Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden announced that the district will allow teachers to record video communications for its students with their principals’ review, and it will pilot an online interactive classroom model with select students.
After a long discussion at the Williamson County Schools Board of Education virtual work session Thursday evening, district superintendent Jason Golden announced Monday teachers will be able to post preapproved instructional videos online for their students.
“We opened the door for teachers to prepare and post video communications to their students with their principals’ review,” he said. “We’ve also created some training schedules for our teachers. … The scope of both teacher training and student comfort on a pure online status was not something we had trained for, so we have some scheduled trainings for teachers to learn how to do these videos.”
Golden also announced at the meeting that the district will pilot an interactive classroom setup through Zoom with its International Baccalaureate (IB) students.
"We’re going to establish some recommended settings with Zoom and try it with some IB classes. We’ll also analyze accessibility for students," Golden said in an email to the Herald. "We expect that process to take about two weeks, and decisions on its use will be made after that evaluation."
The district does not plan to roll out any required, graded online classwork, however. These online classrooms, while WCS encourages remote learning and engagement, will be optional.
"Although some parents, students and even teachers may be capable of 100% online classes with required attendance, many of our students and families are not," Golden said in an email. "We're not continuing on with class as usual because we can't equitably instruct, assign, and hold accountable all students. Therefore we've committed to providing students resources to continue their learning to the best of their ability as we provide support and access to the resources to the greatest extent possible."
At last week’s work session, Golden said the district decided not to allow video communication between teachers and students out of an obligation to protect the students.
“We had discussions about those live video chats between students and teachers, and so many of those examples that many of us have seen over these last few days are really what struck us, and that included examples like somebody forgets that the video is on and they go to the restroom with their computer, [or] somebody in various stages of undress walks behind somebody as they’re having a video chat,” Golden said last week. “Those examples drove us, because we do have a strong desire and a strong commitment to protect our students.”
However, several board members shared they believe personal teaching is important for student learning and socioemotional wellbeing, and on Monday, Golden said Zoom has changed some of its default settings, which eased some of the concerns from the administration.
“They have changed the default setting in a Zoom conference to only allow the presenter to post materials online,” Golden said. “So, the discussions that we had with you about our concerns related to some of those online interactive devices and software packages are similar issues that some of these national and international companies have heard as well.”
Also at Monday’s meeting, Golden recapped some of the board’s discussion from its work session last week. He mentioned again that schools are closed through April 24.
Despite the announcement from President Donald Trump Monday morning, calling for social distancing to be continued through April 30, Golden did not announce an extension of school closures at this time, citing the fact that Gov. Bill Lee did not call for an extension in his daily update Monday afternoon.
“No matter what, our plan is designed to maintain that student engagement whether we go back on April 24, April 30 or don’t go back,” Golden said.
Golden also mentioned again that TCAP and end-of-year testing has been canceled, and the requirement for schools to hold 180 instructional days has been waived by the state. More information concerning graduating students will come following the Tennessee Board of Education meeting on April 9.
Finally, on a local level, Golden shared baseline resources for all grades and courses are now available to WCS students through ClassLink, and teachers on the secondary level are encouraged to add supplementary materials to Google Classroom. These activities are not required and will not be graded.
He also mentioned nearly 600 Chromebooks have been handed out to secondary students, and elementary students will have the opportunity to pick up devices on Wednesday. Parents should look for an email from their schools’ principals.
In addition to the changes in how teachers will communicate with their students, Carol Birdsong, the communications director for WCS, is working with the central office on a number of video projects. In addition to the “Miss You” videos the district has been posting on its social media pages and website, the communications team is working with elementary teachers and principals to create “Storytime” videos featuring books read by familiar WCS faces as well as videos with tips for reading and math.
Birdsong said she hopes to begin publishing these videos this week.
During the board meeting, District 4 Board Member Brad Fiscus expressed his concern over parents being overwhelmed with the responsibility to keep their children engaged. Denise Goodwin, the assistant superintendent of elementary education, said on the elementary level teachers are guiding individual families on some of the key areas each student can work on and how to navigate the online materials.
On the other hand, District 12 Board Member Nancy Garrett shared she has spoken to parents who did not realize that course-specific materials were available, and she suggested principals send follow-up messages to families.
“We just cannot over-communicate,” she said.
Finally, District 3 Board Member Eliot Mitchell recommended the district find a way to allow for public comment during this period where the board meets electronically.
The school board’s regularly scheduled board meeting is set for April 16 at 6 p.m. As the situation constantly changes due to the coronavirus, check back at wcs.edu as the district adjusts its schedule.