Responding to COVID-19 Challenges
On April 1, 2020 Santa Cruz County Superintendents announced that all school campuses will remain physically closed through the end of the academic year in alignment with messages from our state’s top leaders. The decision was made with the safety of students, school staff, and the community as our top priority. While school facilities remain physically closed, instruction through online learning, food distributions, and other essential services will continue.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education (Santa Cruz COE), school districts, and charter schools are focused on ensuring that students, parents, guardians, educators, and community stakeholders stay informed and have the necessary resources and support during this unprecedented time. The collaboration and partnerships within our education community are stronger than ever.
Educators across the county are still working hard to serve the children and families in our community. Our teams have been working around the clock to provide meals to students, plan for distance learning, and support the needs of our most vulnerable youth. We recognize that this pandemic is having the greatest impact on our most vulnerable students who are experiencing financial and food insecurity, homelessness, difficult circumstances at home, and challenges with mental health. Our school community is working hard to hold true to our values of equity as we help our students to achieve and thrive. For more information about what the County Office of Education and school districts are doing to support our school community, please visit santacruzcoe.org/coronavirus.
Our school districts, County Office of Education, charter schools and private schools continue to work with public health authorities to plan for how we can maintain student academic progress, provide families with essential services, and prepare for the long term challenges the crisis may pose to statewide funding for education and how to safely reopen schools. The Santa Cruz COE has structured its response to create an articulated approach that will result in consistent county wide responses and protocols.
Distance Learning and the Digital Divide
All Santa Cruz County school districts have rolled out practical applications of their distance learning efforts. One of the challenges we face is to ensure that all families have access to high speed internet and a device. Abby Ridley-Kerr from Education Trust West collected data from across California to attempt to map the digital divide. Her research found that over 18% of families in Santa Cruz County. An interactive map of Ms. Ridley-Kerr’s research can be found here: sccoe.link/digital-divide-CA. The County Office of Education is working with School Districts and other partners to find long term solutions to maximize the number of families who have access.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reported April 5 that revenues for 2019‑20 and 2020‑21 are likely to be at least several billions of dollars lower than anticipated in January. This is as a result of direct costs (such as funds spent of medical services), indirect costs (such as funds spent on unemployment benefits) and lower revenues from changes to the economy. This could mean the costs of maintaining the state’s existing services would exceed revenue projections and the state would face a deficit this year and the next. Our schools and other jurisdictions should anticipate and prepare for a budget problem as a result of the coronavirus emergency.
This month the Ed. Services department has been working hard at transitioning to online support for our school districts and networks. Our curriculum and instruction network developed a new distance learning website (dlearning.santacruzcoe.org) for teachers and families, and our child development programs also added a new section to their website for COVID-19 resources. We are trying not to cancel events, but to instead transition them to virtual or online experiences, or postpone them until the fall. We held a successful virtual science fair, and we are looking forward to doing the same for Fashion Teen, Language Ambassadors and the math contest, to name a few. In addition, S4C has been working closely with the districts on grading practices, summer school and continuing the counselor professional learning work.
Foster Youth Services Coordinating Program (more commonly known as FosterEd) team partnered with the non-profits iFoster and John Burton Advocates for Youth, to obtain 20 Chromebooks and hot spots for high school students in foster care in need of additional digital access for distance learning. These Chromebooks and hot spots were safely distributed by the FosterEd Liaisons last week, and the families and students were thrilled to receive their brand-new devices. The students especially appreciated having their own Chromebook that they will be able to use for the remainder of their high school experience and caregivers without internet access were grateful to have the tools needed to support their student’s education. This partnership, in addition to working with school districts, will ensure that all school age foster youth have the necessary technology to engage in distance learning.
SSS Department Parent Support Sessions During COVID-19
Working with First 5, Triple P Parenting Classes and The Cradle to Career Imitative in Live Oak, the Student Support Services Department has offered a number of Zoom Parenting Support Sessions. The content ranged from parenting tips to breakout support networking groups to mindfulness and de-stress reduction exercises. The feedback was positive and revealed the level of need and challenge families are facing laying work, housing, home teaching and shelter in place demands. The next phase is to share the templates and process with all districts to continue this type of support. PVUSD and SCCS have already taken up the task, while others are reviewing the need and tools.
As we transition to spending more time indoors and are grappling with all the challenges that come with it, schools recognize the need to continue providing social and emotional support to families. Parents and students are being asked to help cultivate an environment conducive to learning at home while they manage unanticipated consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, which often compounds stress for families at home. To this end, all ten Superintendents and the County Office of Education in collaboration with local counseling, parenting and support services agencies are working to develop ways to help students and parents address these needs. We have created a webpage with detailed resources located at sccoe.link/wellness. Efforts are also underway in districts to offer online/virtual support and networking experiences for students and parents to ensure there are places for families to share, learn and lean on each other in these challenging time.
The Business Services Division continues to work on Payroll, Retirement, Accounting, Budget, District Budget Reviews, monitoring all the changes due to COVID 19 and the economy, and advising districts. We are also collecting attendance data, working on tickets for the Financial system, continuing to implement new sections of the HR/Financial system such as Employee Portal, meeting with staff via zoom for training and questions, and hoping to awork out a method to pay vendors with ACH as opposed to live checks in the future.
Distance Learning is in full-swing throughout our Alt. Ed. Schools, including Cypress and CAC. Every student has a Learning Plan. Teachers, counselors, and support staff are working hard to maintain connections with students (and families) to support them academically and socio-emotionally. They are using a number of remote tools, including Zoom, Google Classroom, email, phones, and text. Our administrators maintain frequent contact with teachers and school teams to provide professional development, support and problem-solving, via Zoom. We continue to distribute hot lunch to students who need it, and are currently focused on developing grading policies, adjusting plans for graduation ceremonies, and considering our summer school options.
Maintenance & Operations
The M&O department continues to keep COE facilities accessible and routinely sanitized for staff who need to perform essential duties. This department has been working diligently to provide resources and assistance to school district maintenance teams, sanitize and deep-clean school sites, and also assist small school districts with their disinfecting training and needs who need help with these responsibilities.
The Human Resources Department is serving as the liaison between the Santa Cruz County Health Service Agency and our districts in the effort to activate disaster service workers to support our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees are needed to work at alternate care sites, food banks, child care centers, and more. The Santa Cruz COE is compiling a list of school employees eligible to be activated that helps match employees with the appropriate skill sets to be deployed for disaster service worker assignments.
The Technology, Innovation, and Communications Division (Tech+) has been working around the clock to ensure students, staff, and families are well equipped to continue their learning, work, and support, respectively, in their homes. Recent Tech+ activities include:
The IT department helped disassemble workstations and train the majority of the business department and several other employees on setting up their devices to work from home.
We also were able move 15 years of file shares off of an on premise server and migrated close to 5 TB of data to our G-suite for Education folders to ensure ongoing access from anywhere.
In external support, Our communication team has worked to put together a Parent Guide to Distance Learning in English and Spanish for parents in our community. We also worked close with the Ed Services team to put together an entire distance learning site for our community.
During the first week of school closures, Jason worked with over 500 teachers in assisting them in understanding effective online/distance teaching strategies including the use of Google Classroom and Seesaw for curriculum organization and instructional delivery. Working closely with community volunteers, we are leading a community partnership with Cruz One — a volunteer organization supporting technology for staff, students, and families to leverage existing countywide IT support.
Finally, Tech+ was able to advise on a new program by Cruzio to support low-income families with low-cost internet (free for 3 months). This program also allowed the COE to oversee $11,000 of grant funds to cruzio to expand their efforts by creating ParkingLot Wifi zones in areas where the Internet is hard to acquire. Pacific Elementary and Mountain Elementary have both been setup with Parking Lot Wifi by Cruzio. The image below shows but schools and homes Cruzio have and/or will be connecting in the next month!