As learning shifts online, students in areas with less reliable service are at a disadvantage.
by: James Tager
Superintendent, Flagler Schools
I’ve had 38 “first days,” and never in my wildest imagination would I have ever considered how this 38th year in education would come to a close.
The reaction by the Flagler Schools family (and I include our administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents, and School Board members in this group), has been remarkable in the face of this novel coronavirus. We were able to switch from a brick-and-mortar model to a virtual learning model almost overnight.
Without this reliable service, all of us in the education profession know we have students who are not on an equal footing with their peers.
This could not have been done without the continued support of our Flagler County voters. In 2002, they voted in a half-penny sales tax enabling the district to provide wireless connectivity on our campuses and begin purchasing devices for our students and teachers. Voters opted to continue it 10 years later. In a couple of years, they will be asked to renew it yet again, and I hope how we’ve handled this global crisis will show just how important that support has been and will continue to be.
We have provided devices to all of our nearly 13,000 students and 2,000 to our teachers and other vital staff who needed to stay connected virtually to their offices. We have also distributed 400 hotspots from Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon in an effort to keep everyone connected.
However, we have learned that once our students and staff get away from our campuses, sometimes technology is not nearly as reliable as it should be. The biggest challenge we continue to face is a reliable internet connection in homes.
I strongly encourage our local communication providers to quickly expand their reach in our county. Cell service has always been a tough subject, but reliable cell service would go a long way in connecting our families. Even better would be the addition of physical lines to bring high-speed internet to the west side of Flagler County. Without this reliable service, all of us in the education profession know we have students who are not on an equal footing with their peers in other parts of our community who may have a stronger internet connection to their school.
We’ve had great partnerships with our communication companies as they have contributed greatly to how technology is handled on our campuses. These partnerships have helped Flagler Schools become an A-rated district. We compassionately plead for our communication companies to continue that partnership into the far reaches of Flagler County.
We are continuing our virtual learning plan through the end of this school year, and I realize a quick fix is not feasible at this time. With the information we have all been able to gather this first month, though, this is when plans should be made to fill in these technology gaps. The need for strong, reliable connectivity for all students to their schools is valuable, even in times outside of a crisis situation.
To put it simply, we now see reliable internet connection as just as vital to our families as water and power in providing virtual learning for all students.