Ketchikan’s school district is preparing to get kids learning again after an extended spring break, but the district doesn’t quite know what the future holds for students.
As recently as a week ago, students were expected to return to classrooms in mid-April. But things have changed quickly.
“When we all sat down over spring break and formed a committee, we were operating under [the assumption that] all 400-plus of our employees would still be in our buildings,” Ketchikan Superintendent Beth Lougee said in an interview with other district leaders Thursday. “And within 48 hours, we were making calls and changing dates. And everybody went to a work-at-home model.”
She said a large portion of early planning for the transition to distance learning is assessing the needs of the student population.
“Teachers are now starting to reach out to their students and parents one by one, which also opens up more needs that we’re finding that we hadn’t even thought thought about,” she said.
For example: though the district is still working out the details, administrators expect that parts of the remote learning program will require reliable internet service and a home computer or tablet. But Ketchikan High School Principal Jason House says he’s aware that won’t work for everyone.
“Because we know that there’s going to be a subset of our student population that’s not going to have the internet connectivity that they need to access a fully online program,” House said. “So we need to be able to have an adaptation that meets that.”
House said school administrators are working to figure out which students should receive school-issued computers and which can get by with the devices they have at home. A couple of Ketchikan-area internet providers are also offering free service for students.
For now, House said the district is preparing a website with a set of self-directed activities for students stuck at home.
“A blend of links to maybe some other online portals where some digital activities might exist, and it might be links to PDFs of activities — or even something like a worksheet,” he said.
He said he expects that website to be live in the coming days.
But House said more in-depth teaching will require more than just parents teaching their kids.
“We don’t want to put our parents in a position of having to teach calculus to their 11th grader,” he said.
House said school officials don’t yet know when teachers will start teaching again. The world looks very different than it did two weeks ago, he said, and “we want to make sure that as we are developing our plans for continuing instruction, we have a system in place that is flexible enough to be able to respond as the conditions change within our community,” he said.
One part of the early plan is ensuring that all of Ketchikan’s students are fed. The district recently started distributing free grab-and-go meals at four district schools.
The district’s business manager Katie Parrott said even though the meals are free to all children 18 and under…
“We want to encourage as many people as possible to apply for the free and reduced lunch program, because those numbers will help us continue providing free meals,” she said.
That’s because the free lunch program is funded by state and federal grants.
Parrott said staff are also delivering meals to some students.
“And that’s something that we’ve been trying to provide on a very limited basis because technically, we’re not set up under our waiver to be able to do that,” she said.
She said the district has applied to the state to expand the home delivery program and is waiting to hear back.
In the meantime, district officials are calling on parents to keep an eye on their kids and make sure they’re not gathering in parks — or even at each other’s houses.
Because, of course, that’s the whole reason the schools are closed in the first place.
For more information on how the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District is responding to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit KGBSD.org/coronavirus. Those without internet access and a compatible device can call the main district office at 225-2118 to ensure that their needs are met.