The Department of Education will release detailed plans July 2 for how schools will operate in the next academic year, with each school’s leaders able to choose the instructional approach that best suits their community.
Principals are now fleshing out those models for schools to consider. They include distance learning; blended learning that includes some online and some in-person instruction; and the traditional face-to-face approach.
Even the traditional approach will incorporate more technology to prepare students for a possible switch to distance learning if there is a second wave of new coronavirus cases.
“I want to ensure the Legislature that while we are planning for the start of school we are also doing contingency planning if there is a situation where the school year is interrupted,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 on Friday.
Statewide, about 18,000 parents have already filled out a survey, which is still open for another week online at bit.ly/FamilyDistanceLearningSurvey. So far, one out of seven families prefer to keep their children at home to learn online when school starts Aug. 4.
“Fourteen percent of parents would like to have a pure distance-learning approach,” Kishimoto told the senators. “That tends to lean more heavily toward the upper grades where kids are more independent and families have the circumstances to support their child that way.”
Initial results of the survey suggest that more than 40% of families are interested in blended learning, which Kishimoto expects to be a popular choice by schools across the state in a variety of forms. Students doing some classwork at home will also reduce the number needing to be on campus at any given time and help with social distancing.
Principals and their teams will look at survey results at their own school to inform decisions on what instructional model to choose, she said.
“We have already used CARES Act funding to procure an expansion of our online system in order to be able to have these blended and distance-learning programs to a greater extent,” she added.
DOE officials have been meeting weekly with union representatives since March. Formal negotiations are scheduled to start Monday over any changes that might be needed in their contracts.
Meanwhile, summer school efforts are focused on helping students who are at risk, especially those who didn’t engage well when Hawaii’s public schools shifted to distance learning.
Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D, Kaneohe-Kailua) asked how many students “went away during the spring break and have just fallen off the radar” and “what is the plan to reintegrate them and fold them into the different support networks that you set up?”
“Schools are anywhere from I believe it’s 5% of my kids who disappeared to some schools that have as great as a 40% gap,” Kishimoto responded. “Those who had those huge gaps were students who would touch base only once a week or only touch base when we would do door knocking … . Teachers and staff members did tremendous work going out into communities.”
All of those at-risk students were invited to summer school, which just got rolling. It’s early to say, but about 70% to 75% of those high-risk kids are attending, Kishimoto said.
Her PowerPoint presentation included a few preliminary highlights of student responses to the Panorama Distance Learning Survey conducted for the DOE. Full results of student and teacher surveys should come out next week.
About 83% of students reported having a home computer and 76% had reliable internet access, initial results show. About 71% of students had enough devices in their home to accommodate all family members at once.
As for how engaged students were while schools were closed for the spring semester, 88% of students overall reported using “Google for Education,” 66% reported they had joined a video conference and 58% had posted assignments online.
The department wants to accelerate its “digital transformation” and is putting a price tag of $57.8 million on that effort. The goal is to ensure equity of access to digital learning.
As of the spring semester, public schools already had 139,000 technology devices, such as Chromebooks and computers, on campuses for student use. Altogether, there are 180,000 students enrolled in Hawaii’s public schools.
“Where we see great levels without devices is mostly K-3, where they are looking to have iPads,” Kishimoto said. “iPads are pretty expensive, but they’re much better for the young kids.”
During the statewide shutdown, public schools lent out 20,895 devices for use at home, which were collected at the end of the year. The department also bought 10,000 new devices for students to use over the summer.
An iPad was provided to all kindergarten through third grade students at summer school, and those will remain with the classrooms, she said. This fall, some low-income families will need devices as well as “MiFi” Wi-Fi hotspots for online learning, she said.
“We want to make sure we are ready at bare minimum to provide that equity of access,” she said.
The DOE is setting up an ‘Ohana Help Desk to help families better handle a technology-based curriculum. It will offer training and informational sessions, a device loan program, communications and data reports.
A telehealth line that was launched in the spring is being extended through the summer. The Health Hotline offers advice and telehealth appointments, including counseling and medical referrals, for public school students at no cost. The number is 844-436-3888.
The school system has received donations of nearly 250,000 masks along with gloves and the like.
This year, rather than the traditional back-do-school donations of backpacks and schools supplies, Kishimoto is hoping for cash donations that would go toward ensuring digital equity.
“We don’t need backpacks, we don’t need books,” Kishimoto said. “What we need is a donation that would allow us to repurpose those dollars.”