Opening day for schools in the Escalon Unified School District will look a lot different this year.
Classes resume on Wednesday, Aug. 12 – but there won’t be any drop-offs of kindergarten students, no freshmen stepping on to the Escalon High School campus … Escalon, like all San Joaquin County schools, will start the year with distance learning.
District Superintendent Ron Costa said final pieces are being put in place for a smooth start to the year.
“Some teachers will be teaching from their classrooms, some may be teaching from home,” Costa explained on Monday. “We highly recommend they teach from the classroom because we have adequate bandwidth for the Internet teaching, we have an IT team that can help them with any issues … but they also have the opportunity, or the privilege, to teach from home as long as all the expectations are maintained.”
Students, meanwhile, are all being outfitted with the tools they will need to connect to their teachers, many receiving Chromebooks for use in their distance learning platform.
Costa said students at all sites were picking up the necessary items this week, with different school campuses hosting a variety of pick-up times to keep the number of students on campus at any given time as low as possible.
“I know Dent was doing a grade level each morning this week, the high school started today (Monday) … they will all be done by Friday,” he said.
As far as the administrative team, all principals and assistant principals return to their duties from last year. That includes Escalon High School principal Eric Simoni and assistant principal Jason Furtado; Vista High School principal Gustavo Arzac; El Portal Middle School principal Mark Vos and assistant principal Mike Gaston; and Gateway Academy principal Joel Johannsen, who joined the team during the latter part of the 2019-2020 school year.
At the elementary level, Anthony Varni returns as principal at Dent Elementary with Robert Fyke as vice principal; Julio Zambrano is principal at Van Allen and George Megenney returns as principal for both Farmington and Collegeville.
“There is one change in the administration, our previous director of student services, who oversees special education, was Beth Shepherd and she has left to pursue a promotion in another county,” Costa explained. “Beth has been replaced by Nelarie Romo.”
Ricardo Chavez returns to the district office as assistant superintendent to Costa.
“We have 11 new teachers,” Costa added, noting that they will have their formal orientation online this year, scheduled for Friday, Aug. 7.
The breakdown of new teachers includes two at Escalon High; three at El Portal; one at Dent Elementary; two at Collegeville, one at Farmington; and two at Gateway Academy.
As far as gearing up for the year, Costa said that the staff has done “a lot of work” to get prepared and he feels this is an entirely new era for the district.
“It is something new that we really haven’t done before,” he said. “We didn’t do distance learning in the spring, we did emergency learning.”
Classes closed out the 2019-2020 year online, following the closure of schools in the county in mid-March. Now, preparing to start the year in an entirely online format, Costa said they have a solid strategy moving forward and will make it work.
“We have much higher standards, teachers will be having daily live (online) interaction with students,” he explained. “The secondary is going by their schedule; the primary is meeting with their kids throughout the day, small online group sessions.”
Costa said the district is bound by what the governor and public health department order and, for San Joaquin and dozens of other counties, that means distance learning to start the year.
“We feel our staff is doing the best they can getting ready for distance learning,” he said. “Ideally, we would all love to be back to face-to-face; it’s what’s best for kids.”
That, however, will have to wait until more headway is made in getting coronavirus cases in San Joaquin County under control. For now, school bells will ring – symbolically at least – on Wednesday morning, Aug. 12.