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Thursday, December 3, 2020

The role of schools amid crisis: part 2

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Just before the novel coronavirus lurched its way to this side of the world, the academic achievement gap was the hot topic of conversation among the Indianapolis education community. Multiple articles and think pieces were published, calling out the vast difference in performance between the Black and white students who lived in the same communities and attended the same schools. We as educators had a laser focus on closing that gap by increasing the reading and math proficiency of students of color. From adopting new curriculum to training teachers and principals on racially equitable practices, school and district leaders were ready to do whatever it takes in order to improve the academic outcomes of Black and brown students. 

Since March 12, when Mayor Hogsett announced the closure of school buildings, I am not sure I have heard much talk of the achievement gap, with the exception of David McGuire, principal of Tindley Summit Academy, who shared his desire for redemption by exhibiting student growth on this year’s canceled ILEARN assessment. For the most part, though, schools and school districts across Indianapolis became preoccupied with the responsibility of feeding their students at least two healthy meals per day. Our schools had started back at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — physiological and safety — while our suburban neighbors continued to move their students toward self-actualization.  

This time around, we have to be about more than basic needs provisions. We know that we will be receiving our students with various learning gaps, which means that schools need to be prepared with diagnostic assessments which will provide real-time feedback. We also know that it is very likely that we will either begin or end the semester with distance learning, which means teachers should be equipped with the necessary resources to engage their students virtually. Whether it be through social media, YouTube or many of the available learning management systems, educators have to become creative in how we engage our students and families. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, we have learned that a pandemic can take everything away from us but social media.  

At Thrival Indy, we will be utilizing NWEA MAP along with assessments we have created in-house. For me, it is important that our teachers begin with baseline knowledge of what skills each student has mastered so that we can begin with an actionable and sustainable plan for remediation. MAP assessments are adaptive and provide a plethora of data, which means they can sometimes be overwhelming for teachers to interpret. While having those national norms are useful, especially when measuring student growth and teacher effectiveness, I encourage schools to also administer more succinct examinations for immediate action, such as student grouping, remediation, and enrichment plans. 

Additionally, schools and districts have to be prepared to work with and around the access gap. We know that many Marion County families do not own computers and do not have access to high speed internet. As we prepare for the likelihood of beginning the school year remotely, we cannot find ourselves once again scrambling to provide families with technology, or worse, simply mailing home packets and calling it “distance learning.” I am grateful to be part of Indianapolis Public Schools, which has committed to making one-to-one device access for its high school students a possibility. Because we know that our students will have Chromebooks and MiFi mobile hotspots if necessary, my team and I have been able to plan for robust engagement and rigorous instruction. 

At the same time as we prepare for providing accountability high-level instruction, it is also important that we acknowledge the need for flexibility and compassion as we all continue to reconcile with the impacts of COVID-19 on our everyday life. Join me next week as I discuss how we can move our students from survival mode and into THRIVAL mode amid the current health crisis. 

Find out more about Thrival Indy Academy by following the school in Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (@ThrivalIndy). Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about our approach to education.  

India Hui is the founding school leader and CEO of Thrival Indy Academy, an IPS Innovation High School. 



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