The San José Unified School District Provides Vital Support During School Closures
Over 6 million public school students across California have had their schools closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the over 29,000 students attending the San José Unified School District. While school buildings are closed, San José Unified is implementing a comprehensive plan to provide vital support to its students, families, teachers, staff, and community throughout Santa Clara County’s shelter at place of residence order.
Within the first week of school closure, San José Unified, in partnership with the City of San José, began serving meals to families in need. Over 17,000 meals a day are being distributed to anyone who needs assistance. Director of Student Nutrition Janet Wolk said, “We knew how great the need for nutritious food was before schools closed, and we have seen that need grow substantially over the past few weeks. Our team is honored to be able to help provide food security to our community during this emergency.” San José Unified is distributing grab-and-go meals each weekday from 10:30 to 11:30 AM at 33 locations.
San José Unified has also been able to allocate critical supplies, such as face masks and hand sanitizer, to community partners. “With schools closed, we have an inventory of supplies we do not need at this time,” said Steve Adamo, Director of Operations. “When VTA called and asked if we could help their bus drivers get hand sanitizer, we immediately opened our warehouse to support these essential workers.”
In addition to providing essential support to the community, San José Unified has been taking steps to ensure families and students have access to reliable information. San José Unified’s website, phone, and email systems have all been updated since the school closure. Ben Spielberg, Public Engagement Officer, said, “We know how much families rely on their local schools for a variety of services and want to ensure our families stay connected to their schools while staying safe at home.”
The greatest need for success with distance learning was student access to high-speed internet at home. Said Assistant Superintendent J. Dominic Bejarano, “Many of our students lacked connectivity at home. We knew a device alone would not solve the connectivity challenge for our students and have been committed to finding a solution to ensure our students have access to both a learning device and high-speed internet. We deployed a system to distribute Chromebooks and prepaid cell phones with free high-speed internet for three months. It has been a great solution for our families and is helping to eliminate online access gaps for our students.”
San José Unified’s teachers and educational staff have been trained on distance learning tools and are working to ensure that all students continue learning while sheltering at home. “Our goal has been to keep our families connected to their schools and keep our students engaged as we transition to a completely new style of learning,” said Associate Superintendent Jodi Lax. “We have worked with local and state partners to develop distance learning guidelines that support all of our students while ensuring the safety of our students and employees. Our most recent feedback shows it is working for families.”
San José Unified’s recent family survey had a record number of responses, with 92% of respondents saying the online educational resources were at least slightly helpful and 42% saying the online educational resources were very or extremely helpful. In addition to maintaining a robust list educational resources and experiences at http://www.sjusd.org, San José Unified has all teachers connecting with students online and is adding grade-level video lessons each week. While these educational videos are already available at San José Unified’s website, they will also soon be shared community-wide via a partnership with CreaTV in San José.
The current County Health Orders have required significant adjustments to San José Unified’s distribution systems for food, technology, and learning. “We are committed to strict adherence to the County Health Orders, and we are listening to our County Health Officer, Dr. Cody,” said Melinda Landau, Manager of Health and Family Support Programs. “San José Unified’s strict health protocols are making the jobs we do harder, but it is the right thing to do and we want to set the right example for our students and our community.”
Santa Clara County’s shelter at place of residence order is clearly working as evidenced by the data on new cases and new deaths. Other than a very small number of essential personnel, San José Unified’s 2,900 employees are working from home to help slow the spread of COVID-19 locally. Said Director of Human Resources Jacqueline Murphy, “We know that our schools will reopen and we want to be fully staffed when they do. We are actively staffing for the coming school year. Hiring employees supports our students and our local economy. San José Unified will be fully operational when the shelter at place of residence order is lifted.”
Superintendent Nancy Albarrán added, “This public health crisis is a challenge for all of us. We are focused on keeping our community safe and we are committed to our long-standing equity policy as we continue serving our students. We are getting through this together with tremendous teamwork among our students, families, teachers, staff, and community.”
Widely recognized for its innovation and collaboration, San José Unified is Santa Clara County’s largest and most diverse school district. Learn more at www.sjusd.org.