School Closure Tips from a Charter School Operations Expert

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As COVID-19 creates a new reality for schools across this nation, operational challenges consistently threaten millions of students and their families.  As we adjust to school closures, teachers and schools are getting creative to make sure no student is left behind. Over the next few months, we will be highlighting best practices from schools across the country, and interviewing educational leaders to provide tips and suggestions for districts, teachers and parents.

Interview with Alex Murillo

Alex is a former Associate Director of Operations at Rocketship Public Schools, and Director of Operations and Teacher Certification at Swing Education

Alex’s work with schools and districts has given him incredible perspective into helping schools make sure this “new normal” doesn’t leave anyone behind. Read below for our interview with Alex on operational tips that can help your school or district in making this transition.

As a previous Director of Operations for Rocketship Education, if you could give one piece of advice to School operators that could help in transitioning to distance learning, what would it be?

Two things: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. And focus on building processes to support the most vulnerable students.

As schools transition to distance and virtual Learning, what steps can Districts and Schools take to ensure we are equitably supporting all students and families?

Start forming solutions by working with those who have the closest relationships with the students and their families.  One such action could be to form a working committee with school/district leadership, office managers, teachers, and food directors.

Building a team with the right people, will help you identify the most vulnerable families at the school, and accurately address the challenges and barriers they face. Do the students have access to a laptop computer or stable wifi? Do they have the space and ability to get on a video conferencing platform to participate in classroom discussions?

Once you have accounted for the varying levels of support that students will need, work to create processes that ensure consistent communication.

What could this process look like? And what is a short list of steps that districts and schools could take today?

  • Organize operations managers at schools to create a roster of students that may need additional resources.
  • Create a process to check out computers, and track them. Keep in mind this may require a plan and process to deliver these computers to students who don’t have transportation.
  • Contact businesses to take advantage of free internet offerings and local non-profits to help address gaps (EdSurge highlights some solutions here).
  • Work with teachers to build out and execute communication plans. 
  • Determine what tools teachers should use to communicate with families. Including teachers in this decision making process is key, as many will know how to best reach parents (call vs. email vs. text).

What can the Operations teams specifically do to support school and district teams?

The operations team’s main goal is to free up mental space for the teachers and principals, and to ensure success in shifting their curriculum to an online process. During my time at Rocketship, I facilitated a lot of student reporting, and made sure that we truly understood each student’s needs.

Tangible steps include creating timelines, structures, and processes to make sure students are accounted for, and that all teachers have transparency into any adjustments.

Other operational items include determining how these changes could impact budget and student accountability.

  • Get clear guidance from the state on the implications of taking attendance vs. Not taking attendance (ex. does it impact attendance based funding)
  • Depending on state and county guidance, you may be able to use previous months as a proxy for future months.  Taking these steps give you the ability to know what type of budget you have, and informs how you can best use it to support students and their families.

What tips do you have for school and district operations teams, as they build out their communication plans?

  • As a community hub, schools should reinforce the guidelines of health professionals, provide regular updates, and be as transparent as possible about next steps (including online learning, calendar changes, and availability of support resources for those that need them).
  • In the school, appoint somebody that stays up to date on the latest health guidance from city/state/federal levels. This will help combat misinformation and build trust.
  • Publish clear communication schedules for students and their families.
  • Encourage teachers to set up structured communication outreach, and if time and resources allow, centralize these systems and processes as much as possible. 
  • In addition to personal teacher outreach, make sure your school is able to connect with the parents and students via email, text message, and/or website on a regular schedule to provide school-wide updates.
  • Provide guidance and support for parents in carving out a virtual learning environment ready for online/virtual education. 

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