The Baboquivari Unified School District serves students across the Tohono O'odham Nation. Vanessa Barchfield spoke with Superintendent Edna Morris about how the district is meeting the needs of its 1,100 students following the closure of schools for the remainder of the academic year.
MORRIS: We are and have been a one-to-one school district, meaning every student has a laptop, but the computers were not actually deployed to the children. They're just in the classrooms. So once the schools closed down we made a decision to have the kids do online. And the reason we did that is because the local utility authority here on the Nation did set up some hot spots. About 40 of them around the entire Nation. And that allowed us to deploy those out, just one per household, and if there were some circumstances where there were four or five children, we might have given them two.
As we were delivering these laptops we found that the hot spots were not very good connectivity. So we had to speak with parents and some of them that were very remote could not get access either way, so for those families we did paper packets as well. So we're continuing to deliver that instruction as well as to provide meals to our families.
BARCHFIELD: And what are you saying to parents who are now either without work or who are working and find themselves continuing their job while caring for their children and becoming sort of de facto teacher?
MORRIS: I mean anybody would find that hard, trying to watch the kids and do work at the same time. So we just have to be flexible. If they have to work during the day and the kids need to start working in the late afternoon, early evening, I have to tell my teachers, "You have to be online all the time. Just to check and be supportive that way."
The teachers are fielding a lot of phone calls and helping the parents basically teach, and that's been really hard. But that's our job right now if they have any questions. And so far it's been working well. We've received nothing but positive support.
BARCHFIELD: Do you think that this episode is going to fundamentally change public education or how education is administered to students?
MORRIS: Of course. Nobody has ever seen anything of this historic — at least not in my lifetime. And we've never seen anything like it. We have to advance into a new normal. And I think if the new normal is working for us, we may consider some of those things that we've been catapulted into doing as some options for some of our learners. I think that's how it's going to change.
I also believe that in the last 25-30 years the teaching profession has gone, ... It used to be a very noble position and I'm hoping that the lawmakers will now see that now that the parents are home with the kids how important teaching is to our children and that laws will be put in place that really support the increase in teachers' salaries. In Arizona, Baboquivari Unified is the highest entering salary in Arizona. Right after college they're making $52,000 which is about $20,000 higher than most entry school districts.