What the pandemic has revealed about digital equity

Digital equity remains a persistent challenge in districts, and its problems are compounded by distance learning necessitated by COVID-19

Before COVID-19, home internet access for all students was a goal—one that some districts even thought they had achieved. But the pandemic and forced distance learning have exposed a plethora of inequities in schools that many district leaders now see as issues they must address. In the edWebinar “Digital Equity Strategies for Learning Beyond the Classroom,” school leaders talked about how they are managing digital equity in the COVID-19 era and what they see as the critical next steps.

First, the pandemic exposed what Dr. David Miyashiro, superintendent of the Cajon Valley School District (CA), called the false positives of 100 percent home internet access. As a 1:1 district, his administration had previously recognized the need for universal access so that students could work as well from home as they do at school.

Related content: Major lessons our district learned during COVID-19

Part of the initiative included working with a local cable provider to offer discount access for families in need. Once the students were working from home, though, students who normally completed all work were missing assignments because they were using the Wi-Fi from local businesses or spending extra time at school.

Similarly, Dr. Steven Webb, superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools (WA), found that the district needed to rethink the idea of Wi-Fi hotspots. While families could drive students to school and sit in the parking lot to gain internet access, it’s not an ideal learning situation. Again, pre-pandemic, they started working with the community members to deploy hotspots so students could continue their classwork without sitting in a vehicle.

In addition, the current reliance on distance learning—and the potential to need it again—has opened many families’ eyes as to why schools are spending so much on edtech. Although all of the presenters had tech programs prior to the crisis, they weren’t all met with enthusiasm.

Dr. Donna Wright, director of schools for Wilson County Schools (TN), said they learned that digital access and literacy are a community issue and that they need to address all of their stakeholders to help them understand the goals of their edtech initiatives. At Dr. Wright’s school, for instance, they not only created student guides for distance learning, but they created parent guides as well. Her district is giving the parents the support they need to become digital learners.

Likewise, Dr. Miyashiro said they accepted, in some households, that the school-issued device would be the only one in the house. So, some of their learning programs come with parent licenses so that everyone can take advantage of the resources. This approach mirrors the district’s two-generation approach to poverty where they not only try to get the kids to see their potential, but also the families.

Of course, the most alarming part of this school year is that no one was prepared for the impact of COVID-19. As schools prepare for the 2020-2021 school year, the presenters have had many opportunities to listen to their stakeholders. Now is the time to listen about how they perceived the past months–what worked with distance learning, what didn’t, what other needs could the school address, etc. With all of the back-to-school plans, administrators are also preparing to go into quarantine again, and they need input on how to make sure all students are moving forward.

The presenters reiterated that distance learning cannot replace in-person interaction and that technology cannot replace teachers, but with some planning now, edtech can help them achieve an equitable environment for all students.

About the presenters

Dr. David Miyashiro currently serves as Superintendent of The Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD). Dr. Miyashiro completed his doctoral studies at UCLA. He was named 2016 Superintendent of the Year by ACSA (Association of California School Administrators), Region 18. Cajon Valley’s vision of “Happy Kids, Engaged in Healthy Relationships, on a Path to Gainful Employment” and its signature career development program, “The World of Work,” has garnered both national and global recognition.

Dr. Steven Webb is Superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools, Vancouver, Washington. In 2019 Vancouver Public Schools received CoSN’s Community Leadership Award for Digital Equity. Dr. Webb holds a doctoral degree from Seattle University. He is a member of the Horace Mann League, Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, and the American Association of School Administrators. He served as the 2017-18 president of the Washington Association of School Administrators. Dr. Webb has been recognized with several awards, including the 2018 National School Public Relations Association’s Bob Grossman Leadership in School Communications Award, and was a finalist for AASA’s 2016 National Superintendent of the Year. He is a frequent presenter at state, regional and national conferences and a published author in professional journals. Dr. Webb is a hands-on leader who has visited hundreds of classrooms at 37 school sites, worked the various jobs of the district’s 3,400 employees and served on the boards of many organizations in the Vancouver community.

Dr. Donna Wright was named Tennessee’s 2020 Superintendent of the Year. She began serving as Director of Schools for Wilson County Schools in 2014. Wilson County Schools is a rapidly growing school district of 19,000 students located outside of Nashville, TN. In the last several years district-wide academic performance has significantly improved; the district is undergoing the largest school building program in the history of the county; a concentrated emphasis on early literacy instruction is a focal point, and college and career readiness is a hallmark in middle and high schools. She has worked in public school education, K-12, and higher ed, for nearly 40 years. The Center for Digital Education and The National School Board Association recognized Wilson County Schools for its innovative use of technology. On May 20, 2020, Dr. Wright and the Wilson County Schools leadership team was named the 2020 winner of the CoSN District Team Leadership Award, which honors a district leadership team for its transformative impact on student learning with technology. Dr. Wright holds a doctorate in leadership studies from the University of Tennessee, has earned several awards, including the Women of Achievement Award and the UT Educators Hall of Honor Award.

About the host

Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s Empowered Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director, Educational Technology in the Klein Independent School District, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 professional educators serving 50,000 students. Ann served as co-chair of Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020. Today, Ann is based in Los Angeles working as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the Project Tomorrow advisory council and is a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann co-authored Life Lessons in Leadership, a guide for leaders ages eight to 88.

Join the community

Super-Connected is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN, AASA, and edWeb.net. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

About the Author:

Stacey Pusey is an education communications consultant and writer. She assists education organizations with content strategy and teaches writing at the college level. Stacey has worked in the preK-12 education world for 20 years, spending time on school management and working for education associations including the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group. Stacey is working with edWeb.net as a marketing communications advisor and writer.

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