Offering a redesigned, reimagined, and rebooted learning experience is the mantra for the Santa Fe, New Mexico public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. Although our buildings are closed for the first nine weeks through an agreement with our union, we were ready and excited to virtually welcome students and families to the new school year on August 20th.
Since the end of May, our bright and talented educational leaders have consulted the latest research and best practices and reviewed stakeholder input to ensure that quality educational opportunities are provided to students this school year, regardless of the learning model.
The Santa Fe Public Schools (SFPS) has long recognized that a digital learning experience is central to learning across all academic endeavors. In 2020, SFPS received the Community Leadership in Digital Equity Award from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) for working to eliminate inequities and narrow the access gap.
Because of Santa Feans’ support of educational technology notes (ETNs), we were ready when COVID-19 moved technology to the forefront, and there’s no going back. The ETNs raise funds for technology from property taxes after voter approval every five years. In 2019, voters approved $55 million to meet technology needs in Santa Fe’s public and local charter schools. These funds have allowed us to meet the challenge of providing students with critical technology so they can succeed in a world that is forever changed.
Our 12,377 students are uniquely the Digital Generation; they join other students across the country in being the most flexible in recent history. They will likely transition between in-person, hybrid, and remote learning models, depending on the course of the virus, throughout the school year.
When we went to remote learning last spring, 96% of students were connected to our remote learning resources, but the speed of the connection was a challenge. As a result, our district purchased 500 Wi-Fi devices to improve student connectivity. Further, we are developing a custom tool that lets us know the internet speed for every child and how many people are connecting through a Wi-Fi device.
To ensure that 100% of students can connect, Wi-Fi access has been made available at school parking lots and through other access points to support areas in our community with internet accessibility challenges.
Through a custom tool under development, all students with access will appear by the school, coded by color based on the speed of their internet access. The principal can then identify those with poor access, compare that to their login activity, and then contact families to provide them with support. The tool also tells us which type of connection a student has.
Students in PreK to first grade have received iPads and those in second to 12th grade have received Chromebooks. We provide regular laptops to students for some specialty classes offering advanced coding.
Our goal is to develop a fully integrated technology platform to ensure:
- Best-practice technology that allows us to access growing web-based teaching and learning resources and embrace evolving classroom strategies,
- Greater teacher-student relationships with technology tools to personalize learning and facilitate more individualized support,
- Expanded relevance and opening up of new, exciting and supportive learning opportunities for various skill levels and interests,
- Deeper, more rigorous learning experiences and avenues for creativity, innovation, and collaboration among students and teachers, and
- Professional development for all staff and embedded educational technology specialists in each school.
A cornerstone of our preparation for returning to school was high-quality professional development. When teachers returned to work ahead of students in August, they immediately launched into specialized training on essentials.
Overall, more than 4,000 training sessions have been attended by certified staff, educational assistants, and support staff, including nearly 150 courses for teachers that were split between elementary (PreK-6) and secondary (7-12). Supporting this professional development are digital learning coaches at each school who can address any problems.
As a bonus, over the summer the district’s Digital Learning, Special Education, and Language & Culture specialists worked to develop rigorous lessons for teachers’ ready use during the first weeks of school. The flexible courses can be modified to meet school priorities and classroom needs and are all on one platform. Students in PreK to second grade use Canvas to access Seesaw and students in grades 3-12 use Open Access.
Our school community participated last spring in an International Society of Technology and Education survey. We are pleased to have scored extremely well when compared to the nation and are striving to respond to the needs that arose. By ensuring one platform, we have responded to a key parent concern.
SFPS parents also said they are having difficulty supporting their children and their jobs and want a daily schedule to help them know what is expected of their students. They want students’ work to require high academic expectations, teachers to be available for conference meetings, more teacher-student contact hours, consistent communication to both students and parents, and more outreach by counselors to both. Spanish parents, in particular, want better communication and more face-to-face instruction. We have almost all of these in check.
We thank our community partners for their help in supporting parents and families. The city, for example, has furthered critical connectivity by establishing public broadband hotspot sites at community centers, libraries, and the Santa Fe Plaza.
Not all will be smooth this year. When there are setbacks, we will set new goalposts. When there is fear, we will let experience and knowledge guide us. And when there are uncertainties, we will face them together and move forward courageously, but smartly.
We are making 2020 a time to look ahead, make the best use of our talents, skills, and creativity, and lift our students and community up. Without a doubt, we are optimizing technology in SFPS.
Our commitment to Santa Fe is to make remarkable happen, every day! With technology as our mainstay, we will.