WMSD sees big turnout for device distribution
Parents, students receive more than 1,500 computers, hotspots to meet remote learning needs during COVID- 19 crisis
firstname.lastname@example.org In less than two weeks, the 2020-2021 school year will begin amid uncertainty as the coronavirus global pandemic continues to cast doubts on educators and students and how learning will take place this fall.
For the West Memphis School District, that has meant months of meeting remotely via Zoom conference calls and in person to develop a plan of action for the thousands of students under their purview. That plan includes offering both remote (online) and on-site (in classroom) learning options for parents and students. For those choosing online instruction, the district is providing both devices and internet access to those who need it.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the district began distributing the technology at Lehr Arena, drawing a massive crowd and the attention of the Memphis media, with reporters from Channel 13 and Channel 5 coming to West Memphis to speak with Superintendent Jon Collins about the effort to educate local youngsters as COVID-19 keeps much of the school year up in the air.
“Students and their families are here to pick up their assigned devices for both blended and virtual learners,” said Collins. “We passed out 1,573 devices yesterday and… we have more picking up today.
Yesterday was elementary distribution and today is secondary distribution.”
Collins said parents who missed the two distribution days will have another opportunity before school starts.
“We have not scheduled our make-up days yet for parents who missed yesterday because they had to work or had other obligations,” he said. “We're going to reschedule those after we've had a chance to regroup and get an inventory of what we actually launched yesterday and today.”
Collins expected those dates will be announced soon, possibly today.
“I anticipate us having two or three alternate dates next week for those who were not able to pick up their devices,” he said.
Collins said one of the keys to making distance learning possible was getting internet access into the homes of every student in the district.
“I think like most school districts around us, every superintendent recognizes there are big gaps in access and broadband issues, particularly with rural students,” Collins said. “And so we've utilized a lot of our care package money to provide mobile and wi-fi hot-spot access to basically have ‘on loan’ during this time of COVID-19.
Hopefully, that will create a smaller gap in access and be able to allow us to deliver our instructional material much smoother.”
Collins also offered preemptive answers to a couple of questions. What will happen when a device stops working? Who do parents call or reach out to? “We've had conversations — we've not launched this yet. Our intention is to have a trial run tomorrow as well as Tuesday of next week for families who do have devices,” he explained. “Our staff has been through development since last Friday and we're learning new management systems and how to approach that. Our IT department has worked diligently through the summer and it's been a pretty daunting task. Fortunately, we're one of the districts that jumped on it early. We have everything in place.
Our intention is to develop and devise a type of tech support hot line after hours for parents or students who run into issues like not being able to log on or other technological issues.”
The new devices shore up the district’s already sizable stock of tablets and laptops, ensuring every student will be able to receive instruction and assignments
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whether he or she is learning from home or sitting in a classroom on campus.
“We were previously almost on a one-to-one ratio prior to COVID-19,” said Collins. “Obviously we had a blend of devices from iPads to Chromebooks. Some of those were old… and refreshers are a big deal.
We are in the process of updating our devices so our kids can have the latest and greatest devices at their disposal.”
Holding the distribution in one place presented some challenges in and of itself with COVID-19 health and safety protocols in place, with a long line and hundreds
It's been a bit of a challenge,” said Collins. “I think it's been a challenge for all school districts across America. Just like we're social distancing right here, everybody has to take ownership for their personal protection, safety and health. We've got markers laid in our hallways for our students and we feel very confident about our approach and our PPE services and our social distancing plans inside the campuses. But obviously asking the general public to maintain social distancing… it's kind of like going to a grocery store or a gas station. We all see people who respect the guidelines and those who do not.”
After a slow distribution on Tuesday, the process was significantly faster on Wednesday.
“We issued 1,500 devices yesterday and it was almost like pulling a number from the revenue office and waiting in line,” Collins said. “We underestimated the logistics of the process.
We handed out devices until 8:40 p.m. last night and at that time our IT director, business manager, high school principal and myself sat down and came up with a revised plan for today. We're flowing a lot faster and a lot smoother today. We brought in additional personnel to help with verification, device check out, and hot spot issuance. So we feel good about the adjustment and getting us to a point today where we can serve our community a lot smoother and a lot better.”
for school, no matter how strange it looks.
“We feel we're ready to handle everything, but I was on a state conference call this morning and there's certainly a little apprehension all across Arkansas, as there should be in the middle of a global health pandemic,” said Collins. “I would like to say I think we're as prepared as we can be at this point. Nobody's got a crystal ball. There are still a lot of unknowns, but we've taken every precaution that we can to provide the proper amount of PPE to protect our students, foremost, and our staff members. The governor has issued every superintendent in the state of Arkansas to come up
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with one charge to come up with, essentially two models. To provide on-site instruction five days a week and then for any parent or student who have apprehensions about reentering the class room, to provide a virtual offering…
and we're ready to meet that charge. Every single school district in the state is required by the Department of Education to employ a point of contact person and we have done that. We're going to be responsive appropriate to the situation that we come into. There are going to be a variety of situations and unknowns, from positivity to close contact, to probable close contact and there may be a situation where we may have to send students or staff members home to quarantine… at one particular campus or one wing of one campus, but not necessarily the entire campus. On the flip side of that, if one campus is overcome with COVID-19, that does not necessarily mean that every campus in the district will close.
We've got 5 or 6 miles distance between several of our campuses. We're going to be responsive as the data comes forward and we'll do the very best job that we can.”