Gabriel Cardenas is principal at Mildred B. Janson School (opens in new tab) in California's Rosemead School District, a TK-6th grade school with 577 students that is 68% Asian and 30% Hispanic, with more than 77% of students classified as socio-economically disadvantaged and receiving free or reduced lunch. The school is currently completely virtual.
Tools being used
We are using Google Classroom for all grade levels. For communication, we use Class Dojo and Zoom for virtual classes. We have many school-wide initiatives such as iReady and PBIS under The Leader in Me Framework. One of our most popular tools is iReady; we ensure all students access iReady lessons daily, in both Math and Reading, and for a minimum of 45 minutes a week per subject. iReady has been very useful to drive our instruction and to provide intervention and enrichment programs.
Every student is provided with a chromebook and hot spot if needed. The district has created a student portal where all curriculum and programs can be easily accessible through this portal.
There are several challenges when teaching virtually, however, one key piece is that of "student connectedness." Although our staff is working extremely hard to meet the needs of all of our students, we find it challenging to get the most out of our students. We know that each child has strengths and gifts and it is our duty to ensure we recognize those. However, it has been challenging during virtual learning. It is also challenging to develop the social skills students are presented with when they are in person compared to online.
What are the advantages of teaching in this environment?
Our staff has grown professionally in the area of technology and collaboration. Although we all much rather be on campus with students in our classrooms, we have seen so much good come out of this environment. As a principal at this site for the past 12 years, I am amazed to see the creativity, collaboration and skill set that everyone has displayed. I could not be prouder.
How are teachers being supported?
Fortunately, thirteen of our staff members are Google-certified and have a lot of technology experience. The staff has truly come together to collaborate and share ideas. Also, as a site administrator, I do my best to create an environment for everyone that is safe and okay for "mistakes." The district has also put together a team of strong technology educators to provide professional development in many areas for teacher support.
As a principal I also am cautious of our staff's social and emotional state, and I try to be the biggest cheerleader and support for all of them. I will reach out to each one of them via phone, text message, or phone call to check in. We try to make staff meetings fun, engaging, and meaningful, and acknowledge them for the great work that they are doing. I have the best staff ever!
How are you supporting your students?
I send videos from my office with inspiring messages, post on social media, and will have various conversations with different students during class break out rooms to check in.
How are you supporting your parents and families?
We use Class Dojo to post daily messages and videos, and have Zoom Principal Coffee Chats often. I also invite parents to come to the school's office for technical support and am sure to be available to help or even have a casual conversation. I also allow for public comments and questions to be asked to me via Class Dojo anytime.
Anything else you'd like to add about your successes and challenges being an administrator during the pandemic?
I truly believe that I have been blessed with such an amazing staff and community. As a product of this community, I am honored to be the principal. I've learned that there is so much that can be done when challenges face us, such as this pandemic. It has made us think outside the box, synergize as a team, and truly follow the motto of "It takes a village to raise a child."
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