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Parents of students that don’t log on for two days receive calls from principals & assistants
distance learning

In the initial days of the unprecedented switch to distance learning more than 21,000 unique log-ins were being made daily to the Manteca Unified computer network by students to retrieve learning packages and interact with teachers.

The number — based on distance learning participation other public schools have been reporting — is extremely robust given that its 21,000 plus students out of 24,000 actively engaged in learning without being in a classroom with four walls. That’s a tad less than 90 percent “attendance”.

How Manteca Unified is achieving such a connection and doing so by conducting formal lessons much like nimble chartered STEM schools with student enrollment 3 percent the size is a combination of a bottom to top commitment to harness technology not as a substitute for tried and true practices that are effective teaching methods but by enhancing them.

A lot of factors have positioned Manteca Unified including impeccable timing that has driven a school calendar in recent years led by teachers in partnership with the administration and school board seeking vacation break schedules that minimize learning slippage and maximize retention as well as embracing block scheduling at the high school level. Block scheduling reduced the number of subjects a student takes at one time in exchange for longer class periods.



Early spring break

gave Manteca

Unified a head start

The initial order by the state on March 12 to shutter schools for an initial three week period in a bid to flatten the COVID-19 infection rate came two days before Manteca Unified was to start a week-long spring break. Surrounding school districts had scheduled their spring breaks four or five weeks later around Easter.

Manteca Unified leadership quickly devised a game plan. First, they didn’t want the second and the third week of the break imposed by the state to simply be online education as defined by videos and various education support sites as much as it was distance learning. They also assumed a worst case scenario that the mandated closure could be extended behind April 5.

As such, all needed support personnel — assisted by teachers that have led the way as tech mentors for fellow educators — spent their spring break working on trying to transfer as much as the classroom experience as possible to devices.

They also decided that an online summer school they were preparing to roll out in June would be further enhanced.


Much of the tools — hardware and strategies to harness the tech — to accomplish the switch to distance learning had been secured six years ago by the Manteca Unified $30 million Going Digital initiative that classroom teachers working in teams integrated into lesson plans.

It was more than just putting a device into the hands of every student from kindergarten through 12th grade. The district invested heavily in a closed system supported by Microsoft to essentially have control of all aspects of the education process that could migrate on line or be more effectively supported online.

It included making Internet connections at the schools more robust, providing capacity not just for student growth but heavier use in terms of applications, creating the ability for every teacher to essentially have their own “TV channel”, and — through trial and error — knowing things like how many extra backup devices were needed at any given time to make sure 24,500 students never went without due to a tech issue.


MUSD already was

providing every

student a device

Many public school districts have not been able to provide every K-12 student with their own personal Chrome Book or device on a one-to-one ratio that they are able to take home when the state ordered the switch to distance learning.

The closed environment Manteca Unified has in place does not rely on public platforms such as Zoom and such that have been subject to high levels of hacking.

When distance learning was rolled out April 6 in Manteca Unified, the district had a game plan aimed at making sure no student would fall through the cracks.

*They had distributed devices that had previously been assigned on a one-to-one basis in the classroom for kindergarten through sixth grade use via curbside pickups at various elementary campuses.

*Those in the 7th through 12th grade that have always been able to take their devices home but left them at school were able to retrieve them.

*Lesson packets for those that opted not to use devices to access lessons are being made available for pick up at schools.

*Bus drivers and other classified employees have been pressed into service to deliver lesson packets to households unable to pick them up at school.

*Wi-Fi service coverage in school parking lots were verified so those without Internet access whose children opted for devices could drive to neighborhood schools to download lessons.

*Principals and vice principals are calling parents of students that have not logged on to the Manteca Unified School District for two consecutive days to determine why the student isn’t logging on and if there are steps the district can take if there are access issues.

*Even though teachers have live face-to-face interactions with students, the distance learning model was implemented realizing accommodations would be needed for households where older children may have to look after younger children due to parents still working.

*The implementation strategy also meant that those who — due to family issues related to the pandemic temporarily have relocated outside the district — are able to keep up with lesson plans. In the more extreme examples it includes a student who ended up being forced to stay in Mexico where their family was vacationing to a high school student forced to return home early to Germany due to the pandemic.


Goal is not to waste

eight weeks of learning

“Our goal is not to put any students at a disadvantage by (wasting) eight weeks of education,” noted Clara Schmiedt who serves as Senior Director of Secondary Education for Manteca Unified.

It is that common goal that Jenni Tyson, the district’s Senior Director of Elementary Education, said is driving teachers.

Tyson noted teachers have indicated the distance learning has allowed for even more collaboration among teachers in a bid to sharpen their effectiveness at reaching students.

There have also been unexpected plusses from the shift to distance learning. Tyson noted teachers are reporting that there are students at the elementary level that were struggling to grasp lesson plans in a traditional classroom setting that are not just comprehending lessons on the digital platform but doing so enthusiastically.

Whether that has to do with the format or the fact they aren’t in a classroom with 20 plus students hasn’t been determined.

It is just one aspect of the social distancing experience that teachers and support administrators intend to dissect once the current school year ends to determine what worked effectively and if it can be integrated into how students are educated heading in the future.

District Superintendent Clark Burke said that’s not just in the next school year that starts in August that is expected to be affected by pandemic coping rules, but going forward in a bid to deliver the best possible education to meet the individual needs of all students.

Burke believes if distance learning is done properly it could lead to a “paradigm shift” in how students are taught.

That could mean mixing some elements of distance learning with classroom learning that could lead to more one-on-one teaching and even more effectively tailoring lessons to the needs of individual students.

The district originally hoped to bring students back to campuses for the last two weeks before the school year ended on May 29 for testing and such.

How the school year will end is now being reassessed.



To contact Dennis Wyatt, email