By: Patrick Gittisriboongul, San Diego County Office of Education & Mark Bazin, Cristo Rey Network
The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and Cristo Rey Network are leaders in creating innovative educational experiences. During this challenging time, they’ve quickly adapted to support thousands of students across their school systems—from starting alumni assistance funds and child nutrition programs to implementing equitable practices for remote learning.
Patrick Gittisriboongul, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation at SDCOE and Mark Bazin, CTO at the Cristo Rey Network shared insights into how they’re keeping students, families, and staff connected and engaged.
Serving a large network of schools and districts poses unique challenges during this unprecedented time. What are the biggest hurdles you’re navigating in this current environment?
SDCOE: As a county office, we’re focused on serving more than 500,000 students, 42 school districts, and nearly 780 schools across our San Diego community. We’re providing guidance and support on a number of topics—from emergency management plans to child nutrition programs to childcare. Ensuring equity for all students with or without access to remote learning materials and providing support for school counseling, mental health, and school social work are top priorities. This is also a unique moment in time for our high school seniors and we’re aiming to ensure that no one falls behind.
Cristo Rey: With our unique educational model, over 13,000 students traditionally attend school four days a week and spend the other day participating in a Corporate Work Study Program. The crisis has prevented students from working their jobs and a key component of the Cristo Rey education is suspended. Some students are continuing their work study program from home and we are working to surface that option for our partners as much as possible.
Given the large number of students, families, and educators across your schools, how are you keeping your entire communities safe, connected, and engaged?
SDCOE: The county office prepares situation reports daily that cover every aspect of the crisis. We’ve created sample plans for school feeding programs to address children who don’t have access to meals and to protect our students and the community from exposure. We’ve also distributed a toolkit for districts offering emergency child care.
We’re continuously providing templates and guidance for remote learning that address both online and offline materials, offering virtual office hours, and working with our partners at PBS to televise educational content. We also operate a print shop where we produce a wide range of physical learning materials such as learning packets, flash cards, coloring books for younger kids, math quiz sheets, and journals. This work helps us provide equitable access to the many students we serve across our county.
Cristo Rey: When it comes to devices, some of our schools are 1:1 with each student having a device to take home. For our schools that can’t support the 1:1 device model, we made sure every student has a computer by passing out laptops or other devices from our shared carts. We’re also working hard to close the gap for our students who do not have internet access. Our schools nationwide are doing an amazing job supporting teachers, ensuring they have everything they need to be successful from surfacing best practices to communicating frequently and thoroughly.
Our school staff is also extremely resourceful and they are deputizing bus drivers to shuttle things around to students and families. Additionally, we quickly started an Alumni Emergency Assistance Fund to help Cristo Rey alumni with urgent financial needs including technology, housing, food, and more. It has been extremely successful and helped hundreds of alumni so far.
What is your approach to maintaining staff collaboration so they can continuously support students’ needs?
SDCOE: Our approach has been to host recurring meetings virtually across all divisions and departments, send daily correspondence through email, and hold weekly superintendent meetings. We’ve been leveraging social media and using a variety of video conferencing, productivity tools, and video updates to communicate both internally and to our school districts and charter schools.
Cristo Rey: As soon as we started to see that schools might close, we developed national guidance on virtual learning and day-to-day logistics. We quickly put together a website to house all of the content and published it out to our schools. Every day we update the site with more information and it’s become a critical hub for our school communities. In addition, we are using our internal social network for communicating between faculty and staff. This has been an invaluable way for schools to share with each other quickly and easily.
Can you share best practices that have guided your work during this challenging time?
SDCOE: Providing guidance on comprehensive plans—from remote learning and child nutrition to mental health and crisis recovery—has been key. These elements go hand in hand and are critical to ensuring that not only teaching and learning continue, but the health and safety of our students and families remain a top priority.
Cristo Rey: Speed is paramount. There is no time to waste working on “the perfect solution” or deliberating on different options. You need to move from idea to execution very quickly to serve all of your students, families, faculty, and staff as best as you can. It won’t be perfect, but an imperfect thing that exists is superior to a perfect thing that doesn’t.
Join us on April 23 for a webinar about Leading Your K-12 Community Through Change. Mark Bazin and other K-12 leaders will share how they are managing remote learning, keeping students engaged and on track, supporting educators, and maintaining staff collaboration.
About the Authors
Patrick Gittisriboongul, Assistant Superintendent of Innovation, San Diego County Office of Education
Patrick Gittisriboongul serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Innovation for the San Diego County Office of Education. Throughout his career, Patrick has set the vision and course for technology operations within school districts and provided leadership and expertise regarding information and technology systems. His many accomplishments include implementing blended learning programs, starting computer science and coding academies, and creating career pathways for students to earn technology certifications.
Mark Bazin, CTO, Cristo Rey Network
After working in computer forensics and information security consulting, Mark joined the Cristo Rey movement as a founding team member of Cristo Rey Jesuit in Houston back in 2008. Mark has been the Chief Technology Officer for the Cristo Rey Network for the past five years, focusing on strategic, network-wide initiatives. The Cristo Rey Network serves over 13,000 low-income students in 37 schools across the country, with a unique corporate work study model aligned to a college preparatory curriculum.