Capistrano Unified prepares for 2020-21 school year

By Elysse James

Teachers, administrators, and staff members of Capistrano Unified School District have been working hard to prepare the district for the 2020-21 school year — a school year unlike any other in history.

With state and county guidance continuing to evolve, the district developed flexible plans that can adjust as the pandemic situation changes, allowing families to choose the plan that works best for them. In addition, the district has shifted to a new K-12 digital learning platform.

“Although this school year will open very differently than what we are all used to, we are committed to supporting you and your students as we prepare for this adventure together,” Superintendent Kirsten Vital wrote in an email.

The district has already distributed more than 7,000 Chromebooks to families — with 35,000 more expected in October — to ensure every student has access to the technology. Students in need of a Chromebook this fall can contact their school’s administration to request one. The goal is 1-1 access this fall, with one Chromebook for each student.

CUSD is holding 30-minute webinars from Aug. 11 to Aug. 13 in English and Spanish for families to learn the basics of the new Canvas distance-learning platform. Canvas, a pre-K to grade 12 learning management system, will replace the School Loop system.

“We wanted to have that personal touch instead of just sending out a video,” said Stephanie Avera, Capistrano Unified Director of Educational Technology. “We’re at a disadvantage this school year because we don’t have them in class with us before we go to distance learning. We understand how nerve-wracking this can be for our parents and students.”

Normally, switching to a new districtwide technology platform would take a few years, Avera said. Instead, the district has made the change in a matter of weeks.

“It brings back the idea that we have really dedicated educators in our school district, and leaders willing to put forth the effort,” Avera said. “The fact that we had so many teachers give up their summer… to make sure we were capable of doing something like that is mind blowing.”

Parents, teachers, and students will work within Canvas to click into their courses, communicate, view grades, and much more.

“When the kids see what’s in Canvas and what their learning is going to look like, they’re going to be so excited,” said Peggy Baerst, Capistrano Unified Executive Director of Elementary Education. “The teachers did a really good job. It’s very engaging and I think the kids are going to be excited.”

Canvas is expected to make communication between parents and teachers easier. That was one of the pinch points that parents identified in a districtwide survey this summer after the spring’s quick dash into distance learning, said Tim Hornig, Capistrano Unified Executive Director of Secondary Education.

“We shifted an entire business model in a matter of months,” Hornig said. “With our amazing educators, and our commitment to the community. we’ve been able to accomplish it.”

More than 1,850 teachers have completed basic Canvas training so far, with the rest scheduled for training before the start of class on Aug. 18.

In one recent week, 650 elementary teachers completed three hours of online curriculum training, 593 secondary teachers completed two hours of Apex Learning digital curriculum training, 200 teachers completed in a best practices training for online and hybrid learning, 222 teachers completed a social emotional learning training, and 135 teachers trained on trauma informed practices, wrote Gregory Merwin, Capistrano Unified Chief Academic Officer of Education and Support Services.

“We’re very excited to see what comes of this,” Hornig said. “We realize there will be bumps in the road, but we know that we’ve done is provided our teachers an amazing starting point.”

“I am super proud of our district and I’m proud to be part of it,” Avera said. “I think it’s going to be, like Tim said, a bumpy road but it’s a road well-traveled.”

About 15 lead teachers and curriculum specialists have been working since mid-June to create content and online curriculum for the coming year for every grade and every subject, including for the Spanish and Mandarin immersion programs — putting in approximately 7,000 hours to prepare for the start of school, said Hornig and Avera.

“We asked our superstar teachers to give up their summer,” Avera said. “They worked tirelessly to not only learn a new management system in hours — which sometimes takes days, weeks to learn — and then create content for every day of the week for the first trimester.”

The student and teacher schedules, class sizes and more are still being determined, as students and parents are still registering for one of three programs the district is offering for elementary students, and one of two programs for secondary students. The district has registered more than 47,000 students thus far for the 2020-21 school year.

“All these things we have in front of us come from that passion we have for kids,” Hornig said. “We aren’t perfect, but we have some amazing people that worked tireless hours all summer and continue to, to ensure we do the best we can for our community.”

Parent distance-learning technology trainings will be posted here as they become available. 

More parent resources:

2020-2021 School Reopening Frequently Asked Questions

CUSD Reopening Schools website

CUSD Reopening Plan and Addendum

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