Tech & Learning Remote Learning Series: What They’re Doing in California

remote learning
Amy Liang, Director of Instructional Technology, Cupertino USD (Image credit: Future)

Los Angeles USD has launched -- and sustained -- an effective remote learning program in the second largest district in the country. LAUSD was quickly able to train their teachers, add a more robust library of vetted resources to their LMS, and roll out the devices needed so every student had access from home. 

In Cupertino USD, district leaders have used the remote learning program to unify their school district and encourage collaboration. 

In this virtual roundtable conversation, Dr. Kecia Ray talked with leaders from both districts about their remote learning strategy in regard to short- and long-term planning. 

Watch the on-demand version here

Key Takeaways

Phasing in remote learning. Amy Liang, Director of Instructional Technology, Cupertino USD talked about how the district implemented remote learning in three phases:
1. Created an infrastructure to handle the rapid immediate transition to remote learning.
2. Increased support for educators and families for short-term remote learning.
3. Increased PD and deeper supports for long-term remote learning.
“We’re still building the plane as we’re flying it!” Liang said. 

Tool time. Liang also spoke about how they’re focusing on a set of core tools for everyone in the district to use for remote learning, and then developing PD around those specific tools. They are also vetting tools for privacy and FERPA compliance, and have developed video conferencing guidelines and online PD practices to support that. This is an opportunity to build community and increase communication and collaboration across the district, Liang said. 

Liang also acknowledged the top digital skill necessary for elementary students: Remember your password! The number of Help Desk requests regarding forgotten passwords has been high. 

Open communication. Paulina Rock, Director of Personalized Learning, Los Angeles USD, shared how the district has focused on communication. Part of the effort has been to develop a communications strategy in English and Spanish, so leaders have been working with community partners and other organizations to get info to families. The district communicates directly to parents on a weekly basis, and the superintendent has a local TV broadcast at 11 am every Monday. In addition, the district created a “suggestion box” to provide an opportunity for community feedback. Also, multiple synchronous communication platforms have been provided to teachers to let them choose whatever one feels most comfortable. 

Remote PD. Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, Chief Academic Officer, Los Angeles USD, discussed how during the transition to remote learning, the district asked teachers to do 10 hours of PD, ranging subjects from adapting lessons for online presentation to simply becoming familiar Google digital tools. More than 60 online PD sessions have been developed for teachers that provide remote teaching advice, strategies, and even support around social-emotional learning. The district is also offering a “future-ready” teaching certificate that features an additional 30 hours of remote learning PD, plus a $1,000 stipend. District leaders have also been collaborating with labor organizations to create options for teachers in regard to engaging and teaching remotely. 

Supplemental support. Yoshimoto-Towery also discussed how the district launched a partnership with PBS for 24 hours of standards-aligned TV programming for students. Teachers are required to have three hours of office hours per week.  And district leaders are looking for what can be leveraged when this is over and students return to schools. 

Data sharing. Advait Shinde, CEO/Co-Founder of GoGuardian, presented some of the data around remote learning that his company is seeing. For example, many more teachers and students are sending messages later in the afternoon, well beyond traditional school hours and even up to 8 pm. And not only that, many messages are not just about school work, but simply connecting as people. 

Supporting students with special needs. “When it comes to students with special needs, it’s not an easy answer,” said Yoshimoto-Towery. “We’ve really been working one-on-one with each student.” The district has also been sending home extra materials for ELL students. 

Reading rainbows. Having a class of 25 students online at once can be challenging, so teachers have been breaking out into smaller groups, said Yoshimoto-Towery. She also stressed the importance of doing parent education. “The parent-teacher partnership has never been more important than it is right now,” she added.

Online safety. The internet can be a distracting place for kids, and potentially harmful, said Shinde, who stressed that GoGuardian products focus on understanding the content that students are looking at, and going from that. Continuing to emphasize digital citizenship best practices has been helpful in protecting students, added Liang. 

Continuing mental and SEL health. Yoshimoto-Towery explained how LA USD has established a mental health hotline to support students, families and staff, and that the emphasis on positive mental health is going to have to stay beyond this. Trauma from missing events, proms, graduations, etc., is also something that educators will need to address for a long time, she said.

This situation has also been a reflective process for many educators, said Rock. We need to consider where we are right now in terms of social-emotional learning, and what supports will be needed to support blended learning in the future.

This remote learning experience is going to be permanently ingrained in the educational experience, said Shinde. How schools can leverage this opportunity to make education more effective for students in the future will be something interesting to see.

Lunch 'n Learn with Tech & Learning

This report is part of Tech & Learning's District Leadership Lunch ‘n Learn Roundtable series, hosted by Dr. Kecia Ray. In this series, districts from across the U.S. share their strategic plans, the challenges they are facing, and the creative solutions they are using to support students and teachers. Access previous webinars and register for our upcoming events here

More from T&L: Lunch 'n Learn roundtable recaps 

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.