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CHUSD Weighs Future

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[From Coalinga Press Front Page]

Coalinga Huron Unified School District, like most California school districts, is planning for a strange new future.

At last week’s CHUSD Board meeting, Superintendent Lori Villanueva introduced preliminary plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Villanueva explained the process she andstaff used with surveys among teachers, other staff, students and parents about their feelings and concerns with various issues.

CHUSD plans to follow an eight step plan in returning to traditional classroom teaching and learning.

“Using these eight steps as a guideline, we can move forwards, or backward at any time in case of closures,” said Villanueva.

“We had three days to plan for our district’s closure this spring,” continued Villanueva. “We’ve all learned a lot and are continuing to gain new skills in distance learning as well as dealing with a pandemic in general.

“The primary goal of any school is the safety of students and staff while providing quality educational and support services,” said Villanueva.
At the board meeting, the group discussed the benefits of using a hybrid system of learning.

“A hybrid program is where kids could come in to school in small groups with physical distancing,” explained Villanueva, “once or twice a week, and the rest of the time will be working from home.This is necessary because of the physical distancing rules that currently exist. This is why I have been saying that we will be in some form of distance learning next year because we can’t have large groups of students either on the bus or at school.”

EIGHT STEP SYSTEM

1. Full time distance learning for all students.

2. Full time distance learning for all students except TK and kindergarten, on a part-time rotating in-person system.

3. Part-Time rotating distance/in-person for TK through third grade; full time distance for secondary students.

4. Part-Time rotating distance/in-person for TK through fifth grade.

5. Part-Time rotating distance/in-person for middle school; distance learning for high school.

6. Part-Time rotating distance/in-person for all grade levels.

7. Full return to in-person learning in all grade levels.

8. Full time distance learning for any family that requests it.

“Likely due to physical distancing rules, it (school reopening) will be a hybrid method which I talked about, said Villanueva. “The fact is that we will be in some form of distance learning until we are cleared to return. I encourage everyone to listen to the last board meeting and get the facts. We have guidelines from multiple entities that we need to follow.”

Some families are unhappy with distance learning for a variety of reasons. Some children do not benefit from that style of learning. Some parents need to return to work and don’t have time to watch over their children at home while they do school through the Internet. Some are concerned about optimal Internet connections.

“Distance learning is not great for all kids,” agrees Villanueva. “It is however, something we’ll have to deal with until the pandemic subsides. I remind everyone that when we closed in March, we did the best we could given the emergency circumstances. Anything from here forward will be well planned and better.”

Villanueva and board members recognize that Internet connections are a frustration and need for many families in CHUSD.

“Reliable Internet in our area is a problem in general,” said Villanueva. “I encourage parents to do what they can to have strong Internet service into the home if possible. We are working on devices with Internet connections as well as hotspots, but having Internet and having reliable Internet are two different things. We need a good Internet provider in both cities that offer low-cost high speed Internet.”

The district’s eight step plan begins with a focus on having the youngest children in a real class setting as soon as possible because they are the most vulnerable and inexperienced.

“The first step in the plan, to bring the littlest ones in first because they have the least skills and experience to learn in the home,” explained Villanueva. “We can’t bring everyone back at once, but it is important to start there. Note that I’m not saying that it won’t be good for all kids to be back, but we need to take things a step at time. The best place for all of our students is in class with their teachers.”

DISTANCE TASK FORCE

Villanueva and her staff has assembled a task force of 75 people: teachers, parents, staff students. The group had its kickoff last week and continues to work on various aspects of distance learning. The group hopes to further the many aspects of distance learning for all ages.

There are several Distance Learning Models being considered. For high school a 30/20 Model Full Day Schedule may be possible. This would something like 30 minutes of direct teaching from an instructor on line. The 20 minutes of classwork done during the remaining time possibly to be turned in at the end of the 50 minute time period.

Middle School may use a block session of ELA/History and Math/Science Times, with shorter times for elective subjects.

Elementary may offer shorter subject lessons with small group intervention times.

And then there is the question of physical education? The district is hoping for a waiver! But they also have a few ideas.

BUDGET WOES

Another challenge for the district is how to manage the huge loss of revenue as the state grapples with covid-19 related financial woes. There is a massive shortfall statewide and all school districts face the necessity of making crippling cuts to programs and staff.

An article on page 6 addresses this issue more directly.

Last Word: Superintendent Speaks
I don’t want anyone to lose their jobs. I want the pandemic to go away and the economy to recover. I want us to make great decisions based on the needs of the community and the rules we need to follow. We absolutely do hear you, our community, and we will do our best given what we have to work with. You are right that we have some of the BEST staff anywhere in the valley!

I hope by August some of the restrictions are lifted. This pandemic has been and continues to be difficult for everyone.I want everyone to understand that the Board and I must make the best decisions we can that consider the safety of all students and staff. No decisions have been made yet about how school will open, and I’ve been trying to educate everyone on what the parameters are that we have to follow.

Regardless, the budget cuts being imposed on us are devastating, and are not the district’s fault. We stopped our deficit spending and built healthy reserves after I took over. The financial damage from the pandemic is predicted to be greater than the Great Recession, and could throw us in to a horrible depression. The pandemic is devastating, and we didn’t invent the rules we were given to follow. It will take the entire community to work through this.

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