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Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Children An interview with Milpitas Unified School District Superintendent Cheryl Jordan

An interview with Milpitas Unified School District Superintendent Cheryl Jordan

Summer is in full swing and students across the land are rejoicing! Even teachers get time off, and deservedly so. And yet, even though school is the last thing many people want to think about right now, we thought this would be the perfect time to take a moment and reflect on how the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD) fared this past school year. How did students, teachers, and parents cope with the drastic changes implemented in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19? And what is the district planning for this coming school year?

The Milpitas Beat spoke with MUSD Superintendent Cheryl Jordan. Here’s what she had to say…

 

The Beat:

You probably never could have imagined this scenario when you became Superintendent. What has this experience taught you?

Superintendent Jordan:

So, I’ve been in MUSD since 1989, when I started as a student teacher intern. Since then I’ve seen a lot of different school sites and met many students and staff. I have a great deal of empathy and connection to what happens in MUSD. It’s my second family. So during the pandemic it was extremely difficult to carry that weight. I was trying to be mindful of the health and well being of all of our employees, as well as the students, trying to find a balance so that everybody’s health was protected.

There were many times when I was thankful I had a group of superintendents to partner with, as well as association leaders and other leaders within the district who I could rely on. I know that, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, if I didn’t have those relationships, I don’t know if I would have been able to move through it. But I did.

And of course I had my own family concerns as well. I lost my stepfather to COVID, and that was very difficult.

 

The Beat:

Sorry to hear that. So, during the pandemic parents were more involved with their child’s education since a lot of it was being done at home. Do you see that continuing moving forward?

Superintendent Jordan:

In Milpitas we were fortunate because a large number of our families were able to work from home; so learners had parents or caregivers who could provide them with support in partnership with our teachers. We created learning pods for those parents who couldn’t be at home with their kids. Yes, I would like to see that continued partnership with parents and caregivers. Zoom is one way we can do that. As an example, one of our teachers was able to schedule a parent-teacher conference with a parent at the last minute. The next day at work, he got on Zoom during his lunch break.

 

The Beat:

OK, so how did MUSD do last year? What’s your assessment?

Superintendent Jordan:

Well, obviously none of us had ever been through a pandemic before, so we began to build things as we went. Information was constantly changing, and it was disrupting people’s ability to find grounding, which then led to anxiety and concern about the future. When a person is in that place, whether they’re a parent, or student, or teacher, or staff, it’s difficult to respond and move forward. But we did that. And we made sure that we included as many voices along the way as possible.

 

The Beat:

Break it down for us.

Superintendent Jordan:

So, in March 2020 we launched MUSD EducatEverywhere version 1.0, where we showed people how to use their digital devices and how to connect remotely, making sure teachers and paraprofessionals and classified people and bus drivers could all do their work of supportive learning. It was a lot of figuring things out.

When we realized that the pandemic was going to continue into the fall, we asked ourselves, “How can we provide that in-person support as well as maintain the virtual learning?” We assembled a committee of over 260 people made up of parents, community members, students, and representatives from all facets of the school district. Together we looked at different aspects of distance learning, including social/emotional learning, connecting with parents, connecting with students, health and safety, making sure we had the right digital tools, and making sure our kids could connect with wifi. We developed a hybrid model that we planned to put in place in the fall. In August 2020 we presented our plan, MUSD EducatEverywhere version 2.0, to the board.

 

The Beat:

Sounds good so far…

Superintendent Jordan:

Well, we expected that for the first 6 weeks classes would be 100% virtual, and then we would move towards the hybrid model. But we soon discovered that parents did not want to have their kids in another teacher’s classroom after developing a relationship online with their new teachers, and teachers also didn’t want to give up their kids that they had just gotten to know.

Also, teachers had figured out how to use their digital devices and applications in order to provide student instruction, and most of them were really maximizing their synchronous  minutes time, so kids were getting as much live time with the teacher as possible.

At this point, if we were to implement the hybrid model that we had created during the summer, it would have greatly reduced the number of synchronous minutes, and it would have increased the number of asynchronous minutes. And it probably would have initiated the need to switch students between schools so that those teachers who couldn’t teach in person could still be 100% virtual.

So we decided, OK, let’s build on what we know is working, and do it in a way that maximizes synchronous learning time for everybody, and that also provides in-person learning support for the less than 10% of students who weren’t fully engaged. In the meantime we had developed in-person learning pods. These were labs where individual teachers were teaching from their classrooms — some paraprofessionals who had pulled in some kids on their own to help support them.

We took all of this information and in October 2020 we created another committee of about 100 people and created MUSD EducatEverywhere version 3.0. Now all of the teachers without medical issues were back in their classrooms teaching virtually while at the same time providing in-person support for a small group of students who really needed it.

 

The Beat:

Wow, it all sounds a bit complicated. You had to keep adapting as the situation changed.

Superintendent Jordan:

Yes. And then in February 2021 we started to hear from the state that they wanted to move all the schools to full-time, in-person learning. We sent out some surveys and actually only a very small percentage of parents in Milpitas wanted their children back in school. So we developed a compromise.

By April 2021 we were maximizing synchronous learning time while allowing for persons who needed in-person support to come in. For most schools this was in the afternoon. The high schools had small groups of students coming to campus, usually about 1-5 kids per classroom. That’s how we ended the 2020-2021 school year.

So we were constantly making these pivots. Even though it is so hard for us as humans to change, we did it, and we did it in a way that allowed us to build on the skills that we were constantly acquiring and refining.

 

The Beat:

Phew! OK, so now, can you talk a little about the next school year, 2021-2022. What does the district have planned?

Superintendent Jordan:

Sure. So by the time we got to April 2021 it was time to prepare for the new school year. We created yet another committee of 32 people and came up with MUSD EducatEverywhere version 4.0.

About 2 weeks after this I was fortunate enough to be invited to a state-level meeting with the state superintendent and 8 other legislators, including  Phil Ting. It became pretty clear that most of them were not interested in flexible scheduling for the fall. They wanted schools to return to a full-time, 5-days-a-week schedule.

And so we needed to think about what had worked really well for our learners, especially when it came to achieving the district’s Strategic Goal #3 — to develop personalized educational pathways that allow students to apply their passion in learning for their future careers. We asked ourselves, “What can we take that we’ve learned and build on going forward?”

Because for us to rubber band back to the way it was before COVID would be a travesty.

There’s so much that we have learned regarding personalized learning for kids and how to really provide authentic engagement for parents and caregivers. We can still use some of those tools that had a huge impact.

For example, we will continue to use our Parent Portal, Aeries, as an online gradebook, as well as Google Classroom. These platforms allow students and parents to constantly see where they are as far as grades, and allows them to look back at what they learned yesterday or the week before so they can be better prepared for the future. They give parents and caregivers a way to see their child’s homework assignments, providing support for students to be more self-reliant.

Another big piece we’re trying to capitalize on is the ability to meet with so many more people using Zoom. It opens up the hybrid opportunities for meetings so that more parents, community members, and students can become involved.

We are constantly thinking of ways to support our learners. Our teachers and staff will continue to hone their skills using digital devices, online learning platforms, and applications, so that students can be real partners in learning.

Our ultimate goal for every graduate of MUSD is to prepare them for the 4th Industrial Revolution. So that they’re ready to create and produce instead of just simply being consumers. If they’re the producers and creators, then they’re the leaders.

We’re looking to disrupt the bias that is present in different industries. For example, during COVID, the service industry lost about over 50% of their jobs, but the tech industry actually increased jobs by 2%. But they didn’t have enough people applying. Why? Because people don’t see themselves there. We want our kids to see themselves in the science, technology, math, and art fields.

 

The Beat:

Good answer! Thanks for your time.

David Newman
David Newman is an award-winning Bay Area journalist whose proudest achievement may be placing 4th in his middle school speech contest in which he gave a stirring plea to “Save the Whales”. He specializes in stories about art, entertainment, food, and travel, but has also written extensively on other topics, including home & garden, parenting, small business, government, science & technology, animal care, and special events. He lives in a small house with his lovely wife, two beautiful daughters, and their little dog Bae. When not writing he can often be found in his office daydreaming about travel or watching soccer while his wife does actual work. You can view his writing portfolio here: www.davidnewman.net

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