Woodridge ahead of tech curve, says superintendent

Woodridge Local School District Superintendent Walter Davis along with Board of Education members Marilyn Hansen and Jeffrey McHugh cheer on students with noisemakers as they walk across the stage to collect their diplomas.

Woodridge Local Schools Superintendent Walter Davis said one thing that helped his district was that it was “already one-to-one with technology.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of the work being done in the Woodridge Schools during this period of school closure,” Davis said before the end of the school year. “We are closed, but we aren’t. These are not ‘calamity days.’ We are providing instruction, feeding our kids and working.”

The district has used Google Classroom for several years, Davis said.

“The majority of our teachers – especially at the upper grades – were already using the Google tools. This situation has forced the remaining few to get on board – which they did quickly.”

He said only 37 families needed assistance with connecting to the Internet, and remote learning has posed challenges, especially with keeping the students focused on studying, Davis said.

“Without face-to-face classes with kids physically in front of you each day, ensuring that they are doing the work, that they understand the concepts being taught and responding to their needs is much more difficult.”

But there have been many positive moments in the online learning process as well, Davis added.

“I’ve seen teachers with on-line class meetings wherein all of the students are present – and one classmate has a birthday,” Davis said. “The whole class sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to that child online. I’ve seen teachers drive by students’ homes with signs in their car windows to wish them well. I’ve seen staff gather every Tuesday to deliver food to student homes.

“I’ve seen staff set up virtual tutoring sessions to work one on one with a student that is having difficulty. I’ve seen teachers taking online professional development to learn new skills on how to better use the technology, sharpen their skills and learn new features of Google Classroom.”

Kristin Jagger, director of academic services, said that the staff, too, had to quickly pick up new skills.

“Many of us, staff and students, were thrown into a situation that is completely new,” Jagger said. “It has been a learning curve for many of us. We are fortunate in Woodridge. Our staff is resilient and they have proved that they are truly “lifelong learners.”

Education was not the only consideration, said Beth Harrington, Woodridge Elementary School principal.

“So many of our students rely on school for so much more than academics, especially social and emotional support,” Harrington said. “Our teachers were turned inside out on how to be there for our students, while not physically together.”

Woodridge High School Principal Joel Morgan agreed.

“It’s a completely different way for teachers to instruct,” Morgan said. “So much of what teachers do relies upon face-to-face instruction. In three days our teachers completely changed how they teach students. So many safety nets for students are at Woodridge High School. Our students rely on us to help and when schools are closed it just makes things more difficult for everyone.”

Davis said that the mantra for remote learning was: students first, content second; do no harm; and learning over grades.

“In these unprecedented times in education where traditional direct instruction has been altered due to the coronavirus outbreak, our focus is first and foremost on student learning and ensuring our students’ well-being,” Davis said.

The switch to online learning has been easier for some than for others, said Jagger.

“I have told teachers to be patient with themselves and with their students,” Jagger said. “Above all, they need to trust in their abilities to reach and teach children whether it be remotely or face to face.”

N’ecole Ast, the director of pupil services, said that parents “should also be patient with themselves, as they are also learning how to be facilitators of remote learning.”

“It is imperative for parents to have an open line of communication with their child’s teacher,” Ast said.

Woodridge Middle School Principal Jesse Hosford said it was important to work every day.

“Most middle school kids don’t email well,” Hosford said. “We need them to check their email daily. We want teachers available through some live interactions throughout the week – whether it be Google Meet, email, phone call, etc.”

Morgan said the teachers and staff deserved kudos for working through the situations brought on by the pandemic.

“I hope our society realizes the importance of what schools do for students throughout their years with us,” Morgan said. “Our entire staff works hard every day for our students and families when students are at school. Our staff ‘does school’ so well day in and day out that it looks easy and is routine throughout the school year. I hope our staff had earned some appreciation from those who may not have realized what goes on in schools every day.”

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC