A Note from NACSA: Today’s guest blog comes from Ryan Marks, Director of Evaluation and Assessment at the Colorado Charter Schools Institute (CSI), an independent charter school board that oversees 39 schools across the state. Ryan shared what CSI is doing to support schools during one of NACSA’s Community Conversations webinars and has offered to share more about their work here.
When schools closed for normal in-person instruction due to COVID-19, school leaders across the country scrambled to create new systems and structures to facilitate distance learning and continue to serve as a community hub to provide resources for their students and families.
As a charter school authorizer, we are grappling with our role in this new reality, which places us much closer to overseeing instruction than is typical, and how to navigate the need to provide guidance, oversight, and support for schools. We recognize that regardless of our role, this crisis is unprecedented and requires our work to expand. We need to more directly support schools and address basic needs, whether by providing access to resources or facilitating collaboration across schools. But it is also clear that our guidance had to respect school autonomy and provide some consistency for all schools regardless of school model or geography.
To this end, we developed a remote learning plan template in March and guiding questions to provide a framework for schools to build and evaluate their remote learning plans. This also allowed us to identify specific areas of need to efficiently focus CSI support and facilitate peer networks and resource sharing.
Using a standardized template, CSI required schools to develop and implement plans to transition their existing curriculum and educational model to one that could be delivered and accessed remotely. The CSI Remote Learning Plan template addressed the following topics:
- supporting families,
- instruction and content,
- teacher professional development and support, and
- student and staff well-being.
From the onset, schools were proactive and sought guidance and support. In fact, many provided draft plans prior to the release of the guiding questions. CSI’s initial review of the plans focused on ensuring that students and families have access to alternative forms of learning and that schools have access to necessary support and resources.
In addition, CSI staff used this review to identify and share promising practices across schools. CSI staff highlighted some of the best examples for each section from the Remote Learning Plans on our website. Throughout the process, our school leaders exemplified the characteristics of charter schools by quickly developing thoughtful, innovative, and responsive plans that address the needs of their communities.
It quickly became apparent that our initial role would focus on addressing gaps in school plans, better understanding school needs, and highlighting promising practices, rather than monitoring implementation or holding schools accountable.
We are using a tiered system to more efficiently support all schools. Our weekly regional conference calls serve as Tier 1 support for all schools. These weekly regional calls facilitate and streamline communication between schools and the authorizer, collect “data” on where schools are in developing, implementing, and refining their remote learning plans, and identify areas of need. Follow up calls (Tier 2) for schools with identified needs or gaps provide opportunities for candid feedback, reflection, discussion and refinement. Topical office hours (Tier 3) will be hosted to provide additional support to schools relating to common areas of need or emerging challenges. Additional touch points will be developed for schools of concern.
Through these reviews and ongoing conversations, we recognize that the shift to remote learning will disproportionately impact vulnerable families and student groups, especially English language learners and students with disabilities. CSI has prioritized support for at-risk students and families and is committed to maintaining focus on equity and reducing the opportunity gap.
Now, as it becomes clear that remote learning will be a part of our future for some time to come, we are working to update and revise our remote learning plan template and guiding questions to address the possible scenarios that schools might face in the fall. We will continue to provide structured opportunities for school leaders to reflect on their plans and to share promising practices. We will also continue providing guidance, oversight, and support for schools as they start to plan for more aligned, sustainable, and equitable remote learning.