Update on Transition to Distance and Virtual Learning

--- Published on March 23rd 2020 ---

Natomas Unified Families and Community,

This is one in a series of direct messages from me, giving you updates on our transition into Distance/Virtual Learning. Here’s a progress report of our plan and where we are:

Week of March 23: Teachers will plan and prepare lessons using existing instructional platforms suitable for Distance Learning

Today I was able to visit (using good social distancing practices) a few schools as teachers returned to pick up instructional supplies/materials. It’s a slow process as Principals schedule teachers 4, 5 or 6 at a time for a period of time. By the end of the day tomorrow, teachers should be stocked and ready to prep as we head into pilot efforts. I was able to see a teacher and an admin talk about what virtual lessons were like. I heard about at least 2 collaboration meetings among colleagues. Natomas Unified is attempting to make this 16,000 student transition.

Weeks of March 30 – April 6: Teachers will begin to “pilot” lesson plans with students as families are provided orientation and necessary resources. We’ve told teachers that not every student will have their devices and WiFi at the same time, but this is when it is expected for teachers to try things out, give students work, enrichment, remediation, and get students working during the day. We know technology will fail and issues will happen. Here’s where we are:

  • All Chromebooks have been cleaned.
  • We have to disconnect each Chromebook from each cart and bundle up the charger. Our current system stores and charges Chromebooks in carts. Basically, we cleaned, unwrapped, and now bundling thousands of Chromebooks.
  • On top of that, for security reasons, the Chromebooks would not work beyond our school WiFi range. We are having to change each Chromebook so settings allow them to work beyond our school walls.
  • Once the above work is done, we will communicate Technology Pick Up Events that will follow state and local social distancing guidelines.
  • WiFi Hotspots are set to be shipped on April 6th.
  • Before our virtual/distance learning programs start, we plan to have virtual school offices and virtual district department offices up and available.  A school’s office staff will be able to Zoom with each other and take calls through technology other than their own private devices. The same will be true of district office departments.

Week of April 13: The District will be on its regularly scheduled Spring Break, and students will not be provided new instruction. I am incredibly grateful that so many of you recognize our staff have spouses, their own children, and their own parents. This global pandemic is affecting them too. We had to balance instruction time and our 1,200 employee’s families and health. Plus, as we have some tech fails and false starts, we can use this time to fix it.  Our staff has not been taking vacations this past week. Many classified and managers have been working long days and weekends. Teachers are feeling the same realities as others facing this pandemic and now have to prep for a new reality of teaching and learning. We are moving at the pace we can, and I appreciate the majority of you who recognize that.

Weeks of April 20 – May 21: Staff will provide instruction through Distance Learning. Schools “reopen” virtually. Psychologists and counselors will be virtually accessible. Principals and office staff will be ready to help. Thanks in advance for your patience. This is beyond what anyone can imagine, and we know there will be gaps and flaws. We are lucky that we have such a supportive and collaborative staff and the technology to do this. Every teacher has a laptop. Our English Language Arts, Math, and History/Social Studies curriculum can be accessed from the Internet, not just traditional textbooks. One of our biggest lifts, and it is a big one, addressing equity for students as best we can through Chromebooks and hotspots.

I will keep the updates coming until we handoff back to the schools as they become fully, virtually functional.  

Best wishes and good health to you all!

Chris Evans