We wanted to know how superintendents’ leadership roles adjusted along with their relationships with their boards. Around 41% of superintendents indicated that changes were minimal, with 33% indicating moderate to significant changes. For some leaders, the district’s response helped board relations; for others, the lack of face-to-face communication and onslaught of parent feedback strained ties: “I think there’s a greater level of trust from the board now.” “We have changed our board meeting structure, and we have seen a few additional challenges because of the long-term drought in personal interaction.” “It seems board members want to get into the weeds more now—not understanding that we are providing updates as we go and that they need to stay at the 30,000-foot level.” “I'm trying to stay ahead of the information feed as much as possible. Board members are all parents of students in our district, so 'back-channel' information makes its way to board members before I hear about it.” SUMMER 2020

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you evaluate thethe leadership andand Looking back pre-COVID-19, what would have been How Howwould would you evaluate leadership ofof the COVID-19 Response from your valuable to you in terms of training and preparation management management the COVID-19 response from for a crisis of this nature? your state/federal government? ___? When we asked superintendents what they wished they had State Federal State Government Federal Government known before COVID-19, the responses varied across the board. A few supers acknowledged that a lack of prepara60% tion was the challenge; “I’m not sure there’s any way to train for something like this,” said one respondent. Others asked 50% for more guidance from health authorities, a central location to collaborate with peers, and distance learning training: 40% “I wish I had known up front that the response to the pandemic could last several months. That would have been very helpful in the initial planning.”

30% 20%

“I'd like to see a central location to go and read about ideas being implemented across the state.”

10%

"It's too soon to really know. Still going through it." r

o Po

ir Fa

od

Go

nt

lle

ce Ex

While many survey questions asked school leaders to reflect on their own work, others asked superintendents to scrutinize the work of leaders around them. Two questions surveyed leaders’ perceptions of their state’s quality of leadership along with the federal government’s. The responses were starkly contrasting—79% rated the state’s management of the pandemic as “excellent” or “good,” while 85% judged the federal government’s leadership as “fair” or “poor.”

What is expected for the future? In our survey of Minnesota school superintendents conducted in early May, about 60% expected that public schools would be open for students in the fall with 40% anticipating that schools would remain closed to students. From a national perspective, AASA’s “COVID-19 and Schools: Detailing the Continued Impact”—a second survey conducted in May and June 2020—reflected similar numbers. According to AASA’s survey, 57% of school leaders expected schools to open on time this fall. Whether our school buildings are open or not, it is incumbent on school leaders to shift their focus from reflection to forward thinking—pivoting from yesterday’s challenges managing COVID-19 to planning for a quickly arriving future. Students will return to our public schools in the fall, whether that be back to a physical school building, limited to distance learning, or some hybrid delivery based on the containment of the pandemic and access to treatments or vaccines.

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Do you expect the CCOVID-19 Pandemic to have significant impacts on negotiations with employee Do you expect the COVID-19 pandemic to have bargaining groups in the future. significant impacts on negotiations with employee bargaining groups in the future?

What effect do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic

What effect do you believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have on delivery of instruction longer-term? will have on delivery of instruction long-term? Yes 92% No 8%

Will change long-term 92%

No

Will return to normal

Yes 10%

20%

30%

40%

8%

50%

While only 41% of Minnesota superintendents predicted a significant change in collective bargaining, superintendents’ open responses suggest that change of some sort is on the horizon. “Maybe some changes needed, but not significant impacts,” wrote one school leader. In some districts, staff members requested to teach full-time online, while others signed agreements indicating that working remotely was only a temporary solution. Regardless, a fair share of superintendents predicted significant change: “Given the statewide impacts on employment and tax revenue, I anticipate some lean years for K-12 education for the next two bienniums at least.” “Teachers in our online school receive stipends to defray the cost of their home internet connection. Our other teachers do not have this benefit, but they are expected to be using their home internet connections.” “Employees will want safety measures placed in bargaining agreements. Custodial negotiations will be difficult, because they will want more staff.”

Roughly 92% of respondents expect the pandemic to change the delivery of instruction long-term. At a minimum, the experience exposed their communities to new learning opportunities outside of the classroom: “It is hard to put the genie back in the bottle. I expect that our teachers will continue to use these tools and our classes will start moving toward a hybrid model that doesn’t keep students in their seats every hour.” “This might be the thing that finally pushes us to make the changes needed to bring education into the 21st century.” “While most people will relish coming back, if just 5% were to choose an online charter or Post Secondary Enrollment Options, that would be a huge loss in funding. Still, a handful of superintendents didn't foresee a change, emphasizing the importance of traditional learning: “There is a magic that happens in a classroom that cannot be replicated in an online environment.” “The students we serve need much more support than can be provided under the current kind of distance learning.” “Families are comfortable with what they know, and everyone knows the traditional setting. People want things to be ‘normal’ again.”

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The need for school leaders to shift their focus to the future is also driven by other complications of the COVID-19 virus, which one superintendent characterized as “a three-headed monster that is going to bite into our school district’s financial bottom line.” He went on to note that with more than twothirds of the state’s operational funding coming from income and sales taxes, pandemic-related unemployment and its impact on tax revenue could easily result in frozen and reduced school funding. The second head of the monster comes in the form of increased costs for staffing and operational expenses to achieve social distancing when students and staff return to classrooms. A study released in June of 2020 by the American Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) and AASA estimated the reopening price tag at a little less than $1.8 million for an average school district. Lastly, school leaders need to design, communicate, and implement return plans that provide parents with sufficient levels of comfort—confidence that their children will not only learn but also be safe. The extent to which parents are uncomfortable could result in at least temporary decreases in enrollment (with the related loss of funding) as some parents embrace other options: homeschooling, online academies, or smaller settings in charter or private schools. As public schools face this potential trifecta of financial consequences from the pandemic, school leaders must continue to plan and design systems and strategies to engage and seek input from parents, staff, and other stakeholders in the budget planning process. At the heart of this strategy is scenario planning and prioritizing how the district will use available revenue, whether that be short- or long-term. One superintendent also referenced legislative advocacy— working with representatives and organizations to advocate for temporary emergency funding to fill what could be a short-term COVID-19 hole in district budgets. School superintendents are leading in a critical construction project—building a bridge from defensive reactivity and lessons learned to proactive problem-solving in the context of a challenging and shifting environment. We can overcome this challenge as long as the bridge to our shared future is anchored on a solid foundation of science, thoughtful public policy, and effective leadership from public school superintendents in the trenches. 50

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Don E. Lifto, Ph.D., is a director with Baker Tilly and works in the firm's consulting group. Previously, he was a public school superintendent for 25 years serving in rural, suburban, and intermediate districts. Lifto’s third book, School Tax Elections: Planning for Success in the New Normal, 3rd Edition, was published by Rohman and Littlefield in 2019. He is a frequent presenter and contributing writer for national educational professional organizations. For complete results from the COVID-19 superintendent survey, go to: https://www.bakertilly.com/insights/ leadership-matters-lessons-learned-in-the-trenches


H S A R C E S R U O C s A & Q We connected with four professors for a few quick, strategy-rich crash courses on everything from effective remote instruction to building cyber communities to using game design and fandom for innovative online learning. These experts share actionable advice on how to design creative solutions in a future where schools and communities are forced to keep functioning online.

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Remote Learning 101 Dr. Martin Schedlbauer shares insights and surefire methods for effective online instruction.

Dr. Martin Schedlbauer

Building good asynchronous online courses is extremely intense and takes a significant amount of time. You have to pre-record all the videos, they have to be five to ten minutes, and they often need to be produced with real production value. It’s time-consuming, it’s a lot of work, and they have to be scripted. To build a typical one-semester course, you’re talking about two or three months of work. The remote instruction part is the most interesting for teachers, but it typically doesn’t work to just move your course online and have your 40-60 minute lesson through Zoom or another video platform—you have connectivity issues, you have slow internet where some students can’t hear you or see your video, if they show up at all. It’s already hard to keep K-12 students engaged in a physical classroom, and online there’s so many more challenges for an instructor.

What are some effective instructional strategies teachers can use remotely?

Dr. Martin Schedlbauer has been either teaching or building online courses since 1998. He actually participated in some of the very first online classes—”part of it was doing a self-paced CD-ROM-based training,” he tells SchoolCEO. After starting several ed tech companies, Schedlbauer now serves as the Director of Online Faculty and Programs at Northeastern University in Boston. He also teaches blended courses at Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences. We caught up with Schedlbauer to get his expert insights into online learning as schools across the country attempt to adapt to education’s new reality.

Is there an ideal type of online learning? There are two broad fields you always have to consider— asynchronous online courses, and what you might loosely term as “remote instruction.” With asynchronous online courses, a student watches videos that are all pre-recorded and then completes lessons and readings. They can ask an instructor for help, but by and large, the student is self-guided. Remote instruction means students and their teacher move into a virtual classroom together (via Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc.), and instruction is done the same way during the same amount of “class” time. 52

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If you’re just basically talking into the void, that doesn’t work well. When you teach remotely, it’s really better to step back, think about what you want to teach, and divide knowledge of skills versus knowledge of how to behave, how to work in groups, and how to research. For a lot of the skills-based stuff, if an instructor has the resources, they could record short how-to videos. And I would also strongly encourage teachers to go and use already developed resources. There’s literally dozens and dozens of courses on pretty much anything you might want to teach in K-12—algebra, history, chemistry, physics, or whatever it might be. There are tremendous learning activities that you can curate and put together in a cohesive lesson. Tell the student, For the next 30 or 50 minutes, go look at this video, go read that, go do that exercise. Then, a lot of live instruction should be worked examples— working through a math problem, talking through a passage in an English literature reading, looking at what could’ve happened with a science experiment. In other words: provide commentary and insight that makes it interesting. Always keep it short, too. The thing I’ve found with online learning is that it’s very tiring for the teacher. I know I get a kick out of being in a classroom—I get energized from it. But half an hour or 45 minutes of online teaching, and I’m exhausted—and I’ve taught in a classroom for an hour and a half before. For the students, it’s really difficult to stay engaged or stay concentrated with all of the distractions going on around them.


So you don’t have to cover everything in 60 minutes. You can reduce what you teach and point students to the resources. Your value as a teacher can be to provide work examples, to do Q&A, and to make it a safe environment. Don’t think you have to push through everything in that hour you’re with them every single day. Realize there are other things you can do, and that your students are anxious—they have a lot going on. They may have to take care of siblings. They may be worried about food or not have a good internet connection. Just be mindful that not everybody has a Macbook Pro with a high-speed connection in their own bedroom.

How can teachers make online classrooms more comfortable and effective for students? It’s really hard to engage with everybody in this environment. One thing I found that works really well is small groups. My suggestion is to put together groups of three, four, or five (at most), and then provide a technology recommendation. Don’t say, Go and figure out how to talk to each other. You don’t want that. Set up a video chat account for everybody, figure out a common way that everyone knows how to get together. That way, you can do tech support for one tool, not nine different tools. When students work a lot in a group, that becomes their peer support group. I also meet with that group of students at least once a week. I keep a 60-minute slot on my calendar, and during that time we’ll all get online and chat. You can learn where students are struggling but also just listen to them.

What should administrators be doing to make remote instruction easier and more effective for their teachers? One thing that I recommend for all schools and districts is to put teachers into small working groups. We do that at my university; we pair experienced online faculty with those less experienced, and we have a knowledge exchange. We also have online teaching inquiry groups where faculty get together. Once every one or two weeks for a couple of hours, one person brings something useful—a favorite tool, a new article, a new strategy or approach—and we discuss it. In small groups, you can experiment and figure out what practices work and don’t work for your environment. When you hear everybody experimenting in different ways, you very quickly learn as an organization.

Administrators definitely need to put together training as well—short, one-hour online training programs for technology. For instance: how to set up a Zoom virtual classroom, how to set up Zoom breakouts, how to publish things on the LMS, how to share a Google Doc, etc. Share the nuts and bolts so that instructors know how to do this. By the way, the same thing goes for students, too; provide training to students on how to use their tools. Another part is to really help teachers with their pedagogy and online presence. If students don’t see me everyday, how do I make that presence felt in my class? Are there office hours? Can students drop in? Maybe advise teachers to set up an open Zoom call daily that anyone can join. Are there ways to talk one-on-one with students going through difficult issues, whether it be grades, personal issues, or maybe some specific difficulty a student is having with the material? That’s very important. They need to see your face, they need to hear your voice, they need to hear you in the raw. In other words, if you spend all your time making polished videos, they’ll think of you as an actor. To make it real, have a discussion board on your LMS, where teachers can communicate with students in a chat-like format. But it’s important how your teachers engage with discussion boards and learning tools. Do students post something and wait for a teacher to get back to them one or two days later? Because that’s not very helpful. Administrators should think about either bringing in experts on pedagogy or having some kind of group within each school to figure out what the best practices are—by taking courses themselves or inviting in experts—then use that and disseminate it to the rest of the organization. What you cannot do, and what fails very often, is to simply take the work you’ve done in your classroom and move it online. That almost never works. There is a different set of practices that work online that don’t work in the classroom, and vice versa.

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Digital Culture 101 Dr. Jen Golbeck’s best tips for bringing your district together—online.

Dr. Jen Golbeck

In the wake of COVID-19, it’s not just your classrooms that are moving online—it’s your entire school community. Over the past few months, you might have found yourself wondering: How do I connect with my students, parents, and community members virtually, outside of school? How do I build a strong online community for my district? That’s just what we asked Dr. Jen Golbeck, an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies. A computer scientist, Golbeck works at the intersection of people and technology. Having studied social networks since before the advent of Facebook, she’s in tune with both the algorithmic side of the equation and “the whole universe of how people interact—what platforms they are using, what they are sharing, what their concerns are.” We invited Dr. Golbeck to share her insights into online communities: how to set them up effectively and keep them going strong.

What are the elements of a strong online community? When you see a community come together online, it could go one of three ways. For one, it could thrive. But if it’s not going to thrive, it could either fall prey to trolling, or—the third option—it could fizzle out because no one is interested. A thriving community is a safe place where you feel like you can talk about things—which means trolling is controlled. One 54

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aggressive person can come in and destroy an online community, because people feel like they can’t talk about issues and they’re going to be attacked; everything is going to be derailed or misinterpreted. To have a good online community, you need to make sure that presence isn’t there. If you’re the administrator of a community, that means having a really strong set of guidelines and rules about appropriate ways of interacting, and then aggressively stopping things if they start to go bad. It doesn’t mean that everyone will get along all the time; there might be debates and vigorous arguments. But you want to keep that level of civility there, make sure people aren’t bringing personal attacks. Those things need to be shut down right away—otherwise you’ll lose all the good actors, the people who are going to contribute. Having a good set of policies, strictly enforcing them, moderating things, being willing to take stuff down, delete it, kick people out if they’re not behaving—that’s all critical to building trust in that community and making people feel safe. That’s avoiding bad outcome number one. Number two is nobody engages; it just sits there and nothing happens. To avoid that, you need to be responsive. People want to feel like somebody is in charge, like there’s somebody at this school who is listening—it’s not just parents talking to one another. You really need to be in there frequently, engaged. It’s not that you’re going to give in to every demand for information or response, but they need to know you’re hearing it, you’re listening, and that you’re following along. Then people will feel like it’s a place where they can get something done.

How do you recommend setting up those guidelines? It’s worth starting with the scope of your community: Here’s what we talk about here, and we’ll remove posts that are offtopic. You don’t want people bringing in something like an unrelated political discussion. Then, come up with a set of behavior guidelines. No personal attacks, for one. You might also set rules against self promotion—that’s pretty common. Basically, you’re laying out the tone of your community, and what will happen if you violate the guidelines. For example, If we feel like there’s a personal attack, or something has become unnecessarily aggressive, we’re going to take this down. If you are taken down three times for that, you’re going to be blocked from the community. When people sign up, those guidelines should be pinned at the top of the page.


When we talk online, how can we build genuine connections from behind our screens?

data. Are they going to give it to Facebook? Are they going to link it to other profiles? What sort of protections do you have?

You’re going to make a lot of money if you ever solve that problem, because that’s one of the core issues of all of these communities. One, we know anonymity makes it worse. People need to be signed in with their real names. That’s important. Generally, to avoid the problems created by that screen barrier, you need to humanize the person on the other end. People need to be able to show their personal sides. If I were to click on your profile, I’d see something about you that makes you seem real and human.

Then, once you get everyone signed up for the community, how do you get them to use it? Well, you’ve got a little bit of power; you can enforce that. Make that the place where all of the announcements are, whether you’re going to have a snow day or you’re sending out information about school events. Then you can force people to come in there occasionally and check in. Then, you can create posts, discussions, and interactions that they find really valuable. Once you’ve brought them in, make it a good experience.

I would say that photos can really help, but you want to be careful about the right way to do that. If I’m a bullied 13-yearold, and the parents of the kid who is harassing me are logged in and they’re able to see potentially embarrassing pictures my parents uploaded, it creates a problematic space. It’s worth it for administrators to consider student privacy in their guidelines. You don’t want to create those sorts of difficulties of parents oversharing about their kids without student consent.

Many superintendents manage incredibly diverse districts. How can you make an online community accessible and equitable?

How do you draw people into your online community in the first place? There’s a couple of different stages to think about. One of those is onboarding. How do you get people in there to sign up in the first place? That’s a huge barrier. Think about how to make that as easy as possible. You won’t have control over some of this on some platforms, but ideally, you want the setup process for accounts to have as few steps as possible. Otherwise, you lose people. Talk with the platform you’re using. If it’s smaller than Facebook, for example, see if you can pre-create those profiles using email addresses and contact information you already have for parents. You also want to think about what people’s concerns might be about signing up for a new service. A lot of people build their online communities on Facebook, and that could be great, but you probably have people in your community who are 100% against Facebook. If you ask people to come to Facebook, you’re asking them to give up a huge amount of personal information.

That’s a really hard question. One practical step: make it very mobile-friendly. A lot of families who may not have a computer or internet access at home still have smartphone access, especially in lower income brackets. That’s how a lot of people get online. So make sure they can reach your community on their phones, that it looks really nice on a little screen, without ads or other garbage that clutters it up. That will make it a better experience for people. If you have a well-supported community platform, they’ll usually have internationalization options. Those will allow the interface—links and text, the discussion forum, all of the buttons, everything except the actual posts—to be in different languages. Some bigger platforms even have options to translate the content of the posts for you. When the school district posts, you’ll want to have that in multiple languages, and if you’re serving a diverse community, you’ll tend to do that anyway. Just think about what technical resources out there can make your community more accessible.

Do you have any advice for creating an engaging online environment? I think a great way to do that in any community is to have prompts, have things to draw people in. Make a poll, allow for discussions, engage with people. Then follow up on it. If someone has a great idea and you’re able to implement it, do it. When you do that work, people know there’s impact from them engaging. They’re talking, you’re hearing it, and they’re seeing the follow-up.

If you’re creating your community on a different platform, it’s absolutely worth reviewing what they’re going to do with that SUMMER 2020

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Community Innovation 101 Dr. Henry Jenkins shares unique perspectives on how schools and communities can look toward the future.

Dr. Henry Jenkins

When you ask Dr. Henry Jenkins what he studies, the answer seems to be just about everything. Officially, he is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California, but as he puts it, his work is “even more scattered than that might suggest.” Before USC, Jenkins spent 20 years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he created and co-chaired their comparative media studies masters program. Through that program, he helped launch a series of initiatives around a multitude of topics: game space learning, new media literacy, and civic media and political participation, just to name a few. He’s continued that work at USC, where he’s more recently focused on civic participation for young people. But the throughline of Jenkins’ last 30 years of research is his work on fan communities—many of which are online.

Much of your research has focused on gaming and game design. What lessons could schools learn from that field, especially right now? I was at a presentation at the National Archive a year or so back where they paired a game designer with some constitutional law scholars. They were talking about the U.S. 56

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Constitution as a game design: a rule system for arriving at new decisions, and innovative content that had to be “patched”—or updated to fix a problem—a number of times while in process. They referred to the amendments as “patches,” or updates to the Constitution. The Constitution itself has remained nimble and strong, but it has changed over time to fit our country’s needs. I think that analogy is a really valid one. The game designer has to imagine a set of rules for future participation that anticipates as many problems as possible, but then has to revise and update it along the way as new or unnoticed problems emerge. And it has to win the consent of the players to those rule changes. Every time you change the ruleset, you advantage some players over others. Some get angry and leave the game, but others come to you because of the shifts in rules. It’s about an ongoing negotiation between the designer, the technology, and the player to solve problems as they emerge, so the problems don’t get so far out of hand that they drive people away. Doing nothing is not an option if you’re running a multiplayer gaming system and problems are emerging. You have to be decisive. You can imagine substituting that player language for student, teacher, or parent, and the same thing would be true of the school, especially in the current moment. It’s going through unanticipated crises that destroy normal operation and require iterative design. You have to continue to make decisions, find the problems, hunt out the bugs, fix them, do it over and over until you arrive at a better system.

You’ve also done a lot of work around fan culture. More and more, we’re seeing the media industry invite fans to create their own content online—how can schools use that same strategy? If we had talked about this 10 years ago, I would’ve said that the media industry was doing a terrible job with this. They were shutting down fan websites and going to war with fanfiction writers—and in the process, alienating their core constituents, the people that were most dedicated and committed to their products. The gaming industry came out in front of this by encouraging mods—actual alterations to the game’s code. They realized that if someone creates a playable mod, everyone who wants to play that mod has to buy the original game as well. That built greater loyalty, not less. Allowing people to use their imagination and think creatively around your output intensifies engagement.


Today, Hollywood uses engagement as maybe its most important currency. They recognize that the more media options we have, the more the audience is fragmented. They want loyalty from the most dedicated fans. They have come to recognize that those fans spread the word and build the infrastructure of the community and keep people involved. Research suggests that the average fan brings as many as 20 other viewers to a television show because of their enthusiastic engagement with it, their participation. They discuss it at the office, and everyone at the office has to watch that show to be a part of the water cooler conversation. That led the industry to begin to hire people from the fan community, to help them understand internally what the community’s concerns were and to bring that into the tent. It led them to do more outreach to the fan community, but also helped them recognize that there needed to be spaces where they didn’t go—fan spaces for conversations they didn’t control. So what does it mean to bring the equivalent of fan ambassadors into the school and to have spaces where discussions take place that don’t involve you? For some of the tensions to be worked out before they reach your level? I know that’s scary—it’s scary for entertainment producers, and it would be scary for a principal to know the community was gathering and debating and building on one another without knowing what was going on. But sometimes the community solves its problems before they reach you. You don’t have to be in the center of stress every moment for every discussion.

How do you think schools can work with their communities to innovate for the future? I would encourage them to think about what we call the civic imagination. This comes from my work on fan activism, and broadly defined, it starts with the premise that before we can build a better world, we have to imagine what a better world might look like. We have to imagine ourselves as capable of making change, and we have to understand the community of people around us: those who share our concerns and those whose experiences are radically different from our own. We have to imagine what a process of change looks like. These are things we think that lead to constructive change—not just anger, but in fact, saying, How do we build something better that serves the needs of our members?

Through a group at USC called Civic Paths, we’ve been working on workshops with communities of all levels that help people come together, imagine the future together, and do world-building. Basically, we trying to fix real-world problems using tools of speculative fiction, which imagines worlds which are slightly or even vastly different from ours in various important ways. World-building is a longstanding practice in speculative fiction which invites you to see the entire system of the world and the interconnections of its parts, and use thinking about the future to address concerns of the present. We’ve done those workshops in a variety of contexts: with teachers, with the water control boards of Southern California, with mosques and churches in the American South, with Freedom Schools for Dreamer kids. It seems to systematically work to get community members thinking constructively. We often ask people to imagine an ideal world of 2060. The process of imagining the world together gets people articulating their hopes, their aspirations, their anxieties, their fears, what they want to carry with them from the present, and what they want to change. We see the communities that do these workshops grow stronger together in the process, especially if there’s people on the ground that continue after we leave but are working to build the community inside that process. I could imagine principals and school boards and so forth doing that with stakeholders within their own communities, finding ways to develop a vision forward. That’s desperately needed in the current context, where all we can see is more doom and gloom for the foreseeable future. A pandemic is too valuable to waste as a way to reimagine a path forward, to develop insights of what a better system looks like on the other side. If I was running a school at the moment, I would be building that constructive process of thinking together about what the future might be—not just how I make the school work well now, but also what would be a better school for the future, knowing what we know now about some of the issues that we’re facing. To learn more about the civic imagination, check out Practicing Futures: A Civic Imagination Action Handbook by Civic Paths team members Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Dr. Sangita Shreshthova.

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Innovation in Schools 101 Dr. Lisa Dawley breaks down the intersection between innovation and online learning.

Dr. Lisa Dawley

What skills do innovators need? Over the last two years, we’ve developed a curriculum and a software platform called Pactful that actually teaches innovation skills to teenagers and their teachers. We use the process of design thinking: What is the problem? Okay, let’s thoroughly research the problem, everything that we can learn about it. That involves empathizing with the people experiencing the problem—interviewing them, talking with them, collecting data—and then brainstorming, prototyping solutions, implementing those solutions, collecting and analyzing more data. How did it work? Okay, let’s make these changes. There’s a design iteration cycle ever-refining the solution. It’s so powerful to see kids and educators innovating to meet their own community needs.

Why is empathy so key to innovation?

While many parents and teachers are experiencing remote learning for the first time, Dr. Lisa Dawley has been studying ed tech, innovation, and online teaching for over 20 years. Author of the bestselling book The Tools for Successful Online Teaching, Dawley is the Executive Director of the University of San Diego’s Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education and co-founder of Pactful, a social good innovation app for teenagers. At the Jacobs Institute, Dawley’s team doesn’t just investigate ed tech; they analyze how to grow innovative schools. We sat down with Dawley to learn more about the imminent change in education coming as a result of COVID-19—and how school leaders can innovate in the midst of the upheaval.

What does it mean to have an innovator mindset? George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset lists eight principles common to innovators like risk-taking, persistence, grit, etc. But for me, at the most basic level, having an innovator’s mindset is about identifying and understanding educational problems that can be solved. The role, then, of an innovative educational leader becomes, How do we create solutions for the problems that we’re encountering, and how do we build a culture where we design those solutions?

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Education has a history of top-down solutions, right? And we know that those rarely work in the long run. Digital Promise recently came out with a report on community-based innovation called “Designing a Process for Inclusive Innovation,” and it’s really about empowering from within. If you want truly sustainable, long-lasting change, it has to be owned by the people who are experiencing the problem. It’s their problem; it has to be their solution. With that approach, not only do you get better solutions, but those solutions become more sustainable because people are bought in for the long term. Instead of serving as a savior, you become a long-term partner in solution-building.

What are some strategies for implementing community-based innovation? It all begins with real relationships and partnerships—getting out and talking to the members of the community you’re serving, trying to understand what their needs are and what potential roles you could play in a partnership. I have a lot of meetings every week just talking with people, exploring how we could potentially serve. Schools and districts are at different phases in their approach to innovation. Some are ready to engage in partnerships, and for some, it’s not the right time. Ultimately it’s about relationships—being there, listening, thinking through how you can support, and identifying resources to make it happen.


What are some ways you’ve seen school leaders sustain innovation? Sustaining innovation is such a huge challenge. There are financial implications, right? Where are the resources coming from? Is the school board bought in? Are parents bought in? The average American superintendent only lasts a few years in any given school district. When leadership changes, initiatives often die. So there are some very major challenges. Sometimes those challenges can be overcome with community buy-in. If the community’s bought in at multiple levels—the parents are bought in, the kids are bought in, the teachers and staff are bought in, the board’s bought in—you can sustain those initiatives even if you lose a superintendent or a staff member. That’s another big reason why buy-in is so important.

What do you think has been successful about the switch to online learning? There’s some debate about: Is it really online learning, or is it emergency remote teaching? The question you asked is tough, because some great things have come out of the recent transition of public schools to online learning. Affordances of online learning include things like student flexibility—it caters to needs better, you’re able to personalize learning better. We have the ability to leverage digital information—digital assets, digital curriculum, videos, gamebased learning—in ways that maybe the student couldn’t in the live classroom experience. Another really positive thing is a lot of teachers who weren’t exposed to digital learning got exposed—for better or worse, right? And many started to see the affordances of it. I think that was eye-opening. It was also a wake up call at the leadership level for districts who weren’t prepared—not knowing if their students had broadband access or mobile access, and not having 1-to-1 initiatives or access to digital curriculum. Even though these were painful events, I believe they’ll be positive for students and teachers in the long run. We saw that responsive districts generally had 1-to-1 initiatives; they were already working in the cloud or had learning solutions like Google classroom or Office 365 set up. Those schools and districts fared a lot better than those who didn’t have a digital strategy, and I don’t think that’s a surprise. Many schools in impoverished areas were hit very hard as kids

often don’t have devices or broadband access. Students literally disappeared from learning. The huge equity gaps became visible very quickly.

Where can schools grow? When I work with people, there’s usually a lot of training involved at the teacher level. How do we teach online? What are successful online teaching strategies? For teachers, we found that what was missing was access to digital curriculum. Sometimes we found that districts were totally unaware that digital curriculum is different from virtual teaching­— they’re two totally different things. Designing an online curriculum versus developing online teaching strategies are two separate skill sets. Districts that were able to make digital curriculum available for their teachers—either through providing weekly playlists, purchasing a curriculum inside a learning management system, or using digital texts, for example— are having better success than those requiring teachers to become instructional designers, developing their curriculum from scratch. Having that curricular list provided by leadership allows teachers to focus on facilitating learning and supporting their kids. Another area of support is tracking attendance. Online schools typically have dedicated personnel to track attendance and follow up with families; this strategy could alleviate some new burdens being faced by fully virtual teachers.

Is there an advantage for districts that create their own curricula? Absolutely! Imagine a spectrum. On one end, schools have a prescribed digital curriculum, and it is totally locked down. Teachers can’t modify or supplement it. The other end is, Teachers, go create everything. Hopefully somewhere in the middle, you have a scenario just like a regular classroom. Leadership provides curriculum packages, science kits, math kits, etc., but then the teacher is able to do their art. They can adjust the scheduling or supplement activities with their own creative projects personalized to their students. The same thing can happen online, and that’s what you’re looking for. Given enough support, teachers can be empowered to customize their classroom to meet their students’ needs. Without the pressure of starting from scratch, they’re able to create a truly personalized classroom. SUMMER 2020

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Superintendent Perspectives:

Just a Minute of Your Time Guest Writer Dr. Joe Sanfelippo, Superintendent of Fall Creek School District in Wisconsin, shares his unique approach to staying connected with his community and challenging others to lead.

Ten years ago I sat in the Fall Creek School District boardroom interviewing to be their next superintendent. The district had been through five leaders in just six years. I don’t remember everything about the interview, but one interaction will be forever ingrained in my mind. As we were nearing the end of our conversation, I asked the board what their expectations were for me as a leader. After a few seconds of silence—which felt more like hours—one board member looked at me and said, “We have a lot of really good things happening here, but nobody knows about them.” Well, I took a deep sigh of relief and I simply told them, “I may not be the best superintendent you could hire, but I am the loudest person in the world. If there are great things happening here everyone will know about them.” That’s where it started. All of it. 60

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#GoCrickets Here in Fall Creek—population 1,365—you enter our one school building as a Fall Creek Cricket, and you walk across the stage 13 years later with that same unique mascot adorning the wall behind you. The image of a cricket may not strike fear into the hearts of our opponents at basketball games, but it’s who we are and who we’ve always been—it’s our identity. Crickets have become our brand. Memorabilia at our village museum is emblazoned with Go Crickets. It’s on posters, pins, pennants, you name it. We’ve even made it modern by adding a hashtag, so now #GoCrickets has become our social call to everyone who will listen. It’s on hats, T-shirts, stress balls, water bottles, and even ice scrapers.


We also put up a digital Where in the World is Fall Creek Pride? board at the school’s entrance. It streams pictures of folks in Go Cricket gear from all 50 states and 15 other countries. So everyone who walks into our building knows immediately that we have people cheering for us all over the world. Our school district brand is simply what people say about us when we can’t be there to say it for ourselves. It evokes emotion and provides everyone in the space a sense of unity. It gives us a color to wear and a reason to scream. Our brand tells the story of championships and struggles, but most importantly, it reflects the relationships between those who walked these halls years ago and those who are entering for the first time. The brand gives us pride. It’s who we are.

#1minwalk2work Leadership Challenge When I moved into the village, I bought the house across the street from the school. Literally. It’s exactly 120 steps and 52 seconds from my garage to the door that sits outside our kindergarten classrooms. People thought I was crazy to live directly “in the middle of the fishbowl.” I think they were afraid people would randomly show up at my house, need things 24/7, or maybe do something to the yard if they didn’t like a decision I’d made. But the most controversial thing that’s ever happened in 10 years was my own kids misbehaving in the yard—something I found out about from a teacher whose classroom window faces my house. “How is your behavior management program working at home?” she texted me. Living in the village and leading a school that is the hub of our community means I’m always on stage. It means that every interaction I have with people matters, because every interaction could be the one they talk about for the rest of their lives. There are times that I don’t love that concept, but when I acknowledge that it is real, I can walk into those conversations differently, because I know it doesn’t end when I walk out. That mindset has afforded me the opportunity to lead as transparently as I possibly can and, in doing so, it’s given

me the confidence to put my leadership journey out there for anyone to see. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have few of them. Having said that, the best learning for me has come from adjusting after I fail at something. If there’s a way to help others by sharing our failures and what we’ve learned from them, then I believe it’s incumbent upon us to do so. The #1minwalk2work Leadership Challenge has been the platform for that journey over the course of the last three years. Saturday mornings in the Sanfelippo house are filled with five people waking up at completely different times and in different moods. I am always the first to get up. As I mentioned earlier, being the loudest person in the world is great when you’re shouting the incredible things happening in the district. It’s not great when your family wants to sleep. Consequently, I started using Saturday mornings as a time to get into the office and not wake up my family. Sometimes I would work on school stuff; other times I would write or read or jump on a Twitter chat. I got into a routine of always using the time to learn something new about leadership. In doing so, I started to realize all the mistakes I had made as a teacher leader, an administrator, and, quite frankly, as a dad and husband. Reflecting on those things wasn’t always easy, but it became the leverage point for me to decide I’d help others avoid falling by the same wayside. Enter the #1minwalk2work Leadership Challenge. The concept was simple: walk to school, tell a story, talk about leadership, record it, and challenge yourself and others to do things differently for those we all serve. Some weeks I make a video; others I don’t. But the one thing I keep at the forefront of my mind is to be authentic and real in all my messages.

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There are a few things I keep at the core of every leadership challenge video I post—give actionable challenges, use consistency in my messaging and timing, and force engagement with our brand.

Make it Actionable Sometimes people tell me that it’s the thought that counts. I’m not a big fan of that statement, because though the thought does count, the action on the thought counts more. How many times have you said, I wish I had…followed by something you never took action on? I wish I had said something. I wish I had gotten up earlier to run. I wish I’d sent him a note to tell him he did something great. All of the positive thoughts we have to improve our lives are great, but until we take action on them, the day-to-day operations of the world take over, and we never get a chance to move ourselves forward as leaders. So I always give an actionable challenge—not to add something to your plate, but to get you excited enough to actually do something.

Consistency in Messaging and Timing All right, everybody. Saturday morning. Fall Creek, Wisconsin. One-minute walk to work, and here’s what I’m thinking about today. All my videos start like that. They all end the same way, too: Just gotta take care of each other. We’re all in this thing together, man. Have a great week, everybody. Go Crickets! That consistency of messaging and length comes up often when I talk to people about the posts. I love the videos, texts, and tweets I get from people on social media that say, We’re all in this together, man, or, Just gotta take care of each other. It’s humbling and wasn’t planned, but with that momentum, it’s been a fun way to open and close the videos. Though the walk from home to school could technically be done in less than a minute, I’ve tried to keep the messages consistent in terms of time. They always seem to fall from 90100 seconds, and I think this has been helpful for both me and anyone watching. They know they are not in for a 10-minute rant on how education needs to change or a tweet that takes eight seconds to read. The timing has given me the opportunity to tell a story and bring real people into these scenarios.

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Forced Engagement One of my favorite pieces of the #1minwalk2work challenge is the way it can force engagement when it comes to sharing our story and impacting the narrative of our district. I actually force the audience to engage with the Go Crickets message six times in the 100 seconds of the walk videos. 1. I always open by telling everyone we are in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. 2. I walk past my car with the GOCRKTS license plate. 3. I walk by a green Fall Creek welcome sign on my front door. 4. I continue past a 30-foot #GoCrickets sign on my fence. 5. We round the corner of the school building with a Welcome to Cricket Country sign on the wall. 6. Each video ends with me saying, “Have a great week, everybody. Go Crickets!” The walks have become not only a way to share my leadership journey but also to spread the word about the great things happening in Fall Creek. Wisconsin is an open enrollment state, so you can attend any school you care to if you can get there. When we started the process of sharing the great things about our district in 2012, we only had 15 more students attending our school than we had choosing to leave it. But in 2018, our open enrollment numbers had grown—we had 90 more students choosing to enroll in our district compared to those who left. Great things were happening here before we ever posted and tweeted—we just got really loud about it, and the data certainly supports that effort.


We’re all in this thing together.

Photo courtesy of Fall Creek Public Schools.

To date, I’ve posted over 50 #1minwalk2work videos on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Vimeo. All of them end the same way: We’re all in this thing together, man. It isn’t just about when it’s convenient for us, either. When we take care of one another, at all times, in all places, our leadership capacity will grow. That mindset also grows those around us. We lead learning organizations. Therefore, we need to lead the learning in those organizations. Whatever your method, whatever your platform, whatever your process, the one thing that has to be at the forefront of who we are as school leaders is modeling the learning process to those we lead. Understanding that we don’t have all the answers and being willing to grow helps us when times get tough and leadership is needed most. Just gotta take care of each other. All right everybody, that’s all I got. We’re all in this thing together, man. Have a great week, everybody. Go Crickets! To view Dr. Joe Sanfelippo’s #1minwalk2work Leadership Challenge videos, visit: www.jsanfelippo.com.

When we take care of one another, at all times, in all places, our leadership capacity will grow. That mindset also grows those around us. SUMMER 2020

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It’s the end of Volume 2! We can’t wait to show you what comes next. Two years ago, we set out to make a resource that empowers school leaders to change the conversation around their schools. Thank you to everyone who read, contributed, participated in a SchoolCEO Conversation, and subscribed to the publication.

Stay in the know by following us on social media and subscribing online. Twitter : @School_CEO Facebook : SchoolCEO LinkedIn : SchoolCEO www.SchoolCEO.com


Subscribe today to receive our November edition. It’s free for school leaders.

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SchoolCEO Summer 2020  

In our eighth edition of SchoolCEO, we survey parents over their impressions of distance learning. Dr. Don Lifto shares his research, and we...

SchoolCEO Summer 2020  

In our eighth edition of SchoolCEO, we survey parents over their impressions of distance learning. Dr. Don Lifto shares his research, and we...

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