KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s no going back.
That’s the message Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell has for administrators in his district and the wider community.
“We have to understand as a system that 15,000 students potentially in our facilities may not be possible for the foreseeable future,” Bedell said Wednesday during a 41 Action News virtual town hall with city leaders from various sectors.
Social distancing on buses and in classrooms may become a new reality.
Some parents also may prefer virtual education after getting a taste of it during the current shutdown.
Bedell expects many families in his district and in others to say, “I don’t think I want to send my kid back. I like this and I still want to be able to do this from home, but I also want to be able to access the social and emotional aspects of development.”
Those aspects include clubs, athletics and other extracurricular activities.
“We’ve got to be ready for all of that,” Bedell said. “That’s the conversation that I’m having with principals. This will never look the same when this is all said and done. If all we’re trying to do right now is just get through it and survive and then we go back, we will be completely irrelevant post-COVID-19.”
Central to that mission is bridging the digital divide by providing internet access to families and in areas that currently go without an increasingly necessary daily utility. That’s where KCPS had to get creative.
“Last week, we piloted three to four school buses in the middle of WiFi deserts,” Bedell said. “We have internet access, because our new fleet of buses already came equipped with WiFI.”
Effectively, the buses, which are parked from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. during normal instructional hours, serve as hot spots for areas of the community where internet access is problematic.
“We have an opportunity to reach our families within up to 300 feet,” Bedell said.
The district is continuing to iron out details of where to strategically place the buses. It also received shipment of 1,000 hot spots last week.
KCPS is sending a letter to district families about the need for internet access with information to allow families to call or enroll online in a distribution program.
“All of our schools will begin to give out those devices next week,” Bedell said.
That also should help prepare KCPS for summer school, which will be conducted virtually from June 1-26.
“It’s hard,” Bedell said. “It’s really hard, but I’m very proud of the things that we’re putting together.”
It’s also very necessary for the district moving forward.
“When we think about digital conversion, I don’t want us to think about it as a response to COVID-19,” Bedell said, “because the truth is there’s a lot of things” KCPS must evolve.
“We’ve been a one-to-one district as far as devices are concerned since 2015, yet we never engaged in the proper digital conversions,” Bedell said.
KCPS plans to advance the way it integrates technology with its human resources, its curriculum and its policy.
“How do you convert those in a way where, in a digital world, everybody understands that the system can continue to operate and it’s not solely dependent on this chalkboard era of how we conduct teaching and learning,” Bedell said. “The chalkboard era has become extremely irrelevant for a number of kids in this country, not just in the urban school district sector.”
Bedell said KCPS is focused on three tiers of student growth — social, emotional and academic progress — amid school closures.
“All three of those are being impacted right now as a result of COVID-19,” he said.
KCPS has received a grant for telehealth to provide students access to health care.
The district also recently entered agreements with local radio stations “so we can set up hotlines and do some lectures and things of that nature,” Bedell said.
It also will allow the community to call in for support, especially when dealing with “social and emotional distress.”
“We’re working with a number of stations to try to provide academic content, because we think this is going to be longer than what’s expected,” Bedell said. “And if there’s another shutdown later on in the fall, we need to be prepared to be strong virtually as an educational entity. That means having educational access stations that are public and even on cable.”
Those partnerships will allow KCPS to provide classroom content to a wide audience and help facilitate ongoing progress in the classroom.