Online teaching

Teacher Sonny Gulick uses the Baker School District’s new online technology, which includes 80-inch touch screens, during a Summer Academy class.

Students at Baker School District’s Summer Academy are getting an early introduction to some of the new technology that will be in use when the 2020-21 school year begins.

The upgrades are For example, students in Grades 4, 5 and 6 are taking part in a program titled “Financial Beginnings” from six separate South Baker Intermediate School classrooms via the District’s new interactive computer system. Chris Knoll, Umpqua Bank manager, provided the instruction from his office at 1990 Washington Ave.

Students will be participating in similar instruction when school resumes, whether they are back in their classrooms or studying from home.

The new tools will be a boon to the youngsters and their teachers, says Lynde Roberts, the District’s technology director.

Roberts is employed by Chaves Consulting, which contracts with the District for technology services. He began working in his new position on Nov. 1, 2019.

Roberts, 42, has worked as a technology consultant for 22 years. Before joining Chaves Consulting, he operated his own independent consulting business in La Grande for several years.

He and his wife, Marsha, live in Union where they raise their seven children, ranging in age from 3 months to 14 years. Marsha is a stay-at-home mom and home-schools their children.

Before the start of a new school year, the School Board and District administrators are grappling over a schedule that would allow additional training on the new systems.

The most recent proposal calls for adding four more days to the staff’s usual two days of in-service training and two days of organizing their classrooms before students arrive. Under the current 2020-21 school schedule, teachers would have started that process on Aug. 24, with classes getting underway on Aug. 31.

Delaying classes to Sept. 8 would add four more days for training on a variety of topics including COVID-19 protocols for hygiene practices and social distancing and becoming familiar with newly adopted curriculum, along with introductions to the new technology.

Roberts says he expects to spend one full day providing training on the new systems.

Staff, parents and students will use Schoology, a new learning management system, that will provide an “online space” for classroom interaction, Roberts said.

That will be new to the District’s brick and mortar schools, although Superintendent Mark Witty points to the experience of the District’s Baker Web Academy, which has been using online systems since it was established in 2008.

Those families who choose completely online study for their children in kindergarten through sixth grade will take advantage of that Web Academy experience, Witty says. As of Tuesday, that list totaled 52 students.

The District hopes to hear from families who prefer that choice as soon as possible so preparations can be made to serve them, Witty said. Parents who want to register for the total online option for K-6 students are asked to call Debra Anderson at the District Office at 541-524-2260, Extension 1048.

Baker School District staff will be trained in the Web Academy programs and teach those students under the same system, Witty said.

“We’re in the process of getting staff assigned and trained to do that work,” he said.

Students in Grades 7-12 who choose the full online instruction, on the other hand, will be able to tap into the new technology to join their classmates, just as if they were in the every-other-day rotation between home and school, Witty said. A staff member will be assigned to provide oversight of the program, he said.

New school information system software by PowerSchool also will be introduced to replace the Schoolmaster system of the past. The information system helps schools manage different aspects of administering educational programs such as scheduling, attendance and registration.

PowerSchool and Schoolmaster also can be integrated to improve communication between families and schools, Roberts said.

“It’s different software, a different company, a lot of new stuff,” Roberts said. “So much is changing, but who could have predicted, right?”

In addition to the new software, the District’s $600,000 technology upgrade, bought with dollars from the CARES Act Congress passed in late March, includes new laptop computers for teachers in all classrooms to replace existing desktop and laptop systems.

“They will not struggle with performance level and will not have to deal with old, clunky computers,” Roberts said.

The Promethean board technology, some of which is 10 to 12 years old, that allowed interactive participation from students in the classroom with a white board and projector system has been replaced by 80-inch high-tech interactive touch screen panels that can be attached to the wall or moved on a rolling cart that is part of the system. Each classroom also will be equipped with a high-resolution, wireless document camera.

Teachers have been using similar equipment for years and should be happy with the upgrades, Roberts said.

“One can argue that it’s state-of-the-art technology,” he said. “It is the latest available, but it’s not new technology.”

One piece of equipment that will be new to most of the staff is an “audio-video streaming mixer,” which will help turn teachers into a “one-person production team,” Roberts said.

The device is user friendly through the use of three “easy buttons” that are pressed to achieve a desired result, he said.

“It’s hard to overstate how great and useful it will be for them,” Roberts said.

Anyone who’s watched YouTube videos will be able to understand the advantage of multiple camera angles and other benefits to teaching students remotely that the streaming mixer provides.

“They may not be familiar with the device, but they will be familiar with what it’s used for,” Roberts said. “It will take some getting used to, but once everyone gets comfortable, they’ll be pleased with what they can do with it.”

The new technology will be especially beneficial as teachers remain flexible, even to the point of moving to all online classes if necessary through the coming school year, Witty said.

For now, the reopening plan calls for students in kindergarten through sixth grade to attend classes in person at their school buildings Monday through Thursday. Students in Grades 7-12 will be split into two groups and alternate days of in-person classes and online study. That could change at any point and might need adjustment as the year progresses, Witty says.

Students also will be getting computer upgrades as part of the technology improvements. Those in kindergarten and first grade will each be provided with iPads and those in Grades 2-12 will each have a Chromebook for their personal use.

Roberts doesn’t expect either the younger children or the older students to take long to catch on to the new programs and equipment.

“Kids are so easily adaptable to these kinds of systems,” he said.

Roberts said he and his staff plan to provide a couple of hours of general demonstration instruction during the day-long in-service training. Then staff will get hands-on experience with the new equipment in their classrooms, and their questions will be answered from there.

“We’re kind of casting a wide net,” Roberts said. “Some can adapt without any trouble and some will need some extra help.”

The Baker School Board expects to decide in the coming weeks when to reopen school. Witty said he will ask directors to consider approving the Sept. 8 date for students to return to classes when they meet at noon on July 30 in a Zoom session.designed to ensure classes, including online learning, run more smoothly than they did this spring when schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and all classes were conducted remotely.

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