Principal Liz Sloan
Principal explains new challenges
Liz Sloan, principal of Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School (EBS), recently described the challenges of leading a school remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
San Diego Unified School District started preparing for a possible school shutdown in early March by calling in resource teachers to help write curriculum to be used during a shutdown, Sloan explained. Rumors had been circulating, but no one was certain a shutdown would occur.
Unfortunately, it was not until the morning of Friday, March 13, that she was officially notified that schools would close the next Monday, she said.
“It was interesting because we had a half day that day, so school was getting out at 12:30 because we were in our parent-teacher conference week. What the district told us was, ‘we’re closing and you need to make sure that the kids take all of their textbooks and stuff home that they need.’ So, I got on the PA system – of course, at that point we only thought we’d close for two weeks and come back after spring break,” Sloan said. “I needed to get that message out to the whole entire school and at that point it was about 11 o’clock and school was getting out at 12:30, so I went on the PA system and said, ‘we’re going to be closed for two weeks and students need to take home all of their textbooks.’”
It was not the ideal way to inform her teachers and students, but she had no other choice.
“We were in a real time crunch,” she said.
When the children began to leave that day, Sloan said, she stood at the front gate and checked with every student to make sure each had everything they needed to do school work from home.
While the students were able to leave, EBS teachers were about to begin several unexpected hours of preparation.
“I called an emergency meeting after school that day for the staff just to explain to them what we were going to be doing,” she said. “I shared with them all the information that I had. Then we got everything together as much as we could in four or five hours – and that was it.”
The teachers were not required to teach for the first two weeks of school closure.
“But our teachers (at EBS) are so amazing that a lot of them jumped right on to Zoom and started teaching even the first or second day of school closure – and none of them really had any experience doing that,” she said.
While parents had to set up Zoom for their students, the teachers were also learning the same, as well as how to conduct online classes and testing.
“So, they were just willing to give it a try and try on something new. I think we all kind of had the attitude of, well, we’re all learning here – we don’t know what we’re doing – and every single lesson that we do, or Zoom class that we run, we learn something new and we improve and we make it better,” Sloan said. “I was just so proud of our teachers of how they really jumped in and started teaching immediately … I think our parents were pretty happy about that.”
Sloan said one of the challenges of this situation is that everyone has different stressful situations in their own household.
“I think all of our families have things like that going on as well. So, what we’ve been trying to do and what the district philosophy is on the distance learning is – I think the key word is flexibility,” Sloan explained. “The teachers need flexibility because they have different things going on in their household. … The other side of the flexibility is that we have been really, really cognizant of being flexible with families and allowing them to participate in whatever way works for them, and also trying to adjust what we’re doing to best meet their needs.”
Her goal is to have students participate in online classes as much as possible each week. She realizes some families can’t have their students participate all the time, but participation at EBS has been incredibly good so far.
“Right now, I’m really, really excited because we have 100 percent participation from our families,” Sloan said.