Schools prep for distance learning

Gilroy Unified hands out Chromebooks

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Gilroy Unified School District on Tuesday distributed Chromebooks to parents and guardians of students who will begin using the district’s Distance Learning plan starting April 13. Credit: Juan Reyes.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education announced this week that school closures throughout the county will extend past May. 

Dr. Deborah Flores, superintendent at Gilroy Unified School District, posted an update on the website, saying that the school is aiming for a new return date of May 4.

“These practices are the best things we can do right now to slow the spread of the virus and to preserve the health care system,” Flores said.

However, Gilroy Unified School District distributed Chromebooks to students who have technology needs. 

The goal for Gilroy Unified is to have distribution completed by the beginning of the district’s Distance Learning plan. 

Flores said that school will still be in session but from a distance.

District leaders and the Gilroy Teachers Association adopted a Memorandum of Understanding to provide distance learning for all students within the district. 

Students will learn from home beginning April 13.

Flores said the MOU formalizes the expectations and provides staff training and collaboration time in order to implement the practice.

“I want to applaud the efforts of everyone who worked so hard to bring this MOU to fruition,” she said.

Maribel Guizar, IT director at Gilroy, said people outside of the school district probably think they have lots of free time on their hands.

“It has been quite the opposite for us in IT,” she said. 

In the past two weeks, Guizar said her days don’t end before 10:30pm but mentioned she is happy to help, contribute and support education.

Guizar said they disinfected all 11,000 laptops by using disinfecting wipes that are 60 percent alcohol-based.

“We want to make sure when the families receive the Chromebooks they are clean and in good condition,” Guizar said.

As of now, they’ll only be distributing 2,000 of the units, one per family. They were expecting about 600 units to be given out March 31. 

Guizar said the appointments are set for about 100 families per hour to make sure they could maintain social distancing of at least 10 feet. 

The instructional staff has been providing optional supplemental learning opportunities for students since March 13 but the work was not graded.

Starting April 13, they must complete the assigned work to receive credits for this school year.

Flores said site administrators have been asked to plan a curriculum, address parent and staff concerns, make copies, communicate with their staff and come up with creative solutions to myriad problems. 

“Our principals and assistant principals are wearing so many hats during this time, and are shouldering much of the workload in supporting their students and staff,” she said.  

Gilroy Unified will continue to provide supplemental learning opportunities online and in hard copy packets to students up until April 3. (Online can be accessed at bit.ly/GUSDOnlineLearning and printable hard copy packets can be accessed at bit.ly/GUSDPrintablePackets).

The District is unable to provide internet access. But it mentioned that there are a number of internet service providers who are offering different options to families during school closures. 

Guizar said they installed web filters but it’s nothing new to the students. She believes they truly need the devices to continue their education.

“I hope that’s the focus for everybody,” she said. “We’d rather have them on the Chromebooks learning than watching Netflix.” 

Guizar said they left school in a flash and all the tech equipment stayed put, which left possibilities for contamination. 

She said the biggest challenge for them as an IT department is that they’re a small group. But they’ve had endless amounts of support from others who have helped with the process.

“It’s definitely been teamwork with our people in the district coming together, all helping with the process,” Guizar said. 

Guizar mentioned Ed Services and some from after school programs helping out with the cause.

“For me it has been a really good experience what teamwork looks like because everybody has united because we all have a common goal, which is to continue student education,” she said. 

District notes

The school district will continue distributing food to youths 18 years old and younger. 

The sites include Solorsano Middle, South Valley Middle, Antonio Del Buono Elementary, Eliot Elementary, Glen View Elementary, Rod Kelley Elementary and Rucker Elementary schools.  

The youngsters don’t have to be present and parents or guardians can pick up meals during the week including Spring Break between 10am and 1pm. 

All senior activities in April have been cancelled in accordance with the Health Department’s shelter-in-place order.

The district said it is fully committed to holding a graduation ceremony for the 2020 senior class.  

However, the plans are still under the works and they mentioned they are looking at a number of options.