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Opinion: Will Colorado leaders support rural school districts as we struggle with online learning?

These have been a significant few months for us here in the San Luis Valley. In the midst of a pandemic, SLV superintendents have met weekly to determine the best plans to restart school and support students and families. 

As we’ve been digging into the work of reopening and making school work, it is easy to start working and think that many of these stories will tell themselves. 

However, it’s become clear to me that they won’t.  And I think a critical component of a superintendent’s job is to be a booster for their community, an advocate for their kids and speak truth about the state of education. I share these items not to complain, but to ensure that the entire Colorado education and political community knows what is happening in our rural communities like Alamosa. I want to tell you a story about a school district that is adapting rapidly to meet these challenges — not resigned to them but finding the solutions within and in our community. We’ve had a significant amount of leadership transition and since I’ve stepped into the role of interim superintendent, I’ve been honored to lead in this community and to serve our incredible families.  

So first off: Let me tell you a little bit about the challenges we’re facing.

Marsha Cody, Alamosa School District Interim Superintendent

Since August, we’ve had six out of 13 bus drivers resign, shutting down rural routes that make it impossible to get kids to where they need to go.  That means students who cannot attend school because of lack of transportation now do not have devices to access learning. It means students that do not have transportation to come to school now are not receiving breakfast or lunch, which they usually received at school. (Seventy-two percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.)

Virtual learning is a critical component of how we are going to make learning happen. Yet, a global supply chain issue means that as we’ve moved to a 1:1 device district, we still are waiting for a day when the devices arrive — at the earliest in October. This makes distance or remote learning nearly impossible for many of our students.

Equity of access and language access are critical to a community like Alamosa. We implore the state department of education to invest more deeply in the public online supplemental program so it can meet the needs of this moment. Currently, there is much that needs to be done to support English learner students and students with plans under the Individualized Education Programs. Our rural communities that support these students need a strong partner at the state who is deeply committed to ensuring equity of resources and access – and to removing any potential barriers the current state-funded resources may unintentionally create. We need the state to prioritize designing scaffolds and supports within the state-funded online resource. 

But in the midst of all of these challenges, I want to tell you how inspired I am by our local teachers, our families and our students.

Since the middle of the summer, our classroom teachers have met with 80% or more of their students for a back-to-school family interview to learn more about the needs of the student and family and the support they need to have a successful year. These 1:1 conversations with every family have provided incredible inspiration and energy as we’ve started the year. Our teachers have learned so much from their families about what they are worried about, what they love about their kids and how we can get better to support them. 

Our teachers, families and communities all continue to rally to support Alamosa Online School. More than 30 middle school and high school teachers teach at least one course; administrative assistants and registrars at each in-person school help with transferring students, scheduling and supporting registration; high school counselors register online students in concurrent classes; the K-12 EL team brainstorms ideas on how to best support online English language learning students. We even have one Alamosa Online elementary teacher who provides Zoom sessions for students and interviews with families. Our incredible tech team hands out devices (and exchanges them again); tech savvy teachers throughout the district help set up printers and teach other teachers how to use a variety of learning management systems.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

As the new interim superintendent here in my community of Alamosa, I’m committed to speaking truth about what is possible. I believe that every student and teacher in our community has the potential to thrive and succeed. Yet, I need state leaders to hear me clearly that all is not well with our state’s online school infrastructure. There are massive technology problems with the state-funded curriculum resource. I implore the state to provide the fiscal and personnel support needed to resolve these issues. Without laser-focused support, many students in rural districts will have little to no access to instruction because of vast technology issues and the lack of scaffolds and supports provided through the platform.  

I shared this op-ed with my partners and colleagues across the San Luis Valley and they have let me know that they share my concerns and more. This is a challenging moment that not only requires rapid action from all parties involved but a different type of commitment from the state.

Our question to our state education leadership is this: What are you willing to do to stand shoulder to shoulder with the incredible teachers, families and students of rural Colorado to ensure this year is successful? How will you ensure equity of access, resources and impact so that all kids, especially those in communities like ours, can succeed?

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER


Marsha Cody is the Alamosa School District interim superintendent. This column was written in collaboration with Chris Burr, superintendent of Upper Rio Grand School District; Travis Garoutte, superintendent of Mountain Valley School District; Toby Melster, superintendent of Centennial School District; Scott Wiedeman, superintendent of Monte Vista School District; and Carrie Zimmerman, superintendent of Center School District.


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