PHOENIX — The Cartwright School District in Phoenix will keep students in distance learning for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. A decision the governing board approved unanimously Thursday, "based on the fact that vaccines are not readily available to our community and that returning for in-person instruction would be too risky for families."
Members had been considering a return to in-person in April.
The district has been virtual since schools closed in March of 2020, increasing its IT Help Desk's call volume exponentially. Usually, the department would be troubleshooting for the district's 2,000 or so employees. This year, they've also been working to help the district's 15,000 students and their families.
"The call volume has definitely gone up," said Stephanie Castro, who runs the district's IT Help Desk. "In the beginning, it was so high that it was almost hard to handle. There's a learning curve for everybody, the teachers and myself."
Armed with the same iPad and Chromebook Cartwright students have at home, Castro is ready to field whatever questions may come her way. Most are dealing with distance learning and issues accessing Zoom or Google Meets.
"My very first part of troubleshooting is I'm just going to get in there and see if I can replicate the issue and figure out where that's coming from and resolve it right there," said Castro.
Castro feels like part fixer, part teacher, educating users while she works to avoid similar issues down the road. The need has eased a bit since the district first went remote last spring.
"We get maybe 20 to 40, maybe 50 calls a day," she said.
That is thanks in part to each of the district's 21 schools finding ways to tackle smaller issues themselves.
"We started to train individuals here on our campus, who are bilingual, and support our parents," said Theresa Trujillo, Principal of Raul H. Castro Middle School Academy of Fine Arts. "We kind of created our own little help desk here on campus."
Trujillo says this school year everyone on her team has played an even bigger role in helping students learn.
"If a parent needs something, I will drop what I'm doing, throw a hot spot in my car and drive it to the home," she said. "We are worried about them and we really want them back, but we're just doing the best we can."
From dropping hot spots to preparing or swapping out devices, it has been nearly a year of on-the-job learning. However, as a third-generation district employee, Castro says she is up to the task.
"A common phrase in IT that comes up is 'I've never seen that before,'" said Castro. "This year, my goal is to give each student the opportunity and accessibility to continue distance learning, as well as they can, with our circumstances that we are currently in."