Pittsburgh Public Schools’ distance-learning program will feature real-time lessons by mid-September

By August 5, 2020 No Comments

By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education Writer

When students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools resume remote education on Aug. 31 they will see significant changes from the program the district operated in the spring.

Their teachers will be online in real-time teaching classes, students will be required to attend online classes every day and they will receive grades for their assignments, along with progress reports and report cards.

Teachers will be permitted to begin the year working remotely but are required to be teaching from the district classrooms by Oct. 5. Professional development for teachers will start Aug. 20.

Principals will be required to report to their buildings on Aug. 17.

Those details were part of the back-to-school plans school administrators outlined for the school board during a lengthy education committee meeting Tuesday.

School officials acknowledged there is likely learning loss from the spring semester during which a number of students worked from paper packets, assignments were not required to be returned and grades were not issued.

Still, all students will start the school year with grade-level work and as learning deficits arise, remediation will be provided, said Chief Academic Officer Minika Jenkins.

“Starting them out on grade level is the best thing we can do for our kids. If they need some remediation they will get it,” said board president Sylvia Wilson.

From Aug. 31 to mid-September teachers will work to orient students back to the school environment and familiarize them with the Schoology platform they will use along with Microsoft Teams. Teachers will also be providing social/emotional learning opportunities to students.

By mid-September, live instruction will start five days a week.

To determine grades, tests and major projects will account for 40 percent, quizzes and daily assignments 50 percent and homework, 10 percent, said David May-Stein, chief of school performance.

Attendance will be taken daily throughout the district and in individual periods in grades 6-12. Staff will reach out to students who miss multiple days.

In addition to synchronous, real-time lessons, students will also receive asynchronous lessons in which they will work at their own pace.

Students with disabilities and English language learners will follow the same schedule and receive the same supports virtually that they receive during a regular school year, with the exception of physical therapy for special education students. Accommodations will be made for students who need them.

“We know some students can’t sit for long periods of screen time. We will modify and create chunks of time, based on age, grade level and need. Some students will need sensory breaks or physical movement,” said Ann Herrmann, director of special education.

Herrmann acknowledged there are students with profound disabilities that are likely not able to work on a computer. She said the parents of every special education student will be contacted and district staff will work with parents on coming up with a plan for their students.

“We will do everything we can in the remote learning setting and compensate for that down the road to make up for what we were not able to do successfully,” Hermann said.

Rules for English language learners remain the same: Those with three years or less in the district will have language support taught by English as Second Language teachers. Others will receive language support in a co-teaching environment.

Gifted students will have access to the same courses and activities virtually as they had in a school setting.

Individualized education plan meetings will be held virtually until students return to the school buildings.

Career and technical education will be offered remotely and all courses, including physical education and art, will be provided virtually.

Computer device distribution will take place by grade level throughout August at the Greenway Center and Oliver High School, Westinghouse 6-12 and Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy. Families who cannot make it to those sites should contact their schools, said Ted Dwyer, chief accountability officer.

The district has planned a series of webinars on various back-to-school topics that will stream on the district Facebook page. The first one on Wednesday Aug. 5 from 6-7 p.m. will be about using the computer devices the district will distribute.

District officials are also working to help families of children in grades K-5 find child care if needed when the school year starts through already existing operators and by working with community partners to possibly increase capacity.

Wilson said she knows that many families are interested in finding information about child care options.

Board member Pam Harbin said the district should work to ensure that child care spaces are available for students with disabilities.

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