A Message from the ACPS Chief Academic Officer

A Message from the ACPS Chief Academic Officer:

 

On August 4, 2020, the Interim Superintendent, Mr. Jeff Blank, recommended a fully virtual learning model to begin the school year, which the Board of Education unanimously approved. In the ACPS, we know that returning to school is important for the development and well-being of the students, but we also recognize our obligation to pursue reopening in a manner that is safe for students, teachers, and staff. We recognize that many of you are in agreement that it’s better to open schools virtually to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission and maintain the health and safety of students, teachers and staff; others want schools open for in-person learning so that parents can work and students won’t miss out on traditional methods of learning.

 

We share a commitment to providing a hybrid or traditional schooling model when it is deemed a safe and feasible option for our school communities. We will monitor the system’s ability to adjust our plans, taking into consideration guidelines from the Maryland Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control, and the Allegany County Health Department. Please note that the ACPS Recovery Plan which addresses thirteen areas required by the MSDE is posted on the ACPS website. Please know that the plan will be revised and updated as needed. The MSDE will be reviewing each district’s plan and providing feedback.

 

There is no doubt that parents are facing a unique set of challenges as they attempt to balance the demands of home, work, finances, and health—along with the educational needs of your children. With the new school year beginning after Labor Day, we realize that parents are concerned about their child (ren) falling behind academically, emotionally, and socially, as well as fearful that you will not be able to give your child (ren) enough attention during distance learning because of work commitments. We realize many of you are worrying about access to technology and the availability and the quality of your internet services. We also realize that coronavirus-related stress and school-related worries and concerns may be impacting the quality of mental health and wellbeing.

 

We have also heard that some of our parents are considering withdrawing their child from the ACPS and enrolling their child in home schooling or a private school. For parents who are considering that, we hope that you will reconsider and wait. Give the distance learning model a chance. Give the ACPS teachers a chance to show you what teaching and learning can be like in an enhanced distance learning model. Give Schoology, the new Learning Management System, a chance before a decision is made to withdraw your child from the school system. Schoology is a very accessible system, with a user-friendly interface. Schoology will make it easier for parents to stay involved in their child’s education. Teachers can access Schoology conferences via the BigBlueButton, a built-in conference application. Through this application, your child will participate in live audio and video conferences for real-time learning.   Schoology offers 24 hour/7 days of week support for teachers, students, and parents. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, we are working on plans to return small groups of students to in-school learning as soon as possible. We are also coordinating arrangements to provide support during the evening hours.   So, please wait and re-evaluate this consideration until you have more concrete information and hands-on experience with the distance learning model.  

 

To alleviate some of your concerns, I would also like to direct parents to review the Frequently Asked Questions document on the website. This document provides answers to instruction, scheduling, and technology questions. For example, a question was asked about whether or not technology will be provided to students who need a device for the distance learning. A device will be provided to any ACPS student who needs a device. Distribution of technology is being coordinated by the principals, and parents will be informed of the date and time to pick up a loaner device. If a parent doesn’t need a device, however, it is not a requirement to use an ACPS device. Please note that a cell phone will not provide the capabilities needed to access the distance learning. In addition, if you have poor internet connectivity, a mobile hotspot may be just what you need. The ACPS will provide mobile hotspots. Please contact your principal to request one. For those without any connectivity, a number of access points have been installed throughout the county. Please refer to the website for additional information on local access points.

 

Other types of questions similar to these are provided on the FAQ. The FAQ will be updated as additional questions are received by the Public Information Officer, Mrs. Mia Cross.

 

The following timeline provides parents with the approximate time frame for releasing information regarding modified student schedules for distance learning, distribution of technology, Schoology training, and resources related to Schoology:

August 17-21:

  • Teachers and staff will be participating in meetings and professional learning in anticipation of the start of school for students on September 8.
  • A daily schedule will be released on the website for elementary, middle, and high school levels. As previously indicated, students will have a modified schedule for learning in the distance learning environment. A lunch break will take place on Monday-Friday from 12:00-1:30 p.m.
  • Resources about Schoology will be released for your review.

 

August 24-September 4:

  • Principals will be contacting parents regarding the distribution of laptops or Chromebooks to students who need a loaner device. The principal will provide the distribution information for his/her school through the School Messenger system. Please be patient if another school has its distribution prior to your child’s school. Please do not go to the school until the principal has provided information on the date and time to pick up a device. It is important to understand that technology devices were ordered months ago, but there have been challenges in receiving orders in a timely manner because of the impact of COVID-19 on the availability of the devices.
  • Parents are asked to contact the school office where your child (ren) attends if you do not have internet connectivity at your home.   If the internet connectivity is weak, please request a mobile hotspot.
  • Additional Schoology resources will be released. Individual schools may also be planning training events. That information will be communicated to parents by the school principal.

 

During the first week of virtual learning, our goals will be to connect with your child, to build or re-establish relationships with your child, to set expectations for attendance, to discuss grading, to promote engagement in the learning, and to provide information that you and your child will need to know about the instructional day and how to navigate the distance learning model.

 

In closing, you are not alone in this new challenge. The pandemic has negatively impacted all of us and changed the way we are currently able to conduct business or provide education. Please remember that we are living in an unprecedented time. Please display empathy toward yourself, your child (ren), and the teachers. We all need grace (compassion and acting positively), kindness, and patience during this time. Please know that we don’t have all the answers. Who does? The transition is not going to be perfect. What is? This is not an ideal situation for anyone, anywhere, so please extend grace and do your best to remain calm and flexible as the ACPS re-opens the schools through a fully virtual learning model. Please continue to monitor the ACPS website and check your phone messages in the coming days for more information. Please know that your child’s health, education, and well-being are foremost in our minds.

 

Kind regards,

 

Dr. Kim Kalbaugh, ACPS Chief Academic Officer