Joan Wade: Ohio’s Educational Service Center Network Helps Re-Imagine Education In the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

Joan Wade: Ohio’s Educational Service Center Network Helps Re-Imagine  Education In the Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

By Joan Wade, originally published in the October/November, 2021 issue of Equity and Access

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools almost overnight, educators everywhere had practically no time to prepare for the requisite operational and instructional changes that followed. Most schools had little experience with virtual instruction and many had limited technology and infrastructure to deliver high quality education remotely.

Despite the challenges, educators in Ohio pivoted quickly with the support of the state education agency and regional partners like Educational Service Centers (ESCs) and Information Technology Centers (ITCs). Ohio’s ESCs realized that responding to the pandemic presented a rare opportunity to re-imagine and reshape education for the future. They also recognized the effort could not take place in a vacuum.

As such, in spring of 2020, the Ohio ESC Association (OESCA) membership launched a statewide project, the Reframing Education Initiative, which was a direct response to the pandemic, and in support of the work of the state’s High School Redesign Taskforce and the statewide strategic plan for education, Each Child, Our Future. Education professionals from 31 of the state’s 51 ESCs collaborated to create a decision-making framework to support districts as they considered best practices that have emerged as a result of school closures, had authentic conversations about instructional expectations, and made plans to reframe and rethink the delivery of high-quality educational opportunities for all students and schools in the 2020- 2021 school year and beyond. The intent of the “Reframing Education Initiative” is to support Ohio school districts in planning to meet the needs of all students in a multifaceted and multilayered manner and connect them to evidence-based resources and best practices.

“The time is right for Ohio to begin reframing its education model so that learning can become the constant and time and place can become the variables,” said Craig Burford, executive director of the Ohio Educational Service Center Association (OESCA).

The result was a website that contained a wealth of resources and guidelines to help districts prepare their individual plans for moving forward. The framework contained guiding questions and information about gathering data, creating a team, and areas to consider including instructional resources and expectations, non-building based learning opportunities, the needs of exceptional and at-risk students, the delivery of remote and blended instruction, technology needs, communication planning, professional learning for educators, climate and culture and the mental health of students and staff.

The initiative also created resources and a planning template to help districts develop a Remote Learning Plan that was required to be submitted to state officials last summer before the start of the 2020-21 school year. In February of 2021, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine asked state districts and schools to work with their communities to assess and address the needs of students whose learning may have been lost or disrupted by the pandemic. Specifically, he asked districts and schools to develop plans that address learning recovery and extended learning opportunities. Such plans could include options including but not limited to extending the current school year, beginning the new year early, extending the school day or instituting summer programs, tutoring, remote options, and other remedial or supplemental activities. As part of the Reframing Education Initiative, OESCA responded to the Governor’s request by developing resources and a planning tool that districts could use to develop their extended learning plans and continue instructional planning going forward.

Ultimately, the Reframing Education initiative has served as the foundation for OESCA and its membership to engage in a collaborative, co-design process with the state education agency and other implementation partners in several state-wide initiatives including the Remote Learning Alliance and RemotEDx, which seek to help districts establish and maintain their virtual instruction programs.

Educational Service Centers have also partnered with the Ohio Department of Education on a number of other initiatives to address the continuing needs of districts as they address the impact of the pandemic during the 2021-22 school year and beyond including prevention education, family and community engagement liaisons and more. “The Reframing Education Initiative may have been born out of the need to quickly respond to COVID-19 related challenges, but the groundwork was already laid by our state education agency, state board of education and the work of the High School Redesign Task Force,” stated Burford. “Ultimately, the key to its success and sustainability, however, will be a commitment to a collaborative, co-designed approach and our ability to leverage the existing networks of experienced education professionals at ESCs, ITCs and other regional support organizations.”