FUSD Trustee: ‘Bare Minimum’ of Distance Learning Isn’t Enough
Fresno Unified trustee Claudia Cazares says teachers who have been doing the “bare minimum” as negotiated in the distance learning contract amendment need to do more teaching for their students.
“Students are not being taught. They’re being given a list of homework scheduled for the week, and then there is no outreach to actually teach them how to do that,” she said at Wednesday’s board meeting.
“When the bare minimum is being done to outreach to our kids, it’s not enough. It’s just not enough.”
Cazares prefaced her remarks by thanking those teachers who have “gone above and beyond” to connect with their students.
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Student Trustees Would Like More Teacher Outreach
The district’s two student trustees, Richard Romero and Joshua Camarillo, said more teacher contact would be preferable to what they’ve seen so far, eight weeks into the schools’ shutdown.
“I would agree with trustee Cazares, that teachers need to do more of an outreach, after they give the work that’s due, so the students have some type of structure throughout the week,” said Romero, a Fresno High student. “So it’s not just, ‘here’s the work, get it done by this.’ ”
Superintendent Bob Nelson said the district is gathering data on student and parent contacts by teachers, and the number of times and amount of time students are logged in. Nelson the trustees will receive an update on whether teachers are doing more than the bare minimum.
“We will have more information before next week’s board meeting,” he told the trustees.
COVID-19 Forced Distance Learning
Fresno Unified and other districts had to shift to the distance learning model of instruction in mid-March after schools were closed to stem the spread of COVID-19, which is highly contagious.
The district and teachers union negotiated a contract amendment to specify what work would be expected of teachers in distance learning, which includes at least one contact per week.
Manuel Bonilla, president of Fresno Teachers Association, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
Cazares said Thursday that she is concerned and also disappointed that some Fresno Unified teachers have only provided the minimum required instruction to students.
She’s also concerned that no one has a handle on how many teachers have done so.
“We can’t say if it’s 50-50, or 70-30, or something else,” she said. “I think at this point we don’t know.”
Provide Mentors to Teachers
Cazares said she realizes that teachers also face some of the same struggles as parents who are trying to earn an income while sheltering at home with their families, and taking on the role of teacher.
She said she would like the district to offer mentoring or other assistance to teachers who may be struggling to provide more outreach to their students.
Parents, especially those who don’t speak English fluently, face particular challenges in trying to help their children with their schoolwork, so the more assistance and outreach from teachers, the better, Cazares said.
As a trustee and a parent, Cazares said, she sympathizes with parents who are juggling work while trying to help their kids tackle their schoolwork, and added: “I can only Google so much.”
District Says Its Lessons Not ‘Bare Minimum’
In response to a query from GV Wire, Fresno Unified spokeswoman Nikki Henry said teachers have been doing more than the bare minimum.
The “TLC” and SPED agreements were crafted to set expectations, not minimums or maximums for instruction, because district officials knew that families and instructors would all face challenges unique to their personal situations, Henry said.
The “TLC” agreement sets once-weekly goals of providing learning opportunities and following up with students, and also engaging with students.
Henry acknowledged that teachers have not provided the same level of service across the board.
The district faced criticism from parents and also trustees as weeks went by before some teachers contacted their students, claims that the district has addressed, she said.
Families Want More Live Instruction
“We know the learning curve has been slower for some, and we know that not every teacher is in the same circumstances at this time,” she said. “We know that some students and families have seen less contact and less direct, live instruction than they would like.”
Teachers have had the autonomy to prepare their own class lesson plans that are in addition to the standardized per-grade curriculum that the district started posting on its website days after the schools closed, Henry said.
Most teachers are providing live and recorded lessons, individual assistance, and office hours, she said.
“We know that the vast majority of our teachers are making meaningful, regular contact with their students and providing learning opportunities through a multitude of formats,” she said. “We’re incredibly proud of the resilience and innovation our teachers and our students have shown over this time.”
Livestream on Grades, Testing
Meanwhile, representatives of the district are scheduled to appear in a livestream on Facebook, Instagram Live, and the district’s website on Friday to talk about grading and testing.
Nelson, Cazares, Camarillo and others will talk about the importance of students continuing to engage in learning for the rest of the school year, with a special focus on high schoolers.
The half-hour livestream is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday.