March 18, 2020
Dear Berkeley Unified Community,
<esta información estará disponible en español en nuestro sitio web al final del dia>
We are now in extraordinary times, and very clearly, we’re in these times together. I hope each of you and your families have found some reassurance in our nation-wide effort to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus in our communities as we work together to protect our most vulnerable.
As you may have heard, yesterday Governor Newsom suggested that most California schools are likely to remain closed until summer break. This is a shocking idea to all of us, but something that we will have to consider as a possibility for our BUSD community. While we will continue to evaluate the situation, at this point I think it is realistic to say that we do not expect to open BUSD schools immediately after Spring Break, as we had hoped. I don’t have a new date for you yet. I will be going to the School Board on Thursday, March 19th at 6:30 pm to provide an update, which you can watch on the BUSD YouTube channel live, or archived after the meeting. Another update will be provided at our regularly scheduled Board Meeting on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 pm.
Increasing Online Learning Resources
Given the likelihood of a longer closure, I have directed teams to work to address the content and technology complexities of providing additional learning options to students who are at home.
Thanks to the hard work of our Education Services team over the past week, we have posted Home Learning Resources on the District website. These optional resources, which will be updated over time, were designed to keep students engaged during what I had initially envisioned as a temporary closure of our schools.
In the same way that the Governor was candid in his assessment of the impact of coronavirus on schools over the coming months, I feel a similar obligation towards candor with the Berkeley community about what is possible for distance learning. We can create new virtual experiences, but these new experiences just won’t be the same. These new experiences could be more “blended” in nature, including learning from online readings, videos, and even games, with far more time for students’ independent work. We may be able to include suggestions and feedback from teachers, along with tips, lessons, and links from the district. All school districts are grappling with this; we’ll move as quickly as possible towards a new still-to-be-defined model of education.
Our ability to offer resources and support for home learning will be an incremental process. At this early stage of school closures, we’re working to address communication, technical, and professional development hurdles. However, in just three days, we have organized a first set of resources on our website, and are working closely with teachers to design next steps, which will include more grade-level and course materials. We are exploring the purchase of a commercial online learning platform that will alleviate the need to convert all of our hundreds of grade-level and course content into a digital format. And we’re planning to offer professional development for teachers about instructional technologies so that they can offer these experiences to their students.
Please know that we have no higher priorities than student well-being and support for student learning while schools are closed. To the point of student well-being, I’ve been asked to again remind everyone of how important it is to refrain from social gatherings, as difficult as it is for all of us and for our children. We must take these extraordinary steps to protect each other. I hope that the loneliness and disappointment students are feeling will be alleviated over time as we find safe ways to reconnect.
BUSD has a limited number of Chromebooks to loan to families most in need first
We are prioritizing getting Chromebook devices to our low income students (those who qualify for free/reduced price lunch). Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 510-644-8931 with the name of your student and your contact information so we can establish a list of qualifying families.
If you have already requested a Chromebook, we will contact you by email or phone to confirm that your family qualifies for a loaned Chromebook and, when appropriate, to provide information about how to pick up your device.
Providing Your Own Device
Chromebooks typically cost about $200-$225. If you can afford to provide a Chromebook to your student, doing so will help the District meet the needs of low-income families.
There are many good options. Here are models similar to the devices used in schools that are designed for education (meaning they can survive being dropped!)
Dell Inspiron 11 Chromebook
Acer Chromebook 11 C771-C4TM
Free Internet Connections
Many phone and internet service providers are recognizing the impact that COVID-19 is having on students and families, and are providing additional phone and internet resources. We also just received word that the local internet company Sonic is offering free high-speed internet installation for all families with K-12 or college students, as well as seniors over the age of 60.
Additional Resources and How to Help
Our Office of Family Engagement and Equity (OFEE) staff, and our Berkeley High leadership and staff have compiled these lists of resources, which are being continually updated.
Many of you have asked how to help those in need. The Berkeley Public Schools Fund is running a Covid-19 School Closure Campaign to support the emerging needs of BUSD students and families during this crisis.
I am touched by the number of District staff, students, and families who have reached out to inquire about opportunities to be of assistance during this challenging time. There are many ways we can help each other, even when we are apart. We will update you on volunteer opportunities as they are developed.
Brent Stephens, Ed.D.