KCSOS helps pave way for improved distance learning

As Kern County schools prepare to convene for the 2020-21 school year, distance learning is slated to continue to a large degree amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the past several months, Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS) has lead a team of regional educators from 17 Kern County school districts and partners from Fresno, Kings and San Luis Obispo County Offices of Education, to develop standards-based distance learning curriculum in English Language Arts, Math, English Language Development, Science, History, and Social-Emotional Learning for grades TK – 12.

Nine-weeks of lessons and teacher and parent trainings have been completed, all intended to give schools a head start on their distance learning programs as they enter the new academic year. The content is offered at no-cost to educators and can easily be utilized in a Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas. Teachers can take the lessons and use them as they are or customize and supplement the content to meet the specific needs of their students.

“When schools were physically closed back in March, distance learning was not something we had planned for. As a result, districts had to make quick decisions without time to create comprehensive plans as to how they would continue to provide instruction for all students,” said Lisa Gilbert, Deputy Superintendent of Instructional Services at KCSOS. “We can and must do better in our distance learning efforts and we have been very intentional in laying a foundation that we believe will help schools improve the experience moving forward.”

Furthermore, due to inconsistency among districts and schools across California in providing remote instruction when schools closed in the spring, the state has set new requirements for distance learning to ensure accountability. Schools must:

• Document daily attendance and participation and create a system to track;
• Set procedures for reengaging students who are absent or unengaged;
• Communicate with parents about learning progress;
• Ensure teachers interact daily to instruct, monitor progress and maintain connections;
• Provide academic supports for students who fall behind academically.
• Complete a Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan, which outlines how schools will effectively deliver distance learning models.

In June, KCSOS negotiated a contract with Canvas, the world’s fastest growing online learning platform, which will allow Kern County school districts to utilize the platform at a significantly-reduced rate for the upcoming school year. Currently, more than half of Kern County school districts have signed on to use Canvas, representing roughly 80,000 local students.

Canvas allows for a “virtual school” environment where lessons can be pushed out to students and includes video instruction, learning activities, daily assignments, and online quizzes. Teachers also have the ability to present lessons using Canvas’ video conferencing tool so that students and classmates can interact in real time and attendance and engagement can be tracked.

“There is no question that the best teaching and learning happens in a physical classroom and we are eager to get kids back to our school campuses as soon as it is safe to do so.” Gilbert said. “Until that time comes, it is imperative that distance teaching and learning is of the highest possible quality. We are eager to help Kern school districts provide just that.”