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RISD prepares for learning at home

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In the next couple of weeks, administrators, staff and teachers of Roswell Independent School district have to plan for almost seven weeks of instructing students in a brand-new way.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart announced Friday morning New Mexico schools will remain closed through the rest of the academic year and public schools will shift to a learn-at-home model.

“We had gotten word by Wednesday that this was probably going to happen, but we didn’t know in what full direction we would have to do in compliance with the Public Education Department,” RISD Interim Superintendent Mike Gottlieb said Friday afternoon.

RISD staff will be working through the weekend and all next week to meet the April 8 deadline for submitting a Continuous Learning Plan to the state, he said.

PED is providing schools with guidelines of how to continue education, but each district will be responsible for creating and implementing its own plan and how seniors will demonstrate competency to graduate.

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RISD parents can expect a letter — distributed through social media, email and the district’s robocall system — on the steps the district is taking, Gottlieb said.

He stressed it is critical if parents’ phone number or email has changed they should contact the district to update their contact information.

Stewart said in a webcast with media Friday morning PED has been planning for a possible school closure since March 6. Since the three-week closure was ordered March 12, RISD has already taken some steps to prepare, Gottlieb said.

A link to online learning resources was added to the RISD web page, and other resources for parents have been posted there as well as the district’s Facebook page.

The district’s CLP is in early stages but will focus on critical standards as recommended by PED.

“They want us to hit the critical one or two things a week for students,” Gottlieb said.

It will be a “less is more” approach to learning, he said.

“Within the last six and a half to seven weeks of school, we hit those major focuses to going into that next grade level,” he said.

Gottlieb said the district will be working to reach all students, but acknowledges there will be challenges.

“Some of our challenges, of course, will be people having internet access at home, a computer, so we’ll be making packets, and then how to get that information to parents to where to pick up their packets for their child,” he said.

Teachers who have not already received training in using Google Classroom will do so next week, and they will be allowed into the buildings to assemble the packets.

The packets will likely be made available at the Grab and Go meals being distributed at each school on weekday mornings, Gottlieb said.

Another area of focus will be making sure seniors can graduate.

“We really have to keep this group of students in mind first and foremost,” Stewart said. “It was very much a painful decision when we look at the impact on our high school seniors and many of the traditions and all the hard work they’ve put in.”

Stewart said it will be up to local districts to determine the measures of competency for seniors to graduate. That might be a locally designed test or series of assignments, achieving a set score on college entrance exams or demonstrating applied work.

Gottlieb said he would be meeting with the high school principals to discuss what method RISD will use.

“It’s a pass/fail system that they have strongly recommended for districts to use, and some project-oriented things for other kids who are struggling at the senior level to make up everything they’ve got to make up for their credits,” he said.

In Friday’s Webcast, Stewart said grade point averages will be set at the level prior to the three-week school closing order.

Stewart also talked about if and when schools should conduct milestone events for seniors such as proms and graduation ceremonies.

“These events need to happen. If that means they need to happen at a later date, we’ll look at the prevailing public health order at the time and make a decision as to when those events can safely be held,” Stewart said.

Virtual graduations or December graduations are a possibility, he said.

“I know that our district staff doesn’t want our seniors to not be able to somehow walk across the stage,” RISD School Board President Alan Gedde said Friday afternoon.

“We want to give these kids what we can, as much as we can. But we’ve got to take our directions from wherever it comes from. We are going to work diligently to make sure that something happens though,” he said, adding he and Gottlieb had already been having discussions about graduation options.

“My guess is we’ll know a lot more in a month. The way this thing has rolled out, we should almost be over the crest, but we don’t know,” he said of the growth of COVID-19 cases New Mexico.

“I would say give us a few weeks to get some things in place.”

More information on the extended school closure is available at www.newmexico.gov/education/school-closure-faq/.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.