Infinite Insights Recap: Looking Back and Looking Forward on School Reopening

Posted by Nick StammO

November 6, 2020

Hoonuit’s Infinite Insights virtual event series offers education leaders a space to share their data successes, collaborate, and ideate. This blog series summarizes the insights gleaned from each session. Watch a recording of the event here.

Looking Back and Looking Forward: School Reopening

On Wednesday, October 28th, Leigh Baird of Desert Sands Unified School District and Frank McCormick of Sunnyside Unified School District shared their experiences with “returning to learning.” Leigh and Frank shared insights from the start of the 2020-21 school year, as well as the data and metrics they are using to measure learning, and what they are doing to address the unknowns and challenges of assessments during this time.


Leigh Baird, Coordinator of Assessment & Accountability at Desert Sands Unified School District

Desert Sands is a school district in Southern California and the low desert near the Palm Springs area with more than 27,000 students. As the district coordinator of assessment and accountability, Leigh oversees all state testing and much of their formative assessment processes as well, and anything data related, with the exception of state reporting.

Frank McCormick, Instructional Technology Coordinator at Sunnyside Unified School District

Sunnyside Unified School District sits in Tucson, Arizona, and is the second largest school district in Southern Arizona with just over 15,200 students. As the Instructional Technology Coordinator, Frank plans, organizes, and directs the functions of instructional technology including digital classroom equipment, technology-based instructional programs and related software, student assessment data management, and staff development activities.

Desert Sands USD Looks to Data as they Prep for Hybrid Learning

Desert Sands USD has been in full distance learning mode since schools shut down back in March. While their early priorities focused on ensuring students and families had the resources they needed, they never took their eye off the ball on the next step toward a return to normal – hybrid learning. 

“What is it going to look like when we go to hybrid? We realized very early on is that before we could do any planning on what our hybrid model would look like, we needed more data. We need to know what our family’s preferences are. We need to know if they’re even wanting to bring their children back to a school setting or if they want to stay in distance learning only. We have to think about our staff, specifically, staff with medical needs, or those who are taking care of people at home who have medical needs or they’re a caregiver as well as their personal preference,” explained Leigh Baird, Coordinator of Assessment & Accountability at Desert Sands Unified School District.

“As we started this year, we realized we are struggling to work off of old data because so many things have happened and so much more guidance has come out,” she said. “What we are doing this year looks different. Last year our state came out with guidance that we’re going to hold students harmless for this particular situation. Our graduation rate probably went up a little bit. I don’t know that student engagement was where we wanted it. We are anticipating a learning loss just simply because of knowing that our students in the classrooms were not all engaging. 

Even in a district such as Desert Sands USD, which is one-to-one and even provides its own LTE network so students that don’t have WiFi at home can access the internet, had to account for technology gaps in its system. Keeping students engaged and teachers, particularly less tech-savvy teachers, feeling comfortable with technology was a challenge. Feedback from Desert Sands UDS families indicated that too many technologies were in play and a more streamlined approach was needed.

To that end, Baird and her colleagues had a plan. “At the end of last year, our amazing team of technology project facilitators held training sessions to make sure that our teachers have resources that they need and planned a training calendar for all the different resources that our teachers might be using, while at the same time, limiting the resources that our teachers would be using,” said Baird.

Baird went on to explain how things have improved this fall: “We have more accountability for our students in that they’re earning grades this year and Hoonuit has been so amazing with that. Our principals and assistant principals have been all over that data and comparing to last year, something that we were not able to do just a year ago. The timing of adopting Hoonuit has been very opportune for us, we’re able to monitor so many more things. Attendance reports through Hoonuit has been a game-changer for us. We’ve been able to target families who aren’t engaging the way that they should per our state guidelines.” 

Desert Sands USD continues to take the needs and wishes of its families and staff into account. Currently, they are in the process of gathering, updated results on preferences around a hybrid model. “Our goal is to keep things consistent across our schools. We want to streamline things moving forward and in a hybrid model where everybody has the same schedule so that there’s true equity,” she said.

Digital Driver’s License Ensures “Digital Basics” for Sunnyside USD

Frank McCormick shared a unique and compelling resource developed by his team at Sunnyside USD called the Digital Driver’s License. It was designed to support teachers in setting up a remote learning environment and a guide to remote assessment.

“We have a digital driver’s license for our younger students (K-9) and our remote roadmap for our older students (grades 10-12.) This was about providing a basic overview assessment for all our teachers to develop and all of our students to take, which would tell us two important things. One, it would tell us which teachers were prepared to deliver content in a remote space; which teachers were prepared to utilize video conferencing and breakout rooms to facilitate small group discussion; which teachers were prepared to effectively post assignments within their learning management system or collect assignments in a digital format. It would tell us which teachers were ready to manage students in terms of interacting and enforcing netiquette rules for appropriate discussions and appropriate conversations within a digital space,” explained McCormick.

The Digital Drivers License did more than identify teacher readiness. It also identified whether students were ready to do this. “Secondly, it allows us to ascertain if students are prepared to do this work? Can they turn in an assignment? Can they use their device to take a screenshot and annotate that screenshot and turn that into to teachers? Basic stuff that allowed our teachers to gather evidence of learning depending on their specific learning goals,” said McCormick.

McCormick and his team are confident that the Digital Drivers License prepared Sunnyside USD with the baseline information it needed to have success through distance learning. “Who’s ready to do this? Who is tentative about doing this? And, who might need a lot of additional support? By gathering this data we were able to develop additional support plans for groups of students who might be challenged.”

Infinite Insights on Demand

McCormick and Baird also shared thought-provoking insights about social emotional learning, using technology to further student supports, and the different ways distance learning has exacerbated inequities. If you were not able to attend live or are interested in relistening or sharing with a colleague, here is a link to a recording of the event.

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