Planning the 2020-2021 School Year: The Ultimate COVID-19 Guide for Administrators
The summer season may be a break for kids who are free from the classroom and no longer obligated to complete homework assignments. For school administrators, however, the summer months always look a bit different. During a typical year, principals and school leaders often spend a lot of time during June, July, and August making plans for the next school year. They determine which classrooms their teachers will be working out of for the next year, and they adjust the curriculum as necessary. They have to account for every detail in order to make sure the next school year goes off without a hitch.
But, as many school principals know- they face unprecedented and unique challenges this upcoming academic year.
With the challenges posed by the spread of Coronavirus and social distancing measures, school administrators face a particularly difficult challenge in planning out the 2020 – 2021 academic school year. For public schools, their governing bodies dictate a fair portion of their protocol and policies. However, unlike public schools, private and charter schools face the challenge of creating all of their policies and contingency plans. This is no small task. Regardless, all school administrators face the daunting task of planning for the unknown.
The summer of 2020 will be anything but typical for private school administrators and charter school leaders. The COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered the vast majority of schools in the early spring months of 2020 has changed the educational landscape for the foreseeable future. Principals, managers, and other leaders in the school must take care of all those typical summer planning tasks, all while creating a comprehensive strategy that accounts for social distancing, virtual learning, and blended learning.
Fortunately, having the right systems and protocols ahead of time can help ensure your plans are more robust and adaptable to changes throughout the year. In a year that is vastly different from one that has ever come before, school administrators must have the right systems and protocols in place, including school management software to make remote learning possible. Our guide will help you plan for a successful year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reimagine How Your Campus May Look
The simplest way to reduce the likelihood COVID-19 affects your school is to prevent Coronavirus from spreading in the first place. Every school at every level is going to have to redesign their campus in order to adapt to the best social distancing practices that are required throughout the pandemic. Your campus is going to look different depending on the grade levels at your individual school. Some ideas that schools are considering include:
- Smaller class sizes. If your private school can accommodate fewer students in more classrooms, then this is probably the most viable option for maximizing social distancing. Ideally, students should be spaced at least six feet apart during instructional time. However, for some schools, this will not be possible. It is important that you work with teachers and get creative when redesigning your classrooms this summer. You need to create a safe yet inviting space for students to learn effectively.
- Eliminating common eating areas. Rather than having your students eat in a cafeteria, consider having students eat at their classrooms or in smaller dining spaces.
- Minimizing the number of classroom changes throughout the day. In an elementary school, for example, the art and music teachers can travel to the students’ homeroom classroom with all of the necessary learning materials.
- Staggered schedules. If your private school allows, you can create a staggered schedule that reduces the number of students arriving and departing at one time. School management software can help you create and implement this type of schedule.
As you begin to redesign your campus for the 2020-2021 school year, you will want to keep in mind the ever-changing federal, state and local guidelines. It would be a good idea to start securing additional personal protective equipment and sanitizing products in order to be as prepared as possible for the school year.
Create an Adaptive and Flexible Business Plan
As the COVID-19 outbreak spread around the world and across the country, schools were forced to quickly shutter their doors and switch to a remote learning environment. For many private schools, this resulted in significant financial losses, as they had to issue tuition refunds and offer discounts on fees.
During the next school year, continuity planning is critical. You need to design a flexible business plan that can adapt to the changing environment without resulting in financial loss. You can do this by:
- Creating a virtual learning experience for students that continues their educational experience at home. With adaptive school management software in place, you can upload digital resources and ensure that all of your students have access to these materials. We’ll discuss this in more detail below.
- Reviewing contract and policy language. You may need to adjust your policies this year so that parents have an understanding of what tuition will cost and when they will be eligible for refunds. Make a point to communicate these policies and contingencies. Clearly communicating these contingencies on the front end will greatly reduce any confusion and anger in the future.
As you change your business plan and adjust your policies, be sure to keep your school community informed. With the right technology in place, you can communicate these changes effectively and efficiently.
Implement – AND USE Online Teaching Resources
During the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, many schools improvised their remote learning framework, using various types of software and services. Many schools faced numerous difficulties in teaching remotely. With the threat of social distancing measures hanging over the next academic year, it is imperative you set up and integrate remote learning resources before they become absolutely necessary.
There are several options, which we have broken down by budgetary constraints:
Because social distancing measures happened so quickly, many schools opted for free services during the 2019 school year. This often meant using several platforms for each need. It included video conferencing software like Zoom or Skype, document sharing services like Google Docs, and various supplementary services like Google Classroom and Google Slides. Some schools used this approach with great success.
However, other schools faced numerous issues and challenges. Free services rarely have the full suite of capabilities for everything your students and teachers need. For administrators, this often meant cobbling together countless free services and cloud-based software. Not only did students have problems navigating from one service to another, but teachers often became frustrated with difficulties performing their day to day tasks.
Since free services rarely include technical support, getting help with the software is very difficult, if not impossible.
So, while free services are a viable option, plan on investing a significant amount of time and resources into technical support and implementation.
“Freemium” refers to software that offers a free version of their software without all of the features that come with the paid version. Principals and teachers have a chance to see if the software and company fit their academic goals and needs without the risk of being stuck in a long-term agreement. However, it does have its drawbacks. If you discover the free version won’t suffice in the middle of the academic year, the software might be too ingrained into your school’s operations to explore other options. Administrators might have to pay for software outside of their budget without getting to explore other options.
Paid / Premium Software
The final option is using paid school information software. You normally get a wider variety of features than free options, plus a robust support framework to ensure you get the most value out of your purchase. Generally, this type of software is 100% custom-built around managing schools and classrooms. You won’t have to cobble together a bunch of services to accomplish everything you need, and everything is on one platform. Also, you’ll have more technical support, training, and onboarding staff. Getting everything in place and keeping everything running will be much easier than the other options. The biggest downside is the cost, which must be taken into consideration. But, the cost of these services varies greatly. It’s worth pricing out several services to see if one fits in your budget.
While the type of service you use is important, one thing is paramount – use it BEFORE quarantine measures go into effect. Integrate as many features in your day-to-day operations as possible, and help your entire school take advantage of its benefits.
First, many features will help your school’s efficiency and systems regardless of whether you’re teaching in person or remotely. Document storage and sharing, processing order forms, tuition payment processing, direct messaging to students and teachers, and student profile storage are just a few features that can improve operations. After all, you might as well get as much value out of it as possible.
You will inevitably encounter problems with your online learning systems. Ironing out those problems before potential social distancing is ideal, and you want to ensure everyone becomes familiar with the interface. You’ll minimize educational interruptions if you do transition to remote learning by taking care of issues beforehand.
It is always better to get your remote/online learning framework right the first time. Take time to decide the best path forward, and don’t make your decision lightly. Countless resources online exist to help you make that decision. With the right knowledge and research your educational systems, whether remote or in person, will benefit greatly.
Design a Wellness Strategy that can be Enforced
School administrators have long battled parents who do not want to abide by the wellness policies at the school. The old rule of being fever-free for 24 hours without medication was constantly being broken. However, in a pandemic environment, it is more important than ever before that your school has an enforceable wellness strategy.
Some things to consider as you redesign your wellness plan for the school year include:
- Emphasize the fact that all federal, state, and local guidelines may be enforced. This could include, but is not limited to, the use of face masks in the classroom and temperature screening before a child comes to school.
- Monitor for signs of sickness, and be particularly vigilant about screening for symptoms of COVID-19. Have a strategy in place for where children will be isolated when they begin to show signs or symptoms of illness while at school.
- Remind parents that all students must remain home who have had contact with a sick individual or exposure to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Work with local officials in order to understand the landscape and be aware of any contact tracing initiatives.
For a more comprehensive list of recommendations, Click Here.
Account for Learning Loss
Summer learning loss is always a battle for school administrators and teachers, but learning loss may be much more significant at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. School administrators must be aware that every individual student will have had a different experience while distance learning. During the summer months, school administrators can:
- Form curriculum teams that will assess students at the beginning of the school year. These teams should be trained on the school management software so that they can collect and record data about each individual student during the assessment period.
- Provide grade-level teams with concrete plans to address learning loss. Teachers will need extra support and additional resources to provide their students with the help that they need getting caught up. School administrators should begin to secure those resources and create support plans during the summer.
- Offer summer professional development training to teachers and support staff. Training topics can vary and may include mental health topics, emotional support topics, and tips for bridging the learning gap.
Use Data to Formulate Your 2020-2021 School Year Schedule
Data has long played a critical role in creating an effective plan for the school year, but it will be more important than ever during the next school year to have accurate data available to school administrators at all times.
School administrators should use the most recent data available in order to design the school year schedule for 2020-2021. Data that is recorded in your school management software can help you:
- Allocate the appropriate number of students per classroom.
- Ensure that every teacher is placed in the classroom where they will be most effective.
- Enact a staggered schedule that will maximize social distancing measures in the school.
- Account for additional time to clean and sanitize frequent touchpoints, high-traffic areas, and surfaces.
The best school management software will allow administrators to collect data and generate reports as needed. This data should drive the decisions that are made during this uncertain time, and can provide much-needed clarity.
Prioritize Communication During Uncertain Times
School administrators at private schools, charter schools, and independent schools are the point of contact for the entire school community. Teachers and parents alike are going to be craving information during this uncertain time, and school administrators need to make frequent communication a top priority.
Communication efforts can be streamlined with the right school management software in place. Effective ways to communicate with the school communicate include:
- Automatic phone calls — Automatic phone calls, or robocalls, can simultaneously provide all parents, teachers, and school staff members with in-depth information.
- E-mails — E-mails are a convenient and effective way to offer regular updates about school schedules, policy changes, and more.
- Social Media Updates — Social media is a wonderful way to stay connected to the school community from a distance.
- Mobile-Based Notifications, and/or Text Message Alerts — Notifications that go directly to mobile devices (also known as push notifications) can be automatically sent in order to provide real-time information to parents. This is an ideal communication tool for unexpected school closures or emergency information that needs to be shared quickly.
Ideally, all of the above strategies will be in place and have a certain amount of automation to make sending updates as easy as possible. Make sure to clearly and continually communicate what platforms are available for important updates so everyone knows where to go to stay informed.
School administrators have always known how to face challenges in the midst of adversity, but the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything that principals, managers, directors, and teachers have ever dealt with before. In addition, every day new information comes to light. Often, with that new information, plans need to be adjusted or completely changed.
Coronavirus has made flexibility and adaptiveness for schools an absolute necessity. Fortunately, with the steps above, the ability to change the plan will become part of your plan. The next school year is sure to be different, but that does not mean that your students cannot enjoy a safe, fun, and engaging environment. When you couple creative thinking with the right school management technology, you can provide your students with the seamless education experience that they deserve during these tumultuous times.