Education, Latest News, Preston County

Wotring concerned about access to technology

KINGWOOD — As Preston County Schools adjust to the new normal of remote learning, they are trying to find ways to reach every student.

Last year, Preston was one of 20 counties in the U.S. selected by education reformer Bill Daggett to participate in a one-year training program.

That led recently to Preston School Superintendent Steve Wotring on conference calls with superintendents from California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York and Texas.

“I don’t think anybody was prepared for this,” Wotring said. “All of our issues are the exact same things.”

For him, “The biggest problem and probably my chief concern is just the inequity within our county.”

By which he means access to technology. He gave the example of a teacher who communicates with 75% of his students daily on the computer, using Microsoft Teams.

“Where are the 25%? That’s a fourth. The 25% has no access or has exercised their right not to use technology. So my fear is whenever we get back … the achievement gap is going to be ever widening,” the superintendent said.

Some students and parents will work hard to keep up, while, he fears, others won’t do anything from March 13 on. 

Preston students in grades fifth through seventh and ninth through 11th have school-issued laptops. (The program will extend to seniors this fall.)

Those students can upload assignments while at school, which will download when the student returns to school. No home internet is necessary. All schools have extended their Wi-Fi signal into the school parking lots, so students can do this with school laptops at their schools.

In addition, Prodigi has established eight free Wi-Fi spots in the county.

 Prodigi President Tim Wotring said those are at  Pisgah United Methodist Church, Hopewell Union Church, Bruceton Fire Hall,  Little Sandy Church of the Nazarene,  Mount Moriah Church, the ticket booth at Firemen’s Field in Kingwood,  Terra Alta Town Hall and  History House, 109 E. Washington Ave., Terra Alta.

Students without access to technology can request work packets. Rowlesburg School   had the most requests for packets, Steve Wotring said. Teachers also call students. 

Everyone had a plan for distance learning for the short-term, such as snow days, but no one was ready for months, he said. So far Gov. Jim Justice has closed state schools through   April 30, making for six weeks out of the classroom.

Schools are building resources, Wotring said, “and the framework will change over time.”

“We’re trying to build this plane while we fly it.”

The bright spots in the situation, Wotring said, are the discovery, during those conference calls, that Preston is ahead of many school districts in its remote learning plan. And there’s the response of Preston’s teachers and staff.

“Our teachers are doing some amazing, amazing things,” he said. “Our staff has just gone overboard,” preparing more than 23,000 meals so far. “I am so proud of our system.”

Looking ahead

COVID-19 has taught educators something about the system, Wotring believes: “We have to get somewhere different than where we were.” 

Educators talk about personalizing education, but that’s hard with 25 students in a room. Working one-on-one now has changed that perspective.

“I think we are now so painfully aware of the inequities between households, between communities, between all of that, and that every child doesn’t have the same opportunities outside our system,” Wotring said. “We have to take greater measures to be sure we give them that opportunity.”

One-size-fits-all education doesn’t, he said. “We can’t go back there.”

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