Responding To A Crisis: A Series Documenting How New Orleans Educators and Schools Are Reacting To COVID-19

This is the first in a series of interviews and Q&As conducted by the Cowen Institute with New Orleans educators to highlight how schools are managing with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

This is an edited Q&A email exchange with Korbin Johnson, School Leader and Principal of KIPP Central City Primary.

Cowen Institute: How are you communicating with students and families since school closures began? How often are you reaching out to them?

Johnson: Our entire staff has a caseload of families that are contacted by phone between 2–4 times per week (average 3). We are doing 95% of that work through teacher cell phones. In addition, we send text notifications and/or emails when we see families’ needs trending and we need to address something larger. This can include student learning expectations or access, but also has been a tool for supporting the health needs of families. Lastly, we have expanded and been more intentional in our use of social media. We work to get information onto Facebook and Instagram as often as we can to build momentum and help people feel connected.

What supports and assistance are you providing to students and families currently?

KIPP New Orleans Schools (KNOS) has created a health-hotline with our medical director and school nurses and a mental-health-hotline, manned daily by our school social workers. KIPP Central City Academy is also one of the Grab and Go Meal Sites for NOLA Public Schools. We also support academics with scheduled calls with teachers as well as full office hours for all staff between 12–2 each day.

What type of school work are students completing while at home?

Students in PK-2 received paper work packets that are checked in on by teachers at least twice a week. In addition, we have “sylabuses’ for their school based learning technology sites (blended learning). We will continue paper based resources for now. 3rd-8th graders have fully migrated to Google Classroom using Kahn Academy, Playposit, and No Red Ink as the programming. This came about a week or so after a full set of work packets (paper) went home with all students.

How will remote student work be assessed (if at all)?

While we have yet to develop a full policy on this, we are definitely offering feedback and guidance on the work during our calls. We are also tracking student completion and mastery, particularly in 3rd-8th grade. We are also doing fluency checks in reading, counting, multiplication etc.

How are you planning for the possibility that schools are closed for the rest of the year?

We are getting our blended learning and Google classroom structures in place, experimenting with video apps for direct instruction, and then building the systems for work accountability. This is the foundation for how we will approach a further or repeat closure period. There are lots of other aspects of our planning but that is the academic and student facing planning we are doing.

What are you hearing from families right now that are their biggest challenges or needs?

We are hearing three main challenges:

  • Caring for family members with the illness
  • Access to technology and/or internet
  • Language barriers for our spanish speaking families

Coronavirus has been a stressful experience for many people in the New Orleans community. People are concerned about the health of their loved ones and the financial security of their families. Is there anything that schools can do to provide emotional support to students and families?

We elevate any concerns families have to our school based teams that include our operational people, social workers, school nurse, etc. Each week I also do a ten minute “workshop” during our virtual staff meeting. I go over research and resources that teachers can use during their calls with families if a need is expressed. Lastly, we are using Slack to surface emergencies or needs that must be addressed immediately. That has been a very effective way of resolving things quickly and sending the message of care/concern to our families.

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The mission of the Cowen Institute is to advance public education and youth success in New Orleans and beyond.

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