Shifting to Remote Site Visits

A Conversation Among Authorizers

In the wake of COVID-19 and its impact on schools, charter schools and authorizers have been challenged to fulfill their roles. SchoolWorks hosted a free virtual webinar for authorizers on October 8, 2020 to promote conversation around how authorizers can adjust their site visit processes to accumulate the evidence needed for their performance frameworks. Featured guests from the Rhode Island Department of Education and Shelby County Schools utilize in-person visits for a variety of purposes – from renewal to corrective action to oversight. During the webinar, they shared their perspectives on how to shift this in-person monitoring strategy in light of health and safety guidance during the pandemic. Participants included:

  • Paula Barney, State Coordinator, Charter Schools, Rhode Island Department of Education
  • Jermaine Curtis, Charter School Specialist, Rhode Island Department of Education
  • Brittany Monda, Assistant Superintendent of Charter Schools, Shelby County Schools

How do you collect evidence in a remote environment?

Sarah Rapa, SchoolWorks’ Managing Director of School Developer Supports, recently managed nearly 30 remote site visits on behalf of SchoolWorks. She shared the following tips for successful facilitation:

  • Revise protocols to account for virtual reviews. Focus on things such as how the team will work together (since they will not be in the same space), and how focus group interviews will be conducted with stakeholders, students, parents, teachers, and leaders. Go back to your processes and protocols and look at them with that lens to figure out how could this happen in a virtual setting.
  • Communicate with all parties, especially with regard to changes. Be as proactive as you can be, and communicate upfront about the changes to the process, what you are trying to do, and how it’s actually going to happen.
  • Consider that virtual visits can be extremely tiring for team members. Build in breaks throughout the day to allow people time to move around and stretch, refill their coffee, or grab something to eat. They are not walking from one classroom to another classroom like they are in an in-person visit. They are literally at their computers all day long.
  • Create a consistent template schedule for the visits. Your schedule should include all of the Zoom interviews, classroom observations, time for team deliberations, and time for document reviews.

We found that using a web-based platform such as Zoom for our interviews worked well. This enabled us to send calendar invites with the Zoom link to connect to interviews. We also included information in the Zoom invite about who we were, what the process would look like, etc. We asked people who had not used Zoom before to log in ahead of time, make sure that their audio and video were working, and set up their names. Being able to interact with people using their names made it less formal and more friendly.” – Sarah Rapa

Sarah also shared a few challenges:

  • Connectivity can impede process. Be prepared to develop work-arounds for connectivity issues.
  • Privacy must be considered. Some school leaders may not want to share student emails. And school firewalls can prevent access to online conference rooms. Be prepared to make adjustments in the moment, as needed.
  • Participation can be a challenge for some stakeholders. Consider adding a survey to gather additional evidence from parents and students to potentially fill in the gaps for low participation in focus groups.

For more great tips about remote site visits, check out our additional resources.

A full recording of this webinar may be accessed here.

Stay healthy, and let’s keep talking!

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