K-12 Education in Uncertain Times – Lessons Learned from Florida

June 17, 2020

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In this webinar, Sunshine State leaders shared how they were able to make an immediate transition to distance learning, what they have learned so far, and how they are preparing for an uncertain school year. The webinar brought together leadership from the Florida Department of Education, Florida Virtual School, KIPP Jacksonville, and Broward, Duval and Orange County school districts. For more information about any of the topics covered, please contact McGuireWoods Consulting vice president Sara Clements.


Top Six Insights from Florida

  1. Think ahead to ensure instructional continuity. School districts’ prompt switch to distance learning as governors began issuing stay-at-home orders and closing schools quickly brought to light that districts that already had instruction continuity plans in place were 10 steps ahead of everyone else. While no one predicted the U.S. would shut down for three-plus months over a global pandemic, there are far more predictable disasters that can and do happen, necessitating a districtwide plan to ensure instruction continues despite regardless of whether school doors are open. In Florida, hurricanes are the most likely culprit, but other states face tornadoes, flooding or earthquakes. Also, school districts must prepare for the possibility that there will be a second wave of school closings if there is a COVID-19 resurgence in the fall and/or winter. The University of Florida’s Lastinger Center for Learning has collected instructional continuity plans from across the state. Find an updated list here.
  2. Follow the two C’s: communication and collaboration. Miami-Dade County Public Schools had a plan in place before the COVID-19 shut down occurred and immediately shared its instructional continuity plan with the rest of the state, giving a huge leg up for those districts starting from scratch. Additionally, the Florida Department of Education brought district leaders together by phone on a daily basis to understand the areas of greatest need and give districts the opportunity to share best practices. Florida Virtual School, with 22 years of experience refining online learning, provided district teachers with training on how to teach from a distance and is offering 100 courses for free through August. Its Online Learning Community continues to be available with tips for parents and teachers new to distance learning. 
  3. Plan for meeting students’ physical needs without a physical location. As noted by KIPP Jacksonville Executive Director Dr. Jennifer Brown, schools are hubs for social services, not just places of learning. “We’ve got medical vans, dental vans, vision vans that come to our schools frequently throughout the year, and I just wonder about the access to quality healthcare in the communities where my students live,” she said. Additionally, fear of the virus, which has hit Black and working class communities hardest, kept families at home when services and provisions were being provided. Supporting students’ physical and mental health needs during distance learning, which schools and districts are still figuring out, is crucial to meeting their educational needs. 
  4. Maintain high expectations, but with compassion and grace. Duval County noted its student expectations did not change when schools shifted to distance learning – and this meant schools and districts worked even harder to ensure students were supported, including daily or weekly wellness checks via phone by school staff and in-person home visits when necessary. As evidence of these high expectations, Orange County shared that over nine weeks, students turned in 13 million assignments and teachers held almost 230,000 virtual sessions. Broward noted that attendance hovered at 89-92 percent throughout the spring, but that the challenge moving forward will be making sure students are not only participating, but meaningfully engaged. For some, however, including many students at KIPP Jacksonville, internet access continues to be a problem. Dr. Brown’s advice to policymakers: “In the year 2020 … every family has to have internet access. It’s just a must have.”
  5. Call on your teacher-trainer experts for professional development. There is no such thing as too much professional development, when it’s the right kind. Both Duval and Orange Counties noted that they recruited their most successful and experienced teachers at online learning to provide virtual training sessions for other teachers. All three districts used their spring break to front-load professional development. Prior to the break, 56 percent of Broward teachers had published online courses through their learning management system. By the time they came back from spring break, 98 percent of teachers had published courses. Broward also held virtual workshops where teachers could work on their courses in real time with an expert course creator.
  6. Stick with existing platforms and resist upgrading. Teachers and students will be more comfortable and more likely to use software that they have already been using on a daily or weekly basis. Basic functionality, even if it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the latest educational learning software, will result in higher participation than a brand-new platform. For instance, Duval used Microsoft Teams, a platform that was widely used across the district prior to the pandemic, to provide instruction during distance learning. Teams was used not only for whole-group lessons, but also for small-group instruction, student feedback and assessment, grading, attendance, teacher collaboration, professional development and parent conferences. 

More Resources


  • Travis Pillow, Editorial Director, Center for Reinventing Public Education


  • Jacob Oliva, Chancellor, Division of Public Schools, Florida Department of Education
  • Sam Verghese, Chief Operations Officer, Florida Virtual School
  • Robert Bixler, Associate Superintendent, Curriculum and Digital Learning, Orange County Public Schools
  • Marianne Simon, Regional Superintendent for Elementary, Duval County Public Schools
  • Dr. Daryl Diamond, Director, Innovative Learning, Broward County Public Schools
  • Dr. Jennifer Brown, Executive Director, KIPP Jacksonville Schools