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State unveils 'playbook' for school return; educators begin learning how to secure virus funds

by Cynthia Howell | May 15, 2020 at 7:11 a.m.
Johnny Key, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education, addresses the media during a press conference on Arkansas' response to covid-19 on Saturday, April 25, 2020.

Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key on Thursday unveiled a "Back to School Playbook" compiled by some 130 educators that identifies skills that students missed when the state's schools closed abruptly in March and lesson plans for filling in the gaps when classes resume.

The playbook is being readied for publication as part of a new state webpage that will be what Key called "a one-stop shop" about the re-entry and re-engagement of students and their teachers into schools in the coming months.

Key introduced the playbook and webpage -- which could be available as soon as today -- at the conclusion of the state Board of Education's regular monthly meeting Thursday.

The board members met via an online meeting platform that allowed them to interact with each other and Division of Elementary and Secondary Education staff while maintaining a physical distance. The session was livestreamed so it could be viewed by members of the public.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage »]

Key and Missy Walley, director of special projects for the state Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, talked about the playbook at a meeting in which Deborah Coffman, assistant commissioner for accountability, announced that school systems can begin next week to submit applications for a share of millions of dollars in federal and state funding to help meet the needs resulting from the covid-19 pandemic.

"When it comes to education, I really feel we can be stronger than we were before," Key told the Education Board in talking about the different resources and the Arkansas Ready for Learning initiative that ties into Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Arkansas Ready campaign -- all of which is meant to reflect a statewide, coordinated response to the pandemic that shut down schools, universities, sports, churches, entertainment venues and some businesses.

Key also told the board that the governor wants schools to be re-opened for the 2020-21 school year, so the schools must be ready to do that, but they also must be prepared in the event there is a resurgence of the virus that once again interrupts onsiteinstruction.

Hutchinson in mid-March directed that all schools -- serving more than 470,000 students -- be closed to on-site instruction as part of an effort to slow the spread of covid-19, which is caused by the coronavirus and is contagious and potentially fatal. Ultimately the governor directed that the school buildings be closed through the end of the school year but that students and teachers do schoolwork at home using paper and online lessons.

Walley said principals and teachers who have had training in collaboration, also called professional learning communities, organized into teams by grade level -- kindergarten through high school. Each team of teachers was coordinated by a principal.

"We did math and English/language arts," Walley said of the teachers from across the state. The kindergarten team had 10 to 12 teachers from two or three schools, she cited as an example.

That team identified essential standards that students should have learned in the last part of the school year, then they wrote assessments, or tests, and lessons for those essential skills.

The identified skills and lesson plans developed by the kindergarten teachers can be used by the first-grade teachers this coming year, just as the skills and lesson plans for first-graders can be pulled into the second-grade classrooms.

As for the federal funding as a result of the emergency, Coffman said there will be different funding sources available to school systems on a noncompetitive application basis.

That will include federal CARES Act funding -- some $128 million for education in Arkansas, with more than $115 million earmarked for school districts, Coffman said. CARES stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.

Applications must specify how the districts will use the CARES Act money. Focus areas are likely to be food programs for students, direct student supports for learning, and technology use that will result in a high-quality blend of in-person and online instruction.

In response to questions, Coffman said the money can be used by districts for pandemic-related costs dating back to March 13.

A state agency webinar and a webpage will be available as soon as Monday to aid school systems in acquiring the funding, Coffman said.

Key suggested that the money can be used for professional development for teachers during the summer as well as for a variety of summer programs for students -- although those may be virtual lessons rather than in-person.

Metro on 05/15/2020

Print Headline: State unveils 'playbook' for school return


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