Looking ahead together

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Our collective response to this pandemic has been incredible. Teachers adapted quickly, our tech department changed their focus overnight, devices and physical packets were rapidly distributed to students, and parents stepped in to support their children in remote learning. We know these changes have not been without frustrations and difficulties, and we thank you for working with us through the challenges.

With this school year over, we turn our focus to the next school year. We are collaborating with the Colorado Department of Education, other school districts, and Public Health to develop plans that prioritize the health and safety of students and staff and provide for continuity of learning. We understand how vital schools are to our community, not only in educating children but also as an antecedent to a healthy economy.

The solutions we adopt for the 2020-2021 school year must allow for teaching and learning that moves seamlessly from in-school instruction to distance learning. During in-person instruction, students and staff members may contract COVID-19. When this happens, education will continue even if the place and style of instruction change.

Depending on how such an occurrence happens, we have to be prepared to move sections or entire schools to distance learning. Following recovery, the affected students and staff members need to be able to return seamlessly to in-person instruction. This is the significant change for schools worldwide — our systems must be agile and flexible to accommodate the variability of changing conditions.

Next school year will also require more than just fast transitions between classroom instruction and distance learning. We will need to allow for multiple modes of instruction to function simultaneously. Through May and June, district and school leaders, in cooperation with teacher leaders, will develop innovative and responsive systems. We will seek input to ensure that solutions meet the goals and values of our community.

As a community, we made a remarkable transition to remote learning. Teachers were quick to adopt remote teaching strategies, and some students adapted quickly and thrived in remote learning. Still, many students needed more time to adjust to the loss of classrooms, face-to-face interactions with teachers and friends, and the predictability of a set schedule.

Students who rely heavily on relationships with teachers, structured schedules, and classroom accountability struggled with remote learning. Over the past two months, we learned that an overnight change in teaching doesn’t equate to an overnight shift in learning.

To adjust, we will start by helping students grasp “how” to learn in a flexible environment, as well as “what” to learn. We will work with students and parents to establish new learning habits so students can be successful in a hybrid system that includes in-class instruction and distance learning. We will provide tools and training to help parents, guardians, and grandparents adapt to this new situation. 

We will be working through May and June to refine the plan, adjust to continually changing epidemiological information, and will share plan details in July. It is essential for parents and staff to prepare mentally and emotionally for the new year, and allow time for realistic expectations to form.

Next year will still be an uphill climb. It will be challenging, but we will keep moving forward. We have demonstrated the ability to adapt and work together, and we will persevere. Eagle County Schools views these challenges as opportunities to advance our system and be more responsive to every child’s needs. We are excited to take this on, to leverage innovation and creativity wherever possible. 

With one eye on health and safety and the other on continuous and engaging learning, we will maintain positive, effective, and compassionate learning environments. Please look for our newsletters over the summer and share feedback so we can plan with your input in mind. But for now, summer is upon us, so use this time to relax and recover. You earned it!


Philip Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net