The Baker School District’s technology department, which has been doubled in size for the first month of school, still was kept on the run troubleshooting and helping families and teachers get equipment set up and fine-tuning systems throughout the day Tuesday as online classes began.
“Day 2 is way ahead of Day 1,” Baker Middle School Principal Skye Flanagan said Wednesday morning. And Flanagan rated Day 1 as “really good.”
“There were some minor snafus such as Zoom glitches where the kids couldn’t access Zoom (the computer app used to communicate between students at home and teachers in their classrooms),” he said. “But it was fixable.”
Flanagan said the attitudes of students and teachers were positive as they made their way through the first day of comprehensive distance learning together.
“Everything is super positive here,” Flanagan said. “The teachers are in good spirits, the technology was great — and teachers were prepared, so that was great.”
The technological support provided throughout the day also helped make classes run more smoothly, Flanagan said.
Enrollment at Baker Middle School is at about 320. Flanagan said about 24 middle school students are enrolled at Eagle Cap Innovative Junior/Senior High School where they can work online at their own pace. Five students are shared by Eagle Cap and BMS and another eight attend just one or two Eagle Cap classes and spend most of their time at BMS.
“I’m excited, it’s going well,” Flanagan said. “When teachers are smiling at the end of the day, I’m happy.”
Students at Baker High School officially started classes Wednesday.
Tuesday was more of an orientation day, said Principal Greg Mitchell. Students met in the small gymnasium to obtain their photo identification cards, check out their Chromebook computers and make any needed adjustments to their schedules.
The staff was spaced throughout the large gym to check out textbooks, and tables with information about clubs and organizations, such as the chess club, e-sports (electronic sports), FFA and FBLA, were set up to promote those activities.
The orientation was scheduled by grade level in 1ﬁ-hour sessions throughout the day. One all-comers session was scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Students wore masks, but Mitchell said following the physical distancing requirement was more difficult as they gathered Tuesday with the friends they’ve been separated from over the break that began with an extended spring vacation and then continued through the summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had good compliance with the masks, but the social distancing was not so great,” Mitchell said. “It was definitely a challenge to continually remind folks.”
BHS enrollment Wednesday morning totaled 422 students, Mitchell said. That includes 132 freshmen, 124 sophomores, 87 juniors and 79 seniors.
Another 35 to 40 BHS students are attending Eagle Cap Innovative Junior/Senior High School this year, Mitchell said. Total enrollment at Eagle Cap is running at 114 students, he added.
As he visited through the various high school classrooms Wednesday morning, Mitchell said he witnessed a few growing pains, but otherwise, things were going well.
At Keating Elementary, principal/head teacher Amanda Wilde was feeling blessed Wednesday morning as her 24 students, ranging from preschoolers to sixth-graders, started their online classes.
Tuesday was also an orientation day for Keating students. The schedule worked much like parent-teacher conferences, Wilde said. Families were scheduled to visit the school one at a time to receive their Chromebooks and supplies.
“Even with physical distancing we were able to connect with the children and their families,” Wilde said.
And Wednesday’s classes were running smoothly as the first day of school officially began at Keating.
“Even our preschoolers are doing online lessons,” Wilde said. “It’s fun and it’s exciting that they are getting to learn in a new virtual world.”
And while the learning is taking place online, Wilde understands that the best part of the new year for the children, including her daughter, Katie, who’s a junior at BHS this year, is getting to see their friends, even over a computer screen.
“At some point, they need to see their friends,” Wilde said.
The experience was much the same at Haines, Brooklyn Primary and South Baker Intermediate, principals in those buildings said Wednesday.
Principal Katy Collier said the 135 students in prekindergarten to sixth-grade classes at Haines School, their families and their teachers worked well together to prepare for Tuesday’s first day of school.
Preschoolers, kindergartners and first-graders picked up their iPads and those in Grades 2-6 picked up their Chromebooks last week. On Sept. 3 they met in staggered 30-minute sessions by grade level in a digital open house, Collier said.
She praised parents and teachers with their efforts to get the students up and running on their computers.
“Overall the parents have been phenomenal,” Collier said. “And the teachers have knocked it out of the park with preparation.”
Principal Phil Anderson has the same praise for his staff and families at Brooklyn Primary School.
“Things actually went really well, considering it was new for everybody — staff, kids and families,” he said.
By Wednesday afternoon, Anderson said the phone had nearly stopped ringing with questions and concerns about technology.
Enrollment at Brooklyn is at 322 as classes begin. Some students in kindergarten through third grade have opted to enroll in the District’s all-online model for elementary students through the Baker Virtual Academy, Anderson said.
South Baker Intermediate School Principal Geno Bates said he has enjoyed watching his staff and students work together with the new technology.
And while it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, he credits the technology team with quickly solving most problems that arose Tuesday. Enrollment at South Baker Intermediate is at about 270 students in Grades 4-6. About another 30 have signed up for the Baker Virtual Academy, Bates said.
In anticipation of the startup issues that were likely to arise in the District’s transition to new technology equipment, Superintendent Mark Witty said the number of employees working for the District through Chaves Consulting was doubled from three to six. Two District employees also work to solve technological problems.
“It was a very, very busy day,” Witty said of the response required by the tech team on Tuesday. “We really stretched them to the max.”
The expanded team includes one person who fields calls and routes them to the right person to address a particular issue.
Witty advised families to be patient and persistent in seeking help.
“Don’t give up, keep giving us a call if you haven’t gotten it solved yet,” Witty said. “We doubled the Chaves staff to be able to manage any problems.”
The District is ordering more WiFi hot spots for families who cannot afford to provide their own wireless connection, he said.
He urged families who need help with that issue to call Lisa Young at the District Office at 541-524-2260.
Witty said tutorial help will be available in the evening between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to help students in Grades 7-12 with math especially and to help those in Grades K-6 with all classes. If there proves to be a need for this service, it could continue even after students return to in-person classes as the budget allows, he said. The number to call for the tutoring services will be announced once the system is up and running.
Later in the month, Witty said, some small in-person special education groups for students with high needs are expected to begin meeting.
The first goal, however, will be to work the bugs out of the comprehensive distance learning system across the District.
“That’s where we’re focusing most of our time and attention,” Witty said.