If you follow my tweets, you may have noticed me posting pictures of the sunset from my office view. Those sunsets mark the end of long days in the office that almost always lead to long evenings at home. When March blew in one short month ago, we could not have imagined that we would face the largest disruption in education in modern history.
In just a few weeks, the Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across our planet and shook the most basic foundations of our society that we all sometimes take for granted. Things like grabbing dinner from your favorite restaurant, attending church on Sunday morning, and sending our children to school are memories now. Drastic measures have been taken that impact almost every aspect of American life. Our culture has been suspended in our nation’s effort to “flatten the curve,” reduce the spread of the virus and ultimately, hopefully, save thousands if not millions of lives.
In Alabama, under Gov. Kay Ivey’s leadership, we have taken proactive measures to protect the health and wellness of all Alabamians, especially our school communities. We know the events of recent weeks have been uncomfortable, inconvenient, expensive, and uncertain. This moment is extraordinary, but Alabamians – our educators in particular – are rising to the challenge in the face of a worldwide crisis.
Education professionals from the State Department of Education in Montgomery to central offices and schools in local communities are working incredibly hard (albeit remotely) to chart our path forward…there is no blueprint, no case study to follow. Still, our commitment to children is stronger than ever. And from what we have seen so far, that commitment is shared by teachers, parents, churches, and organizations across the state.
With everyone’s effort and support, I believe we will graduate our seniors, deliver instruction, and make it to the end of the 2019-2020 school year. It will not be easy, and we may even stumble, but we will not give up. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and caregivers everywhere, nothing beats the educational advantage of having a quality teacher in front of students. But when there is a worldwide crisis brewing, things change – and we must rise to the challenge. Parents are taking on roles as homeschool teachers and grandparents and friends are supporting working parents everywhere. It has not been easy on anyone, but the silver lining on this dark cloud is the tremendous groundswell of appreciation for teachers amid this national emergency.
When this crisis began, we pulled together experts from across the state and formed the Superintendents Extending Access to Learning (SEAL) Task Force. The purpose of the task force is to identify short- and long-term priorities for school operations. With a skeleton crew working primarily remotely, and in collaboration with the SEAL Task Force, the Alabama Department of Education (ALSDE) has developed the ALSDE 2019-2020 Local Education Agency Academic Continuity Plan. This plan outlines the requirements in key areas of instruction and can be found, along with a significant amount of other guidance, at www.alsde.edu.
As we move forward with instruction, school work will be delivered through a variety of options. Whenever possible, online/virtual learning will be implemented. We know there are equity concerns related to the lack of internet access for many households in Alabama. Gov. Ivey recently awarded $9.5 million in broadband expansion grants to provide high-speed internet services in numerous communities across the state, but we will use other methods of learning as necessary.
We will streamline essential standards (limited course scope delivery) to ensure the core concepts are prioritized. In some cases, packets will be sent home with requirements for assignments, portfolios, and project-based tasks. The ALSDE will continue to provide resources on its website www.alsde.edu. Alabama Public Television is generously working with school officials to provide educational content on television. A variety of other education delivery methods are being explored. The Academic Continuity Plan will provide more detail.
As difficult as this situation has been on all students who miss their friends and teachers, my heart truly goes out to the graduating Class of 2020. The enormity of this crisis has robbed them of the traditional festivities we hold dear. Some schools may hold virtual graduations, some may have ceremonies later in the year. Either way, the Class of 2020 will have to reimagine the pinnacle of their educational experience. Their dreams for proms and graduations were replaced with calls for social-distancing and civic responsibility. Nevertheless, testing companies are making provisions for the assessment process and we will work with our seniors to have them graduate from high school prepared for whatever is next in their lives.
There are still so many unanswered questions, but we are Alabamians and Americans and we are united! We are determined to do everything within our power to protect our communities, educate our children, and achieve. History will judge this moment by how we respond to it. I am convinced Alabama will prevail.
So yes, at the end of those long days full of strategy meetings, appointments, media interviews, phone calls and conflicts, I take a minute or two to unwind and appreciate the beauty of an Alabama sunset. It is constant. It is cathartic. I see that sunset, and just as I believe the sun is going to rise again, so will America – so will Alabama public schools.