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Dr. Robert Picou, superintendent of the Tupelo Public School District, says everyone is doing what they can to help students during this disruption.

TUPELO • More details about Tupelo Public School District’s “Distance Delivery” learning plan were revealed during a virtual Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, with specific outlines for elementary, middle and high school students.

Distance learning is “the new normal” while Mississippi’s public schools remain closed through at least April 17 due to COVID-19, and TPSD superintendent Dr. Rob Picou said everyone in his district is doing what has to be done to take care of students.

“The new normal is not going to look like the old normal,” Picou said. “I want you to imagine what it would be like if Toyota had to completely redesign its operation to stop making cars and start making rocket ships in five days, and they had to complete the entire transition via Google Meet.”

He stressed that some classes and services will not translate perfectly into an online format, but said now is not the time to lay blame at anyone’s feet about a lack of preparation.

“It’s just a time to get the job done,” Picou said.

Deputy superintendent Kim Britton presented the plan for grades K-5 on Tuesday.

“The principals decided not to reinvent the wheel but to begin with the resources that we have,” Britton said.

Elementary teachers will share information with students via Google Classroom. They are currently analyzing student data to determine which standards need to be taught, retaught or taught at a deeper level. Test prep will not be part of the instruction, and the goals are for students to learn authentically and for parents to be able to work with children on the activities provided.

Elementary students will have two 30-minute learning sessions each day, and each instructional activity will include a video from Lexia, Khan Academy or a teacher’s recording, Britton said.

K-2 students will be asked to complete 10 minutes of work on Lexia, the program students use to work on reading skills, each day.

Activities for elementary school students will not be graded.

“This is about learning, this is about supporting our students,” Britton said. “It’s not about recording a grade.”

Teachers will hold “office hours” from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday for questions from parents.

In addition to core classwork, gifted and activity teachers will provide two activities per week per grade level. Special education teachers will provide support based on IEPs (individualized education programs.) Counselors will provide two emotional learning activities per week, and the dyslexia coordinator will provide Section 504 services for dyslexic students via Google Classroom while schools remain closed.

The distance learning plan for grades 3-5 will be very similar, Britton said, but iReady will be used for both math and language arts instead of Lexia.

Assistant superintendent Dr. Brock English outlined the distance learning plans for grades 6-12.

The primary focus for students at Milam Elementary, the district’s sixth grade school, will be preparing students for the seventh grade. Each core subject will provide a one-hour lesson daily, and activity and challenge teachers will provide instructional projects designed to be fun and last one to two hours weekly.

Special education teachers will provide support to students for two hours each week. At the secondary level, grading will only help students’ GPAs, not hurt them. TPSD will look to guidance from the Mississippi Department of Education related to high school credits for both middle and high school students enrolled in credit-bearing classes.

Assignments and instructional videos will be uploaded for students via Google Classroom/Haiku or PDFs uploaded to folders in Google Drive. Physical packets will be mailed to students on Friday for high school students who requested them and by Monday for Milam/middle school students.

At Tupelo High School, the district’s two goals for distance learning are to reach all of THS and the Career-Technical Center’s nearly 2,000 students and to prepare students for their next step beyond the 2019-2020 school year.

Teachers will determine the standards that need to be retaught based on benchmark assessments they’ve given thus far, and test prep will not be included. Assignments will be for remediation and enrichment, English said.

While teachers will encourage all students to complete the work that’s provided for them, it will not be mandatory as of right now. If a student chooses to do the work, they can improve their grade. If they don’t do the work, they will maintain their current grade.

“We want to make sure that whatever plan we have in place, it’s there for everyone, but you have to have the initiative to take advantage of it,” Picou said. “But if you don’t have the initiative, we’re just going to let it freeze where it is.”

Lessons for all students can be accessed on a laptop, tablet or phone at https://www.tupeloschools.com/covid-19-updates, but Google Chromebooks will be distributed to approximately 210 high school students who requested them via TPSD’s online learning survey on Friday, March 27.

Physical packets were requested by approximately 1,053 students, and they will be delivered by mail.

blake.alsup@journalinc.com

Twitter: @AlsupTheWriter

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