FCPS & COVID-19
Much has changed in the last few months! I've had frequent questions from potential voters as to how I would handle school moving forward. Who would have thought my eclectic background with deep experience in distance learning and public safety would be two skill sets voters may find attractive when selecting a candidate to vote for. There are other candidates that have backgrounds in social-emotional learning and knowledge of how to best ensure our students rebound from the disruption of their lives these past months. It would be great to get some of that experience on the Board as well.
I've given heavy thought to funding the Kirwan plan in this new reality we find ourselves in. My ultimate opinion is that we are in an unprecedented time in history and no one should expect or anticipate business as usual. The amount of funding FCPS receives will depend on the Federal Government, State, and County. If elected to the Board I am prepared to lobby hard to get funding needed to ensure our schools remain strong and that our teachers and staff are compensated well.
Basically, we are in a whole new ballgame.
With that said, areas I would suggest the Board of Education spend effort on some of these issues.
Communication. Use a single communication channel instead of multiple sources (combinations of FindOutFirst, S'mores, etc.)
Distance Learning. Adopt a single platform and, if not feasible, adopt a platform by grade groupings. At FCC, we have a single platform for distance learning named Blackboard. Other popular ones are Canvas, Moodle, and G Suite by Google. I saw lots of job postings for custodians over the summer. It would please me to have seen just as many posts for instructional designers and staff needed to improve network infrastructure and technology used for distance learning. Award generous stipends to our best teachers who are fluent with technology and team them up with instructional designers to create core content for each major subject at all grade levels. I'd look for a way to tap into resources to quickly ramp up a staff who can create standard laptop images and wireless networks. I'd reach out to the County Executive and our State and Federal legislators to come up with a plan to get high speed internet access across the county for ALL our students because, frankly, the new digital divide is power spreading the achievement gap.
Safety. Ensure all guidance from the Frederick County Health Department is followed. Ensure all custodial staff is trained in proper disinfectant protocols. Leverage relationships with FHH and DFRS and Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) to ensure FCPS is adopting best sanitizing protocols.
We need to prepare for Kirwan initiatives to be paused by our state officials as funding cuts will likely be made using the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA). I think the best course of action for FCPS to take is to brace for the worst and try our hardest to ensure that we can remain flexible as a school system in delivering a quality, and I emphasize quality, educational opportunity to ALL of our students.
At FCPS, I would explore leveraging the expertise of FCC in delivering quality online learning by rapidly expanding dual enrollment classes, even creating local high school cohorts, and use FCC faculty with online teaching experience to teach those classes as overloads.
Quality distance learning curriculum is a viable option, especially for our high school learners.
Distance learning can be used as a component of learning for our youngest learners. Just think of how many children, as young as preschool, can sit and play on a cell phone or video game console for hours at a time. Our classroom model was the main model that the school system knew and our teachers were forced to take that model and push it into a distance-learning delivery mechanism and it did not work efficiently.
I believe the items described above are a necessary because we are sailing into unknown territory with a pandemic and some models are predicting that this fall and winter could be a very dark time for our society. It is much easier to take a class that has been developed for distance learning and move it into a hybrid format or face-to-face format than it is to go the other way around.
At FCC, we've been doing distance learning for over two decades. With that said, the college opened up training sessions over the summer to help build competency in distance learning more than 100 faculty members took the 4-week training. The only people compensated were the instructors. Everybody else did their training without compensation. Our online courses and instructors are certified through a process that guarantees a minimum level of quality. I regularly float between face-to-face, hybrid, and 100% online courses but have been gravitating towards face to face the last few years because they are actually easiest to teach.
Distance learning takes more time to do well.
In sum, Kirwan concepts are great but we are in a crisis that is jeopardizing fundamental learning models. I know this first hand having witnessed my son go from enjoying school to not liking it to so much. He shed many tears of frustration despite huge efforts put forth by his teachers. Teachers did their best with the structure they were given. I'd work to help ensure our structures evolve to enable our teachers to focus on learning. Let's give them the tools and resources they need to develop and provide quality fundamental learning opportunities that can effectively delivered in the safest and most efficient manner to ALL students first and foremost.