March 31, 2020, Chappaqua, NY-– Chappaqua School Superintendent Christine Ackerman stated the Chappaqua Central School District took steps in February to “get ahead of” COVID-19 with an iLearning System “and had prepared for it well” hopefully minimizing potential pitfalls and maximizing its potential for success now and in the months to come. Ackerman shares more in this 3/28 interview about how iLearning has been faring.
An End Note of Encouragement to HGHS Seniors, too.
A soft launch of the iLearning System began on March 19th; a full implementation took place on March 23rd.
GB: So you had a lot of work to do as this crisis unfolded. Your letter and video to the district’s community is an excellent summary about iLearning. I’m looking for what you might wish to add to our readers about how the teachers and students are doing with it.
CA: Back in February we started talking about this as a possibility and we started to consider how we would transition to online instruction. If we had to ask ourselves: How could we do that? How could we make that work being that, the faculty are all in different places in how they deliver instruction? Our current system allows for certain pedagogical freedom in terms of how you present your concepts and content. We were faced with trying to honor this in the virtual system while ensuring students had meaningful experiences.
We began talking with our teacher leadership team about if we had to move online, what that would look like for our district? We came up with a plan with parameters so we could have a level of consistency across grade levels and enough autonomy for people if we had to move to iLearning instruction.
Our plan was approved by our board before we even had a close up of what this would look like in real time. We started offering professional development to help faculty get ready for the eventful closure–which we anticipated was coming based on our analysis of the map, even though there were no decisions made yet from the health department or governor ordering a systematic closure.
In the end I believe we were ahead of this closure with enough time to prepare for this well. This was an enormous lift for our faculty as they had to deliver instruction differently–so we created the framework in order for that to work with them. As the weeks press on, the instructional system will get stronger and better because the faculty will be more used to using these tools with fluidity. I do feel like the district is in the best place we possibly could be given the circumstances that we are in.
GB: That is a very positive statement. I appreciate it and I am sure others will appreciate hearing this too. Can you tell me how many teachers and faculty, a general number of who is involved in participating–are all the teachers accessing this system?
CA: Every class and every teacher is online delivering instruction. How they are doing that is different depending on which class they are teaching. For example, supporting our students who have special services, obviously looks different from what a middle school English class might look like.
GB: Are you finding, or are the teachers and faculty finding cooperation among the students, or are there more loopholes for them? How is iLearning being monitored in terms of homework and expectations?
CA: That is a great question! Our families in this community place a significant value on education. The partnership between the district and our families enables this to work well for a lot of children. For students who we are concerned about, before we left, we created systems with our clinical staff, so they would be able to support those students in a more individualized way. The clinicians have daily interactions with the administrative teams in each building to monitor and address children who need support in a different way because we moved to an online system.
GB: When you say clinicians, do you mean (the students’) getting emotional support?
CA: Our school counseling team, our psychologists, our social workers, our assistant principals, our principals are all working to make sure that students we are concerned about have support. That support looks different depending on who the child is and what their needs are. We had a system for reporting abuses and maintaining attendance. We have procedures and protocol to monitor student engagement.
GB: Are there any special anecdotes about any of this you might share?
CA: The amount of work that the faculty is engaged in to support our students is tremendous. They are in the midst of not only supporting the instruction of the Chappaqua school’s community, but also supporting what is happening in their own homes. I just couldn’t think of a finer faculty to be able to move to online instruction than the teachers in this district. I also want to share that the visionary leadership provided by our assistant superintendent, Dr. Adam Pease, has been extraordinary. What he has been able to accomplish in partnership with our faculty in such a short amount of time is unbelievable.
GB: How long do you see this system being in place or I guess you must just be consulting and getting information as it goes on. Is this indefinite right now? Where are we?
CA: The governor has provided an anticipated reopening date of April 15, but we will be able to sustain this for as long as we need to for our kids.
GB: How do you see this as changing the face of education after this is over, too?
CA: Well this is what I think it will do, when we finally return to school – I think faculty will be leveraging technology now in very different ways because of this experience.
GB: Do you think it may become a more part and parcel of how they teach?
CA: I do think that there will be an increase in the integration of technology and resources based on this virtual experience right now.
GB: What has the feedback been like from kids?
CA: This is the iGeneration and they are very accustomed to online technology, so our delivery method is not outside of the comfort zone for many. They already access content over social media or online and use these tools. The feedback that I received when I met with the high school students this week on Zoom was that the online instruction, in their minds, is very effective. The piece that they are missing, of course, is the interaction with their classmates and the interaction with their teachers. Even though we have opportunities for our faculty and our children to interact in many classes over Zoom, it doesn’t take the place of what we are able to do in our classrooms. So, even though this is, in a sense, working for a lot of kids, it does not take the place of being in the building and being able to interact with each other, face-to-face.
GB: I will share that! Thank you. I am also wondering about the seniors, in particular. I have already posted something from a high school student saying that this is really upsetting for them because they are thinking of graduation and prom and all that. So I’m wondering if you can address that. What can you say to those students? Are there contingency plans in place for all that or are we hoping for the best that everything gets back to normal and nothing’s changed after April 15th?
CA: We will have a moment where we will celebrate our seniors. Whether that takes place in June or not, at this point, I don’t know, but I will share with you that our seniors deserve to have their accomplishments acknowledged and we will find a way to do it when the time is right.
Special thanks to Inside Press Intern Kiran Sheth who assisted in preparing this interview.