Episode One: Different School Start Options
You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?
Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview.
Lisa Miller:- Since the Anchorage School District announced its School Start 2020 plan, we've received hundreds of questions from members of the community. This new twice-weekly video series will attempt to tackle our most frequently asked questions. I'm Lisa Miller, a communication specialist with the Anchorage School District. Today I'm joined by Superintendent Gina Bishop, and Deputy Superintendent Mark Stock. Our first topic will be the risk levels that have been outlined by the district to operate under. So we'll take a deep dive into these, and then also the decision making metrics that goes into shifting from one risk level to another. But before we do that, Dr. Bishop, would you give us just a quick overview of the School Start plan that was announced this month and what that looks like?
Dr. Deena Bishop: Sure, so to start just with the history of the School Start plan, there really was direction from the state Department of Education and Early Development, or what we call DEED. Our commissioner of education, as well as Dr. Zink, and the state epidemiologist, they really worked together to create a framework for schools all over Alaska to have plans for starting of school, and it's called the Alaska Smart Start, and of course, ours is School Start for 2020. And what we've done is take taken that framework and overlaid it on our context of the Anchorage School District, and you can see that we have the tenants of the plan were kind of like a traffic light, red, yellow, green, and that really came from the state, and what we've done is taken the standardization that they've done and really customized it to Anchorage. And Mark can share about all the individual levels, but the main, main thing that everyone should know is that this plan, because of those risk levels, they were designed to be flexible, and we have to be nimble, and one thing we found out from this virus is that we have to be able to make decisions and make decisions well using the community conditions and the science experts and the doctors out there to help us understand this virus and understand the safety and protocols behind school. Nevertheless, whatever the condition is in the community is gonna ultimately dictate how we do school, and a couple of weeks ago, we announced a medium-high risk. It was to kind of have a roll-in of school. At that time, due to the metrics that we're gonna share in a little bit, we were at that level, at an intermediate level. But by the start of school, we could be in a high risk. By the start of school, we could be in a low risk, and those have different probabilities, but understanding that it can change, and it will, and that all of us in the community need to be ready for what comes next.
Lisa Miller: Right, yeah, I'm a planner myself, but that's, I think what I've learned through this process is you just, you don't know what week to week things are gonna look like. So just kind of, yeah, being, like you said, nimble and flexible, is key.
Dr. Deena Bishop: And that is probably the most difficult on our families, and really our employees about what is my job gonna look like, and what, can I get my kids to school, and what kind of daycare, and what is it gonna look like? I want our community to know that this is for the people that are planning this and really for the people around the world that are doing this, all this is new planning and new judgements using the best data that we have. So there isn't a playbook we're going by, other than just the information from the experts in the medical field, yeah.
Lisa Miller: Thank you, and Dr. Stock, if you can kind of take us into these risk levels, and you know, what will a day at school look like at each one of these unique risk levels that ASD has defined?
Dr: Mark Stock: Well, at least I think the easiest ones to understand are the two on the ends. So, low risk, for us, that looks like school as usual that we used to know and love and understand, and that would be students coming to school five days a week, students having a full student day of 6 1/2 hours, and so on, and so we called that low risk. We did a survey with a community advisory group we had, and we asked them how likelihood you think it will be that we would be in low risk, you know, soon, and there was no one who felt like low risk was a high probability to start school. So I think we all understand that's tough right now,
- Yeah, on that side.
- But on the high risk end of it, that one's easy to understand too, because it means that at somewhere in the district, whether it would be in a cluster at a school or district-wide, we've determined that it's a high risk to have school at all. So that would be e-learning, five days a week. So we would be home, not at school in brick and mortar, in a high risk environment, as far as our students. The two in the middle, those medium risk, we put it in two categories because we felt like we needed to start school on a kind of a slow roll-in to get people used to learning all the safety protocols and the wearing of masks and all the pieces that we put in place for safety. And so, our thought right now is if we stayed in a medium-high risk is that we would start school two days a week. So students would be split into an alphabet-based sort of, you know, A through L in one group, and M through Z in another, with the exception of families who need to have a different day. We'll work with them. If there's some reason why work, or school, keeping your family units together, we would work with them. But the point is that it would start two days a week, Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, if you're in the other group, and that would be 5 1/2 hours a day, and the other days they would be doing some form of e-learning during that time, 'cause our plan is to have teachers have all of their curriculum and materials to, most of it, in a online environment, so that if we go to high risk because of escalating cases, then we would be able to access the materials from home. So that's pretty much, you know, the plan for medium-high risk. If things went well and there weren't any outbreaks or they were declining and things were stable, we could go to school five days a week with all our students.
Lisa Miller: Now, thank you for that explanation. I wanna kind of dive into this e-learning category. Internally, around the building and on meetings, I've heard the terms synchronous and asynchronous a lot. I think families are still kind of understanding what that means. So I think we understand that for two days, students will be at school in their cohort, a shorter day, smaller group, but then there, I know that there's one day, is it synchronous, and then the other two are asynchronous, is that correct?
Dr. Mark Stock: Well, the starting of school is gonna be a little unusual because during those first two, three weeks, the e-learning days are gonna be not as synchronous as you would think. Synchronous means live, like the teacher's actually reaching out to the students-
Dr. Deena Bishop: Doing it together, so, at the same time as synchronous, doing it at different times. So I could, if I'm learning something, I might be with the whole entire class with the teacher online, that's synchronous. We're synchronously doing it. Asynchronous is I know my work, and I know my lessons and I can do it at 10:00 p.m. at night or 6:00 a.m. in the morning if I wanted to, different than the rest of my classmates, and even my teacher.
Lisa Miller: Okay, all right, thank you for that.
Dr. Mark Stock: Well, that's interesting because what we learned in the spring is that the vast majority of our, especially our older students, they tend to do most of their work between about 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. when it comes to their natural schedule, so.
Dr. Deena Bishop: That's why we wanted School Start .
- Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Deena Bishop: We find out a lot when they log in and when they don't, because of course logging into our lessons, goes through our server for safety reasons, and so we can just take a look at when they pull the data.
Lisa Miller: Okay, all right, so for that e-learning three day plan, one day will be synchronous with the teacher. Does that, that means online then?
Dr. Deena Bishop: Well, it could really-
Dr. Mark Stock: It could vary.
Dr: Deena Bishop: It really depends on how they plan. That Wednesday will be the day that the teacher can check in with all kids, either cohort. And so, he or she might schedule a noon meeting or another lesson or a carry-through lesson or meet with small groups individually, so not all the whole class, and schedule it throughout the day. So it'll have some flexibility, but it's that Wednesday is really an opportunity for teachers to check in on the students that are home, because the other two days, the teacher, again, is going to be with these groups of kids, with those groups of kids, and then the Wednesday is really the day for him or her to be able to kind of catch up, take an account. Part of online learning isn't really about teaching and looking at a computer 24/7. It's really learning the skills and the programs, and then being able to move off and do it, and then have a check. When you are an online teacher, you're really a facilitator and a coach and a mentor, because certainly what online learning allows is that individualized practice, so that the systems can really meet where students are. If a student needs more advanced work, the actual online system can provide more advanced work. If the student needs re-teaching and more practice, the systems will allow for that practice. So it's not necessarily you wouldn't have any education or be learning if a teacher isn't right on there, it's just that the teacher really guides that work, and is that expert in understanding what is next to help set students up.
Dr. Mark Stock: I think another piece that's really critical is to, for everyone to realize that we knew that this, these plans aren't gonna be perfect for everyone in every circumstance. So one of the things we did was we kind of separated into what we're calling ASD at School and ASD at Home is kind of two ways to think about it. So if a parent does not feel safe with their students returning to school right away, the idea was that they could choose an ASD virtual option, which would allow them to stay connected to their homeschool, as far as knowing what's going on in that school, you know, being still enrolled at their local neighborhood school that's their choice, and still being able to access the materials virtually online. And so, an ASD teacher would be assigned to facilitate, as Dr. Bishop was explaining.
Dr. Deena Bishop: And that's one of the biggest questions that comes from that, Lisa, is that if I choose ASD virtual and I'm still connected to my school, do I lose my spot in my class, or say there's a specialized program, an immersion, or another, any kind of lottery that you, whatever school that you're assigned, ASD virtual, you remain at that school, so you don't lose anything. Now, if a parent and a family decide to leave that school and go to another school for online, then obviously you're leaving that school, so you would leave that spot. But if you do ASD virtual tied to your homeschool, all of, you're a student at that school. That's your school. That's still your principal, and a teacher from your school is going to be that coach that I talked about, about working with parents to get virtual learning happening. So I think it's a, we've met parents where they want. We've set up, you know, at-home, in-school, blended, just to meet the many different needs of our families.
Lisa Miller: Right, so families that are just kind of at the place where, you know, they might not care what risk level we say we're at, they're not comfortable sending their kids to school, they can choose these at-home options, and I think you did a good job there of explaining the difference between the new ASD virtual versus the traditional homeschool. So with the virtual, you're still tied to your community school and then homeschool is, that's where you would be unenrolled and switching to a full homeschool option-
-Dr. Mark Stock: I have had a parent ask, I think there is one question that's still a little confusing to some people, and that is, well, what's the difference between being in a high risk environment, ASD at School, where I'm home and I'm online with curriculum versus the ASD virtual? Well, the difference is that in the ASD high risk environment, even though we're at home, we might be lower risk, medium-low risk or something in the next month, and you would come back to brick and mortar. The concept of the ASD virtual is that it's 100% working offline with a teacher from ASD and not going to school at all, no matter what the risk levels are.
Dr. Deena Bishop: Yeah, right.
Lisa Miller: Okay.
Dr. Deena Bishop: Not necessarily, he used the word offline. You're really online. Good point!
Lisa Miller: Yeah.
Dr. Deena Bishop So, you had mentioned about those risk levels, and I know that this is one of the biggest questions about-
Lisa Miller: Yeah.
Dr. Deena Bishop: How do you know what you know?
Dr Deena Bishop: Right.
Dr. Deena Bishop: And just wanted to share with our community, and we had mentioned it in our press conference when we shared, but that was the biggest question, like you say you're in a medium risk, how do you know? Well, we really use the experts' opinions here and the community conditions to guide that information. If you take a look on the Department of Health and Social Services, they've outlined, and this was really, I believe, for nursing homes and other things, they've outlined a medium, low, and high risk model, and they do all their modeling and metrics online. It's a great dashboard. I encourage anyone to go there to find more information. They do that modeling on the number of new cases per 100,000, and that's how we have been using it, and to really drill down more, to be ASD-specific, so that, you know, we don't have to guess, we've taken the information and taken our population in Anchorage and then really drilled down. And so, these are the categories on the left hand side, those are the colors and the categories defined by the Department of Health and Social Services. If you look, they have high, intermediate, and low. The terminology that the Education Department uses at the state is high, medium, and low, and the different colors are true to what those departments use. But what we've done is really put them together, so that the understanding can be made that we would be in high risk if the number, if the average over 14 days of new cases was above 29. Now, we look at them daily. Everybody's paying attention to the news, you know, does it. We look at them daily. We can also look at them by every, by week, too, so that you can have a little bit more, have more agility if you need to, for any kind of spikes or lowering. So, but they actual high, intermediate, and low is really a 14 day average of new cases. And so, right now, Anchorage is in an intermediate range. So if you move over, what does that look like for us? That looks like we're in a medium range for school, and Mark already shared why we chose medium-low to have that slower roll-in. But we may look , you know, and see where might we be otherwise in another two weeks? And so, we keep an eye on this. I know that you had mentioned, you know, somebody thinking we were going to change, and you know, and I want everyone to know, yes, there will be changes because it's continually monitored, but they can rest assured that we're using metrics that are transparent, that are out there, that are based on what we know about our community conditions.
Dr. Mark Stock: And I think Dr. Bishop meant medium-high there when she talked about starting. You said low, but you were looking at medium-high there-
Dr. Deena Bishop: Oh.
Dr. Mark Stock: But that's the one where we would start with the two days a week, until we got all our safety protocols established and everyone was comfortable with what we're doing to keep people safe, and then if things are dropping or stable, there's a possibility we could go medium-low.
Lisa Miller: So we gave ourselves kind of a buffer, if you will, to slowly reopen schools. In that intermediate state, we kind of added in an additional layer, it looks like. Can you talk a little bit about the differences between, well, we talked about medium and high. So when people are looking at that dashboard, they really, when the daily numbers come out, you're looking for Anchorage, correct? Because that's what's gonna make our decision. Will schools, will that be for the district as a whole, or will different schools be in different levels?
Dr. Deena Bishop: That's a great question, and the answer is, yes, both actually could happen. If we open up schools in a medium-high or a medium-low and things are trucking away well, there may be a case, and we know that there will be. No plans whatsoever, I don't think, in any kind of business or other function are we actually eliminating COVID, we're mitigating, you know? This plan is not gonna stop the virus. That's not possible for us, but to continue school, we may have, and we have another matrix that hopefully you have the safety folks come and talk about what happens if there is a case, and then it really is determined by school-to-school or even possibly classrooms, 'cause we're keeping children in cohorts. But for the most part, in the large beginning of opening would really be based off of our community. So we would choose a spot to open according to the entire community, and then as we move forward, we might be in a medium-high, or a medium-low, and then there might be a case in a school, and at that time we have a plan in another matrix, a decision making matrix, about what to do about that. Is it a cluster of cases? Is it a family? Is it contained, or are there a couple of cases that are community spread? So those are decisions, and we have decision making tree for that, response for that, all based off of the best practices, and hopefully that can be another topic to really look at what would happen if a case was found either in a staff member or a student.
Lisa Miller: Well, thank you both so much for being here, and really going through this chart with us, explaining what it means. Anything else you wanted to add before we wrap up?
Dr. Mark Stock: No, I think the only thing I would finish with is just the reminder about the cohort model is a key part of this. We haven't talked about that. We can delve into it in future sessions here, but that's just the reminder that we're trying to keep our elementary students contained. We're trying to reduce the course load for our upper students, so that in middle and high school, they don't travel and train class, change classes as often. So there's an effort to try to reduce the interactions, which further reduces the risk of exposure, and that's a key part of all of this. That's the plan for the face-to-face work.
Lisa Miller: And then the cohort, kind of jumping back to the other slide, if we go into that medium-low, does the cohort still stay together at-
Dr: Bishop: Right.
Lisa Miller: Okay.
Dr Deena Bishop: Yes.
Dr. Deena Bishop: And that's the key. I believe that Dr. Zink uses, and Dr. McLaughlin from the state, he's the state epidemiologist, they use the term bubble. You create a bubble around your family. Well, we are creating a bubble family in schools, and so that we will know whom those students interact with, and who the teachers do as well, so that it's very, it's in a group, and even teachers aren't gonna move to lots of different kids. We wanna keep teachers and kids together. If you can kind of think, Mark mentioned a one-room school house at one time is kind of how you can picture that.
Dr. Mark Stock: Mmm-hmm, yup.
Lisa Miller: "Anne of Green Gables," right?
Dr. Mark Stock: Well, certainly unusual times, but our goal is to keep kids safe, and get kids back in school if we can.
Dr. Deena Bishop: We know that learning in school is beneficial for our community and our students, for parents going back to work, for our economy, for everything. We just need to do it safely, and so one of the things actually that I would love to ask our community that what you do depends on how school will happen. Please wear your masks, please follow no large gatherings, do whatever you can to mitigate the risk in your community, in your neighborhood, in your family, because if you do your job, we can do our job. We need to keep our students, and especially our staff who are coming every day, willing to come, those that want to teach and want to be there, we wanna keep them safe and healthy as well.
Lisa Miller: Yeah, we're all in this together, right?
Dr. Mark Stock: Right.
Lisa Miller: Yup. Thank you for your time.
Dr. Mark Stock: You're very welcome.
Lisa Miller: Thanks for tuning in, and we'll continue to post these videos twice weekly through the start of the school year. There's still time to give us your feedback. We'll link to the Google Form, where you can submit your questions and concerns.