Bethel District Moving to Distance Learning

In a March 31st message, Bethel School District Superintendent, Chris Parra, indicated that the entire district will be moving to a distance learning education model for the rest of the school year. This is in response to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) directive to all school districts as Oregon, in an effort to continue to slow the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

While the message wasn’t entirely unexpected as other states move to distance learning in an effort to combat the pandemic, the message from Superintendent Parra stopped short of indicating that Oregon Governor Kate Brown or the ODE has officially decided that students will not return this school year.

Portrait of Bethel School District Supervisor, Chris Parra

“We will make Distance Learning work for our students.” —Chris Parra, Supervisor, Bethel School District

The message continues:

According to Colt Gill, Director of the Oregon Department of Education, we are in the midst of a “historic transformation of our education system.”

ODE is asking all districts to shift to Distance Learning, potentially through the rest of the school year, rather than providing weekly supplemental education for students.

This is a huge shift for most school districts, including Bethel. In the next two weeks, we will:

 Connect with each family to determine their access to the internet, digital devices and the most practical way for families and students to receive learning materials

– Assess our district’s technological capacity to provide Distance Learning online

– Develop lessons that can be shared online and on paper that meet the needs of all students at all levels

– Accelerate the training for our teachers to provide students lessons in different formats

– Communicate regularly with parents/guardians, who will play an important role in the effectiveness of Distance Learning

At the time of the message, Bethel was still expecting guidance from the ODE regarding high school students which should arrive later in the week.

Supervisor Parra ends with: “Please know that Bethel’s staff is flexible, determined, and talented, but most of all, they care about their students, your children. We will make Distance Learning work for our students. Count on us communicating with you regularly and openly as we start this ‘historic transformation.'”

Analysis & Opinion

The shift to distance learning isn’t a surprise, and I share Bethel School District Superintendent Chris Parra’s positive attitude.
What I find really fascinating is the use of passive words like “potential” in terms of this lasting the rest of the school year. (And it’s the Oregon Department of Education using the words “potential”, not Bethel.)
I fully understand that there is a multitude of unknowns, nothing takes priority in terms of ensuring public health during this pandemic and nobody can predict how the next few months are going to play out.
However, I’m of the opinion that the shift away from distance learning to back into physical classrooms will be as involved as the shift to distance learning. Wouldn’t it be better for Governor Brown and the Oregon Department of Education just to declare the rest of the school year is going to be via distance learning so everyone’s expectations are set?
Declaring it now doesn’t preclude some miraculous shift that would allow our schools to open back up.
The pandemic aside, I’m impressed with district staff and professionals in making this shift, seemingly overnight. It’s going to be a real learning process for everyone, and we’ll likely see changes as we quickly discover what works and what doesn’t.
And as an IT person, I really empathize with the teachers who will have to add a technical support role in order to troubleshoot any number of technical issues that will undoubtedly crop up.
I will be emailing the district to volunteer my technical support skills to help out and see if rallying other nerds/geeks like me would be helpful.
—Todd Woodward

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