Moving forward together during distance learning

Applying what we’ve learned in support of students and families

by Commissioners Gabriela Lopez and Alison Collins

Given these scary, uncertain times, families are looking to our schools to create spaces for community and collective support. As educators and commissioners, we recognize the reasonable anxiety parents feel regarding distance learning. We deeply understand parents’ concerns. And, it is increasingly obvious the need for transparent, reliable structures for our families. We appreciate the space needed for our community — teachers, parents, principals, and administrators, all of us — to contribute input and best prepare our students and families for student learning this fall. We have learned a lot from our unanticipated experience during the Spring, as have schools across the country.

Pre-K student dances with Superintendent Vince Matthews via our SF Loves Learning TV show this past spring.

We are all working together; within our schools and in our broader communities. The collaboration between our San Francisco school district, city agencies, and community organizations means we can utilize one another’s resources and expertise in order to best serve our people. We have seen various examples throughout time of human beings uplifting one another during the crisis, and our learning communities are no exception.

From the beginning, our response has been to ensure the health and safety of our students, families, and educators through food distribution and safe learning from home. In this pause during the summer, we have been reflecting on lessons learned to inform plans for this fall. Once our educators come back to school on August 11th, we will continue to work with them to develop and improve curriculum and resources for students. Given the challenging circumstances of teaching during an unprecedented and evolving crisis, we know this will be a process of continual improvement as we collectively learn what works best for each and every one of our students.

Based on the feedback we are hearing via the Town Halls, Community Forums and in countless conversations with families, we are excited to see the many improvements to distance learning that are coming this fall. While the final plan must still be publicly reviewed and approved by the full board at this coming board meeting this Tuesday, July 28, we’d like to highlight some key themes we want to address:

Clear and predictable schedules

We will create a predictable schedule at all sites district-wide for all elementary schools, middle schools and high schools (by division) so families, community partners (YMCA, Tel-Hi, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other Beacon providers) can better coordinate to support students and families in alignment with SFUSD. We are thinking mornings would be best for all of this so community partners and city agencies can program services accordingly.

Helping families to get and stay ‘connected’

Educator and parent leaders across the city are developing resources to help families get online, get connected and navigate learning platforms. With schools out-of-session over the summer, many caregivers will need help reconnecting to teachers and other school staff as well. Educators will also need support connecting with students and families. Staff are currently working to develop toolkits and resources to help family leaders, staff, and community-based agencies to do outreach.

Creating structures to help families support one another

Working with family leaders and community-based organizations, we can help connect families so they can support one another in the variety of challenges they face. Parents can help each other understand their children’s learning expectations, share tips for keeping kids active, motivated, and on-task. Some ideas we have been hearing from district and community-sponsored Town Halls to include having schools group interested families into diverse student cohorts so they can connect to support and socialize, and providing virtual space for parent meet-ups to provide parenting and emotional support during this challenging time.

Communication to keep you informed

We are committed to clear communication from schools to families and with our city and community partners; we seek a common understanding of distance learning and a comprehensive alignment among us all.

Our public education system is under attack; now more than ever we need to invest in and uplift our schools that are often left behind in state and federal government decisions. We value everyone who works in our schools and are committed to protecting their health and safety. And we will continue to make decisions with the people who are most affected with the support of experts and research-backed by science. We want to ensure that families are supported, that our solutions are inclusive and that we come together in ways that support each other. This is our way forward, together.

mom of twins. education nerd. public school warrior. reformed cat-lady. amateur urbanist. social justice addict. BLERD. & most recently Board of Ed Commissioner