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The leadership void within the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) continues with the current Superintendent Cindy Marten nomination for U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education still unresolved and pending interim Superintendent Lamont Jackson waiting in the wings.

While we all await the outcome of the Senate decision on Marten, school reopening of in person learning continues with no independently verified data provided by the opaque SDUSD as to the actual enrollment or full participation.

This week on Sunday Reads we present an article that explores the future of integrating virtual school into the options offered as a standard option to Students and Families that prefer it.

We have selected the most relevant portions of the article in this post but District Deeds strongly urges our readers to click on the title (in red) and read the full article for themselves.




Don’t Ban Virtual School. Improve It.

Insist on an in-person adult to supervise remote learning

By Michael B. Horn


Amid a nationwide push to get students back in school, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has said that school districts in his state won’t be allowed to offer virtual learning next year—even for parents who want that option.

At the same time, more districts are signaling that they intend to offer virtual school options to meet the demand from families. According to a February survey by the EdWeek Research Center, 68 percent of districts plan to offer a “much wider array of remote learning options.”

Although full-time virtual school has not been ideal for a majority of families and students—and there are memes aplenty showing people’s dissatisfaction with the remote learning they’ve experienced—a significant number report that it’s been a blessing for them. In many cases, they don’t intend to go back to full-time in-person school. There’s plenty of evidence for this in the spiraling enrollments at online schools, from ASU Prep Digital to Florida Virtual School and from Stride, Inc. to MyTechHigh.

That is as it should be.

Our present-day school system was never built to optimize all students’ learning. Instruction happens at fixed intervals, and progress is based mostly on seat time, not mastery. Students can skate by while missing large chunks of knowledge. The choppy remote and hybrid offerings that districts launched in response to the pandemic generally doubled down on that system and were often clunky at best.

Bucking the poor online experiments of 2020-21 and launching a robust virtual school as part of a broader strategy to escape today’s one-size-fits-all system can be a tremendous positive—but only if districts take a thoughtful approach. Such an approach would involve identifying the desired end state and considering the student and teacher experience before picking technology and curriculum vendors.

Begin with the End

The first step in any process around launching virtual schools isn’t to start posting RFPs for technology platforms or curriculum or hardware.

It should instead start with identifying the right founding team to build the virtual school, and then having that group convene to identify what problem the virtual school is trying to solve or what goals it should fulfill for students, families, and the broader district and community.


That means understanding what progress looks like for the families. What are they trying to escape? What hasn’t worked well in the past for them? What are they hoping for more of? Why do they prefer remote schooling? What is their home life and schedule like? Are there certain activities they do that render traditional school hours and interactions a non-starter? What sort of academic progress have students made historically?


For example, for some students, asynchronous learning—in which they have considerable independence and flexibility as to when they learn—may be a critical component of a successful virtual school. For many others, the opposite will be true. How schools think about cohorts and community may vary widely, as will how they think about curriculum, teaching and learning experiences, and what services and courses the schools should offer.


Student and Teacher Experience

One thing every district should insist upon is that students learning virtually must have an adult in-person who is able to supervise the learning. That adult can make responsible decisions around how they supervise, but the adult must be available and on site. Districts should view the teaching as a team sport, in which teachers are working together and with parents and guardians to create a web of supports for students to create a more robust experience.

This is in part because the research around online learning suggests that in-person interactions matter for most students to be successful. Students in full-time virtual schools typically need an involved parent, and students who take an online course do significantly better when there is an onsite mentor.


Team teaching can also support districts in standing up programs that, in stark contrast to many traditional school experiences, embrace personalization, active learning, and mastery-based—or competency-based—learning. This is critical for creating an optimal learning experience in which students are engaged and making academic progress. And in stark contrast to districts that have had teachers responsible for teaching children in-person and remote simultaneously during the pandemic, virtual students should have a dedicated group of teachers on whom they can rely.


Technology, Curriculum and Operations

With a clear sense of why a district is launching a virtual school, who it is seeking to serve, and what experiences it must offer to do so, now the district is ready to figure out the technology, curriculum and operations.

There are a variety of pathways forward.

For districts that need to move fast, they can partner up with long-time established virtual school providers like Stride, Inc. or Connections Academy. Although these vendors’ systems were built to match the seat-time requirements in place in states, they have significant experience in managing the operations of a full-time virtual school—not a straightforward task—and helping a district get up and running. These providers also have expertise in making sure students have the right technology equipment, Internet access, and curricular materials at-home.


Planning and Launching

States are wrong to bar districts from continuing to offer their own virtual schools in the fall. Certain students want and will thrive in these options—even after they’ve seen in-person schooling return as a safe option.

But districts will be wrong to think it’s easy to launch an effective full-time virtual school on the fly. To do so successfully, they should root their work in a broader approach to make sure there are a plurality of options such that all students can find the right fit. And they should view their plans not as concrete, fixed documents, but as the beginning of a planning process that they will continue to revise as they launch and learn from the facts on the ground.

District Deeds Analysis:

As the Covid 19 Pandemic has shown in the SDUSD, horrible disaster recovery planning by Marten has relegated all students to a poor education since March, 2020 with only a glimmer of the end in sight.

After full in person learning is complete, applying the ideas presented in this article offer some intriguing educational opportunities to Families, Students, Teachers and the SDUSD.

The facts are:

  • Lots of families have already embraced virtual learning by enrolling their kids in Charter and Private schools that offer that option.
  • Based on the reticence of many teachers to return to the classroom during the Covid 19 Pandemic, there would be widespread support for virtual teaching for all or part of their work schedule.
  • Establishing a robust, expandable Virtual School platform provides all the components needed for Disaster Recovery planning of future local or widespread catastrophic events that may occur.
  • Implementing virtual learning would reduce facility operational costs and potentially allow the SDUSD to consolidate school locations reducing the physical location footprint and associated costs.
  • With virtual learning options, struggling Students who are now jettisoned from the SDUSD to virtual Charter Schools with generic staff to manipulate graduation rates could be taught, monitored and tracked internally at their local school in the SDUSD with major continuity benefits for those Students.  FULL SDUSD accountability will be re-established.

But, like many of the suggested improvements we have provided over the past 8 years, this Virtual School remote learning integration requires a level of leadership and operational skill not available from Marten or her potential successor Jackson.

It takes a professional education leader as Superintendent with multi departmental skills at the school district leadership level.

It takes a Board of Education that allows that strong leader to actually lead without political interference from special interest groups.

It also requires a desire by the Board of Education and Superintendent to be honest, transparent and accountable.

In our Sunday Reads post last week we detailed the selection process that should be followed by the SDUSD.  Based on the SDUSD Superintendent selection timeline, the new Superintendent will not be activated until December, 2021…and that candidate will most likely be the unqualified Jackson.

The selection of Jackson is the antithesis of honest, transparent and accountable.

If Jackson is appointed it will be just another illegal selection scam run by Barrera on SDUSD Stakeholders.

If Jackson is appointed, ALL SDUSD Students will continue to be denied a 21st century education.

District Deeds predicts the results of that appointment will be devastating to the SDUSD.

The SDUSD will continue to become less honest, transparent and accountable (if that is possible).

The SDUSD will continue to become more unstable operationally and financially.

Without a neighborhood virtual SDUSD school option. families will search, find and choose a neighborhood virtual charter school option.

The SDUSD enrollment will continue to shrink to historic lows.

The SDUSD will become more and more irrelevant.

Just what Barrera and the SDUSD deserves.

Now for our quote of the week dedicated to the soon to be irrelevant SDUSD:

“You must add value to yourself to be relevant. You have to be competitive to be relevant ”
― Sunday Adelaja

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