Wichita school board approves $24 million to help close 'digital divide'

Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 6:23 PM CDT
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The Wichita Public Schools Board of Education Monday took a step to help close a digital divide with approval of $24 million to purchase new technology, including 24,000 WiFi-enabled computers and tablets which secondary students will start receiving in the fall.

Monday, USD 259 provided insights into how the last approximate two months of the recently-completed school year went with students learning from home.

Surveys of parents show the digital divide as one of the biggest challenge for some families in the district.

"(They) did not have access to technology devices, it did present challenges or other ways that we need to explore to make sure that they were engaged," says Wichita Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Dr. Tiffinie Irving.

"We are planning not only for academics, but we are planning for social-emotion support," Dr. Irving says. "It's important that we prepare when our students return to us."

Administrators with Wichita Public Schools are focused on collecting individual student data. They want to see which students teachers were not in interactive contact with during the continuous learning period (learning from home). This is important for schools to know, the district says, because the students who didn't participate in the continuous learning plans will need additional support in the fall.

After COVID-19 hurled schools across Kansas into an educational experiment in March, Wichita Public Schools is judging how that experience has gone.

"We look at what went well during our Phase One of our continuous learning plan so that we can build upon that," Dr. Irving says.

Dr. Irving says the district is also assessing what did not work with continuous learning, including the technology concerns. To move forward, she says district leaders are figuring out students' engagement in continuous learning.

"We'll know how to create individual learning plans to support their re-engagement in the fall," Dr. Irving says.

Elementary school teachers in USD 259 reported having interactive contact with more than 90 percent of their students. Middle school teachers reported about 85 percent engagement with high school teachers reporting about 84 percent.

The contact teachers had remotely with students during the continuous learning was lowest among students in ninth and tenth grades.

In addition to losing about two months of classroom learning, schools also have to contend with the summer slide, where students need re-acclimated to learning about the summer break.

That has USD 259 looking at what other interventions teachers will need to take in order to help students catch back up.