Online learning takes shape for Olathe Schools

Posted at 9:21 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 13:16:58-04

OLATHE, Kan. — Monday, March 23, was the date Olathe Public Schools students would have returned to school had Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly not ordered the closing of all school buildings in the state as a result of fallout from COVID-19.

The closures have prompted schools to transition to online learning. Brent Yeager, assistant superintendent of learning services at Olathe Public Schools, said some lessons will be online and interactive with staff members while others will consist of packet learning.

With a district size of more than 30,000 students and 3,000 certified teachers, Superintendent John Allison said they have to be ready to meet the learning needs of all students.

“Just know unchartered territory for all of us, we are going to get through this together,” Allison said, exactly one week from when online instructional learning is scheduled to roll out for Olathe Schools.

Teams of teachers are working with staff at the district level, broken down by grade level and content area. Yeager said they are focusing on what they want to ensure they get to students between now and the end of the academic year.

But with many parents now juggling working from home and schooling from home, families are asking what they can expect this new way of learning to look like.

“Knowing that not only has this changed all of our lives, but it’s fundamentally changed our family lives that we are trying to balance what can be student-lead,” Allison said. “How much can we really ask parents to step in and fill that void? So that’s one of the challenges that we have.”

A state task force of about 25 teachers, most of whom are former Kansas teachers of the year, according to school officials, is helping educators navigate these new waters in unprecedented times.

All of the lesson plans will be put together by Olathe teachers, utilizing one of the state department’s recommendations of ‘packet learning.’

“Even if it’s a student that doesn’t have a high level of technology at their household they, will be able to interact hopefully with the content that way.”

Yeager said that when students “hopefully” return in the fall, educators will need to be ready to spend time “getting to know” what students accomplished during the time away from the physical classroom. He also said that students will likely come back at different levels based on what their experiences have been.

“But even some of the students with great technology access are caring for littles - for little brothers and sisters and things like that right now so that mom and dad can go to work,” Yeager said.

Above the uncertainty that 2020 has merged into, both Yeager and Alison said what cannot be emphasized enough is that staff are finding ways to connect and check in with students.

“I have a fifth grader and an eighth grader in my house who will be switching levels next year, and I will say without us asking anyone to do anything, they have already heard from almost all of their teachers via email or teachers setting up a Zoom or something like that just to get in touch with our students and to say, ‘Hey I’m OK, I hope you’re OK, I’m thinking about you,’ that kind of thing,” Yeager said. “A lot of reach out from our staff telling students, ‘You know what, we’re all in this together and we’re gonna get through it and we’re going to wrap our arms around each other when we can.’”

Allison said that his heart goes out to high school seniors.

“When you really think about this group, these were the kids that were born under the shadow of 9/11, so the world changed at the time they were born,” Allison said.

And now, once more as they pass the milestone of graduating high school.

“That group - that class of 2020 is some of the most caring compassionate group of students I’ve ever been associated with,” Allison said.

By the end of the week, Yeager and Alison said families in the district will receive information regarding what the learning platform looks like for continuous learning in the ways that will happen for each individual student.