"There should be no illusions that what we're trying to do is a best practice or an attempt to replace classroom instruction," he continued. "It's not possible for us right now. What we are seeing is great effort."
The hourlong webinar was the first in a weekly series he plans to host while schools in the Palo Alto Unified School District are closed. Future webinars will include guests and focus on specific topics.
On Monday, Austin discussed several hot-button issues and answered some questions submitted by viewers. A recording of the webinar is available on YouTube; search for "backstage with the superintendent." Below are his comments on a few of the topics.
The district is balancing synchronous (in real time) and asynchronous teaching, Austin said, and the expectation is not for teachers to be providing hours of live instruction to students at this time.
"If the expectation from our families is that a secondary student is going to sit in front of a computer for three, four, five hours a day and have live interaction with a teacher, there's no other way to say this: You're going to be disappointed," Austin said. "That is not the expectation. That's not going to be our reality."
He said teachers are working to publish their individual schedules to help students avoid conflicts on Zoom or other video conferencing.
He encouraged parents with concerns on either end of the spectrum — that their child is not getting enough instruction or spending too much time in front of a computer screen — to reach out to their children's teachers.
High school graduation
Although the high schools will remain closed through the end of the year, the district is working on multiple ways to commemorate seniors' graduation on the original dates they were scheduled for, such as through a video or photo slideshow. He is working with the high school principals, activities directors and some students to determine what that will look like and how the broader community could be involved.
"We're going to do multiple things. They may not resonate with every student, but we're hoping that the more that we do, the more chance for success," Austin said.
The group considered postponing graduation, but he said they "didn't think there was a benefit that was worth postponing it that outweighed having some certainty in getting it done."
Austin said his "biggest fear" related to reopening schools is that even after getting the green light from public health and education officials, some parents and staff may be reluctant to return.
Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated last week that schools could see staggered schedules to reduce the number of students on a campus at a time, with partial online learning continuing. Austin said those kinds of ideas are "great," but he's unsure how they would work practically. The district is advocating for the California Department of Education to change the state education code to allow for classes to be taught both face to face and remotely, he said.
Summer school also remains up in the air. It could be paused, offered virtually or moved to the end of the summer, Austin said.
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