This week, we are bringing you our interview with the associate superintendent and coordinator of school improvement of Cobre Consolidated School District, Jose Carrillo and Joyce Barela.
Cobre Consolidated School District is made up of six schools located in Bayard, New Mexico. 91.7% of students attending Cobre identify as students of color and 100% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
How did you develop your continuous learning plan?
Prior to Spring Break, Cobre school officials began to develop their continuous learning plan, as they were anticipating the shut down for the remainder of the school year. The teachers began contacting parents and came to the realization that not all families had access to the tools needed for a full online learning plan. While developing a way to reach all students, Cobre schools, teachers and staff took the initiative to design paper packets and online lessons that were launched upon returning from Spring Break on March 23rd. One key feature of the district learning plan was access; there needed to be access to both paper and online materials in order to reach all students. Cobre instructional coaches developed learning targets in ELA and Math for each grade level in order to create structures to support teachers with consistency across the district. The CCSD Essential Learning targets are a cohesive set of Pre-K-12 proficiencies; they describe what students will know, and be able to do for the rest of the school year. When it came to platform usage, Cobre wanted to include platforms that teachers were already utilizing to be part of the approved list.
What has been the most challenging part of switching to distance learning?
In the midst of COVID-19 and transitioning to distance learning, Cobre encountered various challenges. The first challenge has been and continues to be making contact with the parents/families of every single student; however, they stressed to teachers that even if parents were not making return contact to continue to reach out until they heard back. The district conducted an electronic survey to gauge how parents were dealing with the COVID-19 situation. The survey results revealed the lack of electronic devices for about a third of the student population. The district continues to collaborate with New Mexico Public Education Department, state and community businesses such as Freeport McMoRan, WNMU Communications, etc. to seek support with electronic devices. Another challenge has been the distribution of paper packets, as some families were not picking them up due to lack of transportation, remoteness of some schools in the district, etc. A technology challenge that arose once they started using Zoom as a medium for delivery of instruction was where people that were not students would join in and crash their meetings.
What do you think are the best aspects of your continuous learning plan?
Both Barela and Carrillo agreed that providing district learning targets was very beneficial for teachers rather than each creating their own. One of the best aspects of the district plan was that it was created with ideas from teachers who had already taken it upon themselves to engage students and families prior to the plan being required by the district or state.
The district continuous learning plan provides structure, consistency and specific guidance for all staff. Enrichment and engagement for students, without the stress of grading is a key feature in their plan. Teachers were advised to use their own professional judgement in supporting all students and to identify and target those students who are failing. The plan also stressed the importance for teachers and staff to provide social emotional support to their students and families while supporting students through the challenges of the school closure.
Have you had to make any adjustments to your plan since starting distance learning?
Since beginning their distance learning plans, there have been adjustments to grading clarification. Teachers were concerned about the fact that grading was not required as usual. It was reiterated that grading was not required and that the district’s focus was on engaging students and enriching student learning. It was stressed that teachers and staff should continue with high quality education, without the pressure for assessing and grading, highlighting less is more.
While grading was not the emphasis, teachers at the secondary level were provided clarity to identify and target students who are failing and use their professional judgement to make pass/fail decisions based on meeting the learning targets.
Initially teachers and staff were individually reaching out to parents/families/students, as everyone wanted families to know that the district was here to support them. However, based on feedback from families, who felt they were being inundated with phone calls, teachers and staff members are now working collaboratively to support students as a team.
Were there any continuous learning plans from other schools in New Mexico or the country that you referred to when developing your plan?
Carrillo and Barela both stated that the New Mexico Public Education Department has been very helpful and supportive during this time by providing explicit guidance on developing the continuous learning plan. In addition, the Las Cruces Public Schools Continuous Learning Plan was used as a model since it closely aligned with what the Cobre schools and teachers were already doing. Dr. Trujillo, Superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools, was kind enough to offer the Las Cruces Remote Continuous Plan draft to all New Mexico Superintendents. Cobre schools took her up on the offer and reached out to Dr. Trujillo who provided additional guidance and support in the development of their plan.
Will remote learning contribute to a change the way your district operates when school resumes? If so, how?
Once school resumes, Cobre foresees a lot more integration of technology into the curriculum. Teachers are already discussing how the distance learning modality has been beneficial for student engagement/learning and plan to continue its use. Another aspect for change will be in the delivery of professional development and district Administration and school PLC meetings. Cobre also would like to streamline technology and ensure more student access to devices.
In your opinion, how will this impact education in the future?
The district foresees technology savvy students and educators who are more skilled and better prepared to embrace the constantly changing technological challenges. The required physicality of student attendance will be forever changed diminishing student absenteeism and truancy as more schools and teachers will embrace the use of technology and distance learning to engage students.
We would like to thank Superintendent Robert F. Mendoza, Associate Superintendent Jose E. Carrillo, and Coordinator of School Improvement Joyce Barela for taking the time to talk to us! For more information about Cobre Consolidated Schools, you can find their district website here.