Dr. Christopher Stone

Montour School District
Pittsburgh, PA
Dr. Christopher Stone, Superintendent

Opening A Comprehensive School District During a Pandemic — Traditional Model & Live
Remote Streaming

When it came time to make a decision on reopening school buildings for in-person learning for the 2020-2021 school year, Montour School District (like many school districts across Pennsylvania) was concerned with weighing the health risks versus what was “best” for children and families. The Board of School Directors and administration reached the consensus that opening schools would provide benefits to students and families beyond education, including supplying child care, providing crucial wraparound and therapeutic services, supplying meals, and addressing many other means of family support. Additionally, without the option of in-person instruction, we firmly believed children were at risk of falling behind academically, exacerbating educational inequities.

On Monday, September 1st, the Montour School District opened its doors for in-person education. In-person education meant that students participated at the school buildings 5 days per week and engaged in our educational opportunities.  Approximately 74% of our 3,000 students elected to resume in-person learning.

That being said, Montour recognized that not every family was comfortable sending their children to school during a pandemic, even with the district’s stringent health and safety precautions in place.  Through multiple summer surveys and focus groups, the District also developed two additional remote options to meet the needs of its students and families.  With guidance and cooperation from the teacher’s association, Montour took a bold step and installed wide-angle, high-definition cameras in every classroom to stream “real time” instruction into students’ homes. Utilizing Google Meet, Google Classroom, and Zoom, students now had the option to attend class daily, from home, and interact with classmates and their teachers remotely. Fortunately, Montour has continuously prioritized innovation (including purchasing and implementing up-to-date district technology) making the stakeholders’ comfort level with these options a positive influence in our decision to take the leap.

As a result, we have witnessed some truly remarkable educational opportunities taking place for students, teachers and parents! At the elementary (K-4) level, Montour has two “remote” teachers per grade. These innovative teachers are dedicated to facilitating live instruction daily, via video stream.  There has been a deep connection forged between the parents and teachers of these students as they collaborate to get children “set-up” for daily instruction.  Never in the history of education has there been such a constant natural opportunity for daily educational dialogue between teachers and parents.  Additionally, younger students’ abilities to navigate in and out of “break-out rooms”, take assessments, and present to their classmates has been remarkable.

At the middle and high school level, teachers facilitate instruction to in-person and remote students simultaneously.  These students have significant opportunities to interact with their peers, assemble into working groups, and collaborate with each other daily, regardless of their selected educational option.  Another benefit of this remote learning feature was the opportunity for students to enroll in any and all course offerings at both the middle and high school level – remote students were not limited to “virtual” classes.

Moving forward, we understand and deeply appreciate the ways that public education has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Montour’s decision to provide remote learning has been embraced by our teachers, students, families, and the wider community. The innovative strategy to augment the education experience for children has been a great success, thanks to our teachers’ willingness to innovate, grow, and commit to authentically engaging children while balancing ‘normalcy’ with the new reality.

Implementation strategies, teacher training, and technological support have been (and will continue to be) critical. Montour has dedicated teacher leaders in each building who are responsible for professional development and strategic evolution with respect to live remote learning.  This has established a support network for all stakeholders to enhance their craft of the “new” educational norm.  Teachers and administrators at Montour challenge each other daily to embrace a growth mindset, take calculated educational risks, and embrace new technology and new pedagogical approaches in service of every student, every day.

Disclaimer: Content provides insights on education practices from the perspective of schools, parents, students, grantees, community members and other education stakeholders to promote the continuing discussion of educational innovation. Content and articles are not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to be an endorsement by the Department or the Federal government of any views expressed, products or services offered, curriculum or pedagogy.