Members of the Denison School board received an update last week on district efforts to move classes online, and the work of teachers to continue lessons in non-ideal conditions during the COVID-19 epidemic.


In mid-March, Denison, along with many schools across the state, transitioned to using remote learning and online coursework. Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that all schools across Texas would remain closed for the remainder of the school year as a precaution against the viral infection.


“I am beyond proud of our curriculum team and our DISD teachers,” DISD Director of Instruction Shonda Cannon said. “This has been a challenge. I am not going to mince words — it has been a challenge, but it is one they have tackled with all of their might.


“So many of our teachers are stepping outside of their technology comfort zones and I would like to believe that some point in the future we are going to look back at this time as a major educational innovation and revolution.”


Cannon said the effort to transition to remote learning started in early March when students were originally scheduled to return from spring break.


During that week, teachers made more than 4,400 calls to families to determine the feasibility of transitioning classes to an online format. This poll found that about 80-85 percent of students had access to WiFi connections at home.


From there, it was determined that classes for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade would be held using online instruction with an alternative paper and packet form for students without access.


Middle school and high school would be taught entirely online through Schoology, an electronic learning management program that was already in place within the district.


However, district officials determined that 200 families had WiFi access, but no device that could be used for online instruction. Meanwhile, 300 families lacked both wi-fi connectivity and a device.


To meet this demand, school officials ordered and formatted about 325 tablet devices that came with on-board WiFi hotspots. Cannon said a crew of about nine workers in the technology department spent a day preparing all of these devices.


While the transition was unusual and outside the expertise of district staff, Cannon said teachers and administration adjusted to the change well.


While initially the district was issuing paper instruction packets one week at a time, organizers become more proficient and were able to ramp up to three weeks at a time. During last week’s meeting, Cannon said instructors were preparing the packet for the last three weeks of the school year.


Cannon said many teachers became very creative with their online lessons and ways that they could reach out to their students during the crisis. In some cases, teachers would upload their lessons and videos to YouTube, as many devices could access the video site.


“Parents have just provided very positive feedback and one mom told me her little girl watched her teacher, her second grade teacher, give lessons six times just because her voice was comforting to her.”


Pre-k through sixth reach out to all families to gather feedback on lesson design and student feedback.


While the transition has been positive, Cannon said there have been some difficult points. One of these difficulties was in the special education, reading intervention and dyslexia programs as the district was unable to receive permission from the publisher of the textbooks used in the programs.


Instead, teachers have been doing face-to-face meetings with their students through online sources.


Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.