Teachers in Lauderdale County attend a remote learning orientation prior to school reopening after the shutdown.

We are only a few weeks into this school year, and I cannot remember a time when my team has worked so hard. In Lauderdale County, we started school with both hybrid and remote instruction. Having learned a great deal from the school closures in March, we leveraged those lessons in our reopening plan — a plan that is actually grounded in work our educators and students have been engaged in for years as part of the LIFT network.

This work is focused on helping students build knowledge and supporting teachers in implementing high-quality instructional materials like Wit & Wisdom and Eureka Math. Last year we saw our students and teachers hit their stride with our high-quality instructional materials. We were blown away by the thinking and work students were doing, and when schools closed it was disappointing to lose that momentum. It felt like someone had pulled the plug and we were going to lose all of the progress made with rigorous materials.

As we planned for this school year, we prepared for many different scenarios, but consistent and ongoing use of our district’s high-quality instructional materials were key to them all. The instruction for every scenario had to be aligned to state standards, rigorous, and high-quality for our kids. We didn’t want to buy a canned product for families who chose remote learning, and we didn’t want to roll out something new — so we started talking with our curriculum provider early on.

Our plan ensures that every learning option provides students with access to high-quality instructional materials and the ability to seamlessly transition between home and school. Because our teachers have experience with the materials, the transition will be less of a learning curve for them. They are able to be consistent in what they are teaching, and we are able to support them in how they are teaching rather than what they are teaching.

Another priority in our plan is partnering with families and caregivers. This is an unprecedented situation for everyone, and our families have been responsive and understanding. We want to meet their needs and prioritize the health, safety, and learning of our students while also ensuring we are prepared to respond to unexpected changes in our community’s health situation. Creative planning has been key to this aspect of our planning. For example, families who chose remote learning were asked to attend an orientation to learn about the platforms and materials students will use. We’ve also dedicated district resources and funds to ensure that every student in our system has a one-to-one device for learning at school or at home.

The challenges of being a rural district are unique, but it doesn’t mean we can’t provide students with excellent learning experiences in a variety of settings. We know the right and best thing for kids is to offer them a rigorous and high-quality experience, and we have made that our priority. Even with limited resources, you can do what matters for students.

My team knows this is hard work, but they are all committed to staying the course and doing what is best for students. We are doing important work, and our efforts to use high-quality instructional materials in our reopening will make a difference.

For more information about how teachers in the LIFT Network found creative ways to engage students in the rigorous texts and tasks in their high-quality instructional materials and ensure students were still engaged in robust and rigorous distance learning opportunities from home last spring, read the 2020 LIFT Annual Report: Realizing Impact in Early Literacy.

Shawn Kimble is superintendent of Lauderdale County Schools in Tennessee.