Lynne believes in
Equity * Excellence * Engagement * Accountability
6 BIG IDEAS to Make Virtual Learning WORK

1. RIGOROUS, STRUCTURED, FLEXIBLE LEARNING

To be successful, virtual learning must look and feel as much as possible like a traditional school day. Students crave structure. They need predictable class schedules. Classes must meet regularly, with primarily live instruction, supplemented by offline lessons and options for students whose parents or caregivers can’t sit with them at a computer all day. Instruction must remain rigorous to challenge all students appropriately. At home or in school, MCPS remains responsible for preparing all students for college and careers. AP courses can't be "AP lite." MCPS must help teachers adapt to provide the same challenging instruction virtually. Each school must communicate clear paths for students and families to reach out for help if students are struggling academically. And let's look creatively at how to start the day later to better accommodate students' (and teachers') sleep needs. When class is at home - with no commuting, no standing at bus stops, no traffic - there's no need to be online at 7:30am.

2. SUPPORT STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

We saw clearly last spring that special needs students, ESOL students and struggling learners cannot thrive in large, online group lessons. They need the same individualized attention they receive in school. MCPS must commit to providing regular, one-on-one instruction for special learners, online or in person as health authorities allow. Students with IEPs need more robust monitoring and evaluation during virtual learning (monthly calls with parents) so adjustments can be made in real-time.

3. GET EVERYONE CONNECTED

Virtual learning can’t happen until every student is able to get online and stay online, every day. MCPS must commit to quickly providing equitable resources - devices and reliable Internet - to students who don’t have their own. We must think outside the box: mobile hotspots and tech-support readily available at every school in multiple languages; using buses to deliver devices and learning materials. For younger students and special learners, parents need user-friendly instructions to support their children. MCPS should use a consistent, safe platform to deliver instruction with a focus on privacy and Internet security. Printed material should be readily available for families that prefer to limit their children’s screen time. And books must be made available to all students to supplement instruction. 

4. SUPPORT TEACHERS AND STAFF

New, enhanced, forward-thinking professional development is necessary to ensure that teachers can adapt curriculum and lesson plans effectively to an online format. Administrators should not assume that teachers who excel in the classroom will do so online - it’s a completely different arena. Teachers will need regular support and instruction to make this work. Innovative ideas should be encouraged, including how adjusted roles for support staff can enhance virtual learning. MCPS must recognize the unique and unusual situation facing many of our teachers balancing two classrooms: their students online, and their own students and families at home. The district should aim to remove barriers to make teaching as effective as possible, and provide resources and support for all staff. 

5. SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS 

School is more than just a place to learn. Students come to connect with teachers, staff, classmates and friends. Virtual learning eliminates that connection. The social isolation that results is manageable for some, detrimental to others. MCPS must ensure that each school maintains robust connections between students and with teachers, including but not limited to free time to socialize before and after lessons; learning through teams and breakout groups: whole-school social activities; and structured times and spaces for student clubs and organizations to connect. Relationship-building between students and staff is even more critical in a virtual world. Students need to see that their teachers care and are accessible beyond video lessons and email. MCPS must ensure that the full complement of support - counselors, psychologists, social workers and other school-based mental health professionals - are available to students learning from home, and that they are reaching out to ensure that students are okay.

6. CTE SOLUTIONS 

Career Technology Education, by design, is hands-on learning. Students cannot learn to build homes, repair cars and computers, treat patients, cook and serve meals or provide beauty services entirely online. The certifications offered through CTE programs require students to be on jobsites, with clients, in kitchens and in lab settings to gain the experience needed to successfully complete these programs. MCPS has made a major investment in career education at Thomas Edison High School of Technology, Seneca Valley High School and home-school programs around the district. Students have committed to two or more years of instruction with the hope of obtaining work experience during high school. MCPS must follow through on its promise and honor its commitment to these students by working with CTE teachers to provide continued access to hands-on learning in safe, socially-distant ways. 

EQUITY

“All Means All” cannot just be a slogan. MCPS must be consistent to ensure that every student receives a world-class education, no matter where they live.

  • Review every school to identify those missing advanced courses and unique specials.

  • Expand AP courses and regional IB programs - especially to students of color and special education students. Automatically enroll students who meet objective criteria.

  • Provide incentives for experienced teachers and principals to choose and stay in high-needs schools.

  • Expand mental health programs, including trauma-informed practices and restorative justice, in all schools to better serve all students and end disproportional discipline for students of color.

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  • Provide “wraparound” community services in every Title 1 school.

  • Protect the rights of undocumented and newly-arriving immigrant students. Train teachers, staff and administrators to ensure that their unique needs are met, inside and outside the classroom. 

  • Review field trips for all schools, with the goal of providing equitable opportunities and funding, especially in middle and high schools.

  • Fix deteriorating buildings with paint, new furniture, fixtures, flooring, lighting, technology and interior-only modifications that don’t require major construction.

EXCELLENCE

What we’re teaching and how we’re teaching it must meet high standards.

  • Develop criteria for what an excellent MCPS school looks like, and ensure that all schools meet this standard.

 

  • Innovate! Create “learning labs” where teachers develop unique new courses and try innovative new approaches to teaching.

  • Ensure teachers and counselors encourage all students, including those who are college-bound, to consider Career Technology Education programs.

  • Provide an experienced peer mentor for every new teacher.

 

  • Partner with county agencies and unions to make sure all pre-K providers use and effectively deliver the same high-quality pre-K curriculum, so all students are ready for kindergarten.

  • Provide Central Office oversight for courses to ensure students receive the same content, and that content prepares them for exams.

  • Expand the current pilot program to increase recess without reducing instructional time.

ENGAGEMENT

LISTEN to students, teachers, staff and families! They know things about our schools that decision-makers don’t. Reach them where they are.

  • Ensure that office staff in every school can communicate with non-English speakers. 

  • Ensure that every child has an engaged primary educational contact.

  • Use social media and student groups to promote the Safe Schools MD Hotline to anonymously report violence, bullying, drug use, and mental health crises.

  • Host student listening sessions in every cluster, every year. Appoint staff to follow up on common concerns.

  • Require that schools offer at least one morning and one evening parent-teacher conference session at a location in the community that is transit-accessible.

 

  • Create incentives for teacher home visits and door-knocking campaigns to reach families in high-needs schools with low engagement, and schools being considered for major program changes, construction projects or boundary reviews.

 

  • Require teacher, family and student input for Key Facility Indicators that determine which schools receive additions and new buildings.

 

  • Train centralized crisis response teams to ensure prompt, accurate, effective communication and support in emergencies – a standard approach across all schools.

 

  • Partner with Montgomery County’s Vision Zero program, school communities and county and state highway departments to identify the most dangerous routes to school and unsafe bus stops. Collaborate on smart policies to ensure that all students arrive safely.

  • Allow at least two excused absences for civic action each year.

ACCOUNTABILITY

All MCPS decisions, policies and practices must be based on transparent data and solid evidence. We must hold ourselves accountable for spending county and state funds wisely.

  • Complete secure entrances at every school.

  • The Board of Education must have its own independent analysts to research issues, evaluate budgets, identify ineffective programs and suggest ways to more effectively spend our capital and operating budgets. 

  • Create an independent ombudsman with authority to address community, family and student concerns, including elevating those concerns to the highest level and mediating solutions.

 

  • The County Planning Department does a county-wide review of school capacity and plans for county development every four years. MCPS should partner in that review, and use it as a tool to assess how current school boundaries are serving our students.

 

  • Add safety supervisors and expand camera storage on special education buses to protect our most vulnerable students.

 

  • Provide easy access to comprehensive Open Data that is current, detailed and user-friendly, allowing comparisons between schools and clusters.

 

  • Prioritize sustainability. Require LEED certification for all new construction. Transform the MCPS bus fleet to all-electric vehicles. Include climate change education in the curriculum at all levels. Create an MCPS “sustainability team” that includes students from elementary, middle and high school. Read how our students are taking the lead on this.

  • Consistently enforce existing cell phone policy.

  • Continuously look for good ideas and best practices from other similar-sized, high performing school systems.

WANT MORE DETAIL?
See Lynne's answers to questions posed by organizations across Montgomery County (listed alphabetically).

Lynne Harris

- FOR BOARD OF EDUCATION -

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