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Central Point Schools serve up choices for fall learning

Central Point School District families will have three formats to choose from for the upcoming school year, according to plans released Friday to staff and families.

Students in kindergarten through grade 12 will be able to opt into either a fully digital learning system, a hybrid on-site and distance learning setup, or a fully on-campus option — though only part of the week would be spent in a classroom.

“The preferences of every family are important for us,” said Superintendent Samantha Steele. “So we’re going to find a way to meet their needs.”

The school district’s plans, which remain subject to any new regulations that may come down from the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon Health Authority or the governor’s office, allows flexibility for both teachers and parents to adjust the broad framework to better suit student and staff needs than was possible in the spring.

Digital learning will likely feature in all three models, including the full-time on-site option. Although students will be on campus for complete school days or weeks, not all of their time will be spent in class. Elementary students may spend the afternoon, for example, doing digital learning under the supervision of an instructional assistant. For students in middle and high school, the time will likely be split up over the week — with some days spent full-time in the classroom, other days doing digital work on campus under supervision.

“The common denominator is the classroom teacher,” Steele said. “Teachers will really facilitate that distance learning, whether at home or on-site.”

The switch to a new online management system called Acellus will provide a more uniform experience for students and families. Many parents who responded to an end-of-year survey offered by Central Point School District reported that navigating multiple platforms during the spring added to the difficulty of distance learning.

“I think it’s going to be way more user-friendly and way easier for families,” said Chris Alden, president of the Central Point teachers union.

Establishing familiarity with a more cohesive online instruction method is important, Steele said, because students, their families and school staff should all be prepared to make a quick switch to digital learning in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 at a school.

“We recognize we will likely face short-term closures, whether of a school, a classroom or the district,” Steele said.

But the school district is also exploring ways to ensure that distance learning doesn’t deprive students of social interaction the way that it did in the spring. In that spirit, the district is exploring ways to support “micro schools” of 10 or fewer distance learners gathering in homes, or “learning hubs” on campuses, overseen by a partner organization such as the YMCA.

A “micro school” organized by a group of parents and supervised by one or more each week would likely be registered with the school district, Steele said, and would receive support from the district to maintain a productive and safe environment. Those types of in-home groups, however, are likely to be most accessible to families with parents who are able to work from or stay at home.

The on-campus learning hubs, she said, would be “a way to provide equity.”

“For some families, it’s not a choice — they have to have their kids in school,” Steele said.

School officials said that Acellus will provide additional support to students through its diagnostic features, which notify teachers when a student is struggling with a certain topic or assignment. While gathering student input last year to inform the school district’s application for the Student Investment Account, Steele said she heard that students struggled with asking their teachers for help. The new technology, she and Alden said, will streamline communication to keep students on track.

As the district moves forward with its plans, community feedback and continuing state guidance will shape them further. ODE’s next guidance is scheduled to be released Aug. 11.

“It is frustrating to feel like we want to be doing stuff now, to be planning for the fall,” Alden said. “I think that’s the difficulty for all of us. We’re all having to make adjustments. I would call for patience and understanding and flexibility. ... We gotta work together if we’re going to get through this.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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