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After months of planning, distance learning will resume across the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District on Monday, and will look very different from the spring. Attendance will be monitored, grades will be issued, live sessions will be required, parents will receive weekly updates, and everyone will be better trained on technology platforms.

“Our team of teachers, administrators and support staff have worked hard this summer to provide a robust educational program remotely to all students. We are ready to welcome students on the first day of school,” said Gail Pinkser, Community & Public Relations Officer at SMMUSD.

Across elementary, middle, and high schools, students will participate in daily synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Live instruction will allow teachers and students to connect in real-time across online platforms including Zoom, SeeSaw, Google Classroom, and Screencastify. Independent learning will include self-guided instructional modules, pre-recorded lessons, and work on class assignments.

“There were pockets of success in the spring, but there were also a lot of areas that weren’t successful,” said Ralph Mechur, a member of the School Board. “So we’ve been working on lessons learned to make this fall a vibrant and exciting experience for everybody involved teachers, students and family.”

“We know the reality of it is there were some gaps we are going to have to fill as far as instruction is concerned,” said Dr. Antonio Shelton, the Principal at Samohi. “So we will be doing some assessments to see where kids are before moving forward and making sure that we reteach things that they may have missed.”

The District has put a strong emphasis on improving accountability and communication this semester. Teachers will send weekly updates to parents and will be available to speak directly with students and parents during office hours and flex time, which are included in the weekly schedule. Students’ attendance will be recorded daily in Illuminate, a platform where parents access students’ grades and progress, and school administrators will work with families to address attendance challenges.

“Attendance was less rigorously executed in the Spring, and there was an understanding that teachers were going to do the best they could do,” said Craig Foster, a member of the School Board. “Now students will be held accountable for attendance, teachers will be held accountable for their performance in distance learning, and there is a clear understanding of how the curriculum will be rolled out.”

Elementary school students will have 230 minutes of daily live instructional time, which includes 30 minutes of social emotional learning in the form of a morning “community meeting”. They will spend an average of five hours a day engaged in synchronous and asynchronous learning. Middle and high school students will have 240 minutes of live instruction each day. Each school will set their own schedules, but sample schedules include four days of three 80 minute period blocks and one compressed day of six 25 minute blocks.

“Our teachers are required to be on the entire 80 minutes of the block period. Every teacher will do attendance in that first ten minutes and check in on our students. They will then have instruction that is either synchronous, that means live instruction, or asynchronous. Teachers may teach a lesson for 25 minutes then ask students to go in a break out room and complete an activity with other students. Ten minutes prior to the end of the class the whole class comes together to review and reflect,” said Shelton.

“The district has basically built a distance learning capability like an online distance learning company over the summer and it’s going to have at least that level of professionalism. I’m really impressed,” said Foster.

Five days of professional development will have taken place prior to the school year to provide technology training for teachers and share pedagogical practices for engaging students in distance learning. During the school there will be weekly professional development sessions based on district wide priorities and issues highlighted by teachers.

“Of course we would prefer to be going back to school as usual this fall, unfortunately, this is not possible due to the pandemic,” said Pinkser. “We understand the tremendous hardship this is placing on many families and teachers. We appreciate patience and understanding as we navigate this challenge and do everything we can to support our students and parents.”

Clara@smdp.com