In their first public meeting since Feb. 18 and in a much different format, members of the Williamson County Board of Education and district leaders came together remotely Thursday night for their March work session.
Not surprisingly, of course, most of the meeting was focused on the impact that COVID-19 has had on WCS and its staff, teachers, students and families for the past three weeks. Superintendent Jason Golden and school board chairman Gary Anderson were “live” at the district’s Professional Development Center, where work sessions are held each month, while board members and district officials attended through the video-conferencing app Zoom.
The full meeting lasted more than three hours, with the topic of the pandemic’s effect taking up 2½ hours. Golden brought attendees up to date on the timeline of schools being closed for the past 16 days, with all but two of those coming as spring break and the built-in inclement-weather days.
He also stressed the progress accomplished during those days.
“Our leadership team and senior staff didn’t take that time off,” he said. “We took much of spring break researching, planning, looking at guidance that we had on so many aspects of this closure. During that time, there was a lot of rapid change.
"We saw examples of the whole gamut of what school districts are doing in other parts of the country, from schools completely shutting down and saying they would provide no services to some version of what seemed to be full online instruction. So a lot of our planning meetings that week were related to that. But we also talked about every department. Every department leader at WCS met and went through the process of brainstorming what the potential closure meant to us.
“The gamut of what we were working on was pretty incredibly broad,” Golden continued, “but the gist of what we were looking at was what we do with instruction.”
To that end, more than 1,000 teachers and 151 teams worked remotely this week to find and strategically place content for students in elementary, middle and high schools. The result is a document on the WCS website titled Our Learning Plan During the Coronavirus Pandemic.
“Our basic plan from an instructional standpoint was to try to see what we could do with both online and other ways to give some remote help to students,” Golden said. “We made a plan to have teacher teams work on every grade level, and at high school levels work on every single high school course so we could generate content.”
The key question surrounding the instruction plan — and the one that Golden said he had received the most pushback — was whether or not to grade students on their work during this shutdown. Golden said the debate got lively at times.
“Ultimately, we decided the best thing to do was to provide these resources and instructional materials and not require anything be turned in or graded, and not require attendance,” he said. [There would be] no actual accountability from students for a number of reasons.
“The big one is, we’re dropping these 100% online materials to students immediately, with no training for teachers, no training for students and not everyone has the same access or the same skills set.
“We felt like it was best to establish that baseline. To put that burden on students who might not have all the same capacity to receive it, and likewise to put that on teachers without giving them training, was not the right thing to do for either students or teachers.
"At the same time, we recognized that there was a need in our community to have this available, because there are people sitting in their homes right now going stir crazy. They need some resources.”
Click here to view Thursday's full work session.
The Board of Education will meet for its regular monthly meeting Monday at 6 p.m. Like it was at the work session, it will not be physically open to the public but will be live-streamed.