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UPDATED: Pell City, St. Clair superintendents talk challenges with distance learning

Dr. James Martin and Mike Howard

Pell City Schools Superintendent Dr. James Martin (left) and St. Clair County Schools Superintendent Mike Howard

PELL CITY -- Superintendent Dr. James Martin said the Pell City school system is committed to helping its students as it transitions to digital learning. 

With Gov. Kay Ivey’s order that all schools will transition to online-only instruction for the rest of the academic year, many questions remain about what the last few weeks of school will look like for students.

“We are gonna try to be as flexible as we can,” Martin said. 

Martin said the system will be using Google Classroom to run classes for students with internet access. He said this will allow students to access assignments at any time before a set due date. He compares this to services used by many colleges to fulfil the same purpose for purely online classes. 

On these services, such as Blackboard or Canvas, teachers can post assignments and materials and set a date.

Martin said Google Classroom works in the same way. 

“Students will not have to access Google Classroom at the same time,” he said

One challenge Martin said the system will be forced to contend with is the inability to have in-person instruction of any kind for the rest of the school year. He worries this could hurt some students.

“There is no in-person instruction supposed to take place,” he said. “You can't replace that personal touch.”

Martin said teachers will have to deliver instruction through handouts or videos. 

The superintendent said this introduces another problem for students who do not have internet access. Students in those situations will be receiving packets with learning materials. Those packets will have to have all of the same material being accessed by students studying online. 

“We are going to have to more or less outline everything they (teachers) went over in a video,” Martin said. 

As for finding out which student will need which service, Martin said the system has been working on collecting that information in advance. 

“We have done a lot of groundwork,” Martin said. 

Martin said the system has been working to gather the information over the last week.

ST. CLAIR COUNTY

St. Clair County Superintendent Mike Howard said his system will be taking similar steps to Pell City but notes each district will need a more individual plan. 

“Each of our districts is different,” Howard said, adding the county system has 18 schools.

He said each school will have the general idea in common, but it will be up to principals and teachers to decide what the plan will specifically look like. 

One thing all schools will have in common is materials will be posted on Microsoft Teams and available for a set amount of time so students can engage with it at their own pace. 

“We are giving everything a week,” Howard said. 

He explained assignments will be posted for a week before they are due, for the time being. Howard said after the system sees how that works, officials will likely move towards having two weeks worth of assignments up at a time. 

Howard said whether teachers post videos or use Skype or other technology will be up to the school and what is best for each class. 

“I am leaving that up to each principal and teacher,” he said. 

Howard said due to the size of the county system, he can’t micromanage how schools respond like some city systems can. With that in mind, he is trying to let schools find what works for them. 

Howard said packets that will be provided for each student may not feature transcripts of videos but will have detailed instructions for each subject. 

“It will be the same material,” Howard said, adding that while the format may differ, the expectation for students will remain the same.

He said schools will be contacting students this week to see which format of instruction they will need for the rest of the year.

Howard also said the system is committed to continuing its meal program for as long as it is able to.

“We are doing it one day each week,” He said.

Taylor Mitchell, Daily Home reporter covering Pell City.

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