ESAs certainly do make a difference in many different ways, all over the United States, and significantly impact the nation's educational system. Here, we capture just a few stories about the high-impact services delivered by ESAs nationally. Feel free to share these stories with others, and if your ESA has a story to share, please contact Joan Wade, AESA Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discover how ESAs partnered with their local school districts and other agencies to deliver high-impact services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ESAs Meet The COVID Challenge
This series of features is about the ways AESA’s members have helped their local partners meet the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As schools across the country returned to in-person instruction this fall, there was relief that teachers and students were again physically face to face but also a growing realization that digital education is here to stay.
Take the example of Colorado Digital Learning Solutions. The CDLS is the supplier of supplemental online classes for Colorado students under an arrangement that is administered by the Colorado River BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services). Because many of the state’s districts are small and rural, the online classes give them a way to expand academic offerings for students.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools last year, enrollment in CDLS courses exploded and 8,343 students participated. This fall, enrollment is much lower but there are some interesting trends. Students are taking an average of 2.2 online classes this year – compared to 1.25 classes pre-pandemic -- and districts that have never taken part in the online program have enrolled students for the first time.
“We think what’s playing out is a new vision, a new approach as to how digital learning can be an integral part of education statewide,” said Dan Morris, Executive Director of the CDLS.
Dr. Dale McCall, Executive Director of the Colorado BOCES Association, which includes the Colorado River BOCES, agrees.
“There is a new realization that there’s a real benefit,” McCall said. “We would encourage other states to look at programs like this.”
The CDLS enrollment window for this school year opened August 11 and 2,000 students enrolled between August 10 and August 25, the start of the fall semester. Not quite a month later, the enrollments had more than doubled to 5,000 students. That figure compares to a total enrollment of 1,378 students for the fall of 2019, the last pre-pandemic enrollment period.
Morris believes that students and families were impressed by the flexibility online classes provided last year as well as by the fact that CDLS offers classes in a wide range of subjects not taught in many districts. CDLS offers 200 courses, all taught by licensed teachers, for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The program serves students at all levels. There are Advanced Placement Classes and the Infusion Project, a series of classes designed for students identified as gifted and talented. There is also a Credit Recovery program that targets students who have failed a class.
“That is more robust than the biggest school district in Colorado,” Morris said of the offerings.
Another factor driving new interest in the CDLS program is the shortage of licensed teachers. Morris said there is a particular need for math and world language teachers. And the issue is not limited to small districts.
“Big districts are struggling with the same thing,” said Morris, adding that Colorado’s biggest school district had enrolled 200 students in CDLS classes this fall, something the district had never done before.
CDLS requires districts to hire a local facilitator who is trained by CDLS. The facilitator keeps in touch with students taking online classes and helps ensure they are able to complete their courses successfully. That sort of local oversight appeals to districts, McCall said.
“Many of the districts like this approach rather than have their students go off to an online school,” he explained. “In an ideal world, we would like to have a qualified teacher in every classroom. At least this gets a qualified teacher in front of these kids.”
Morris believes that while online education will never replace in-person instruction, the pandemic showed educators that there is a place for quality virtual instruction.
“I think in the long term, we have to look at things differently,” Morris said. “Online education is not an alternative to brick and mortar. It’s simply a supplemental strategy that supports the system.”
Working Together To Keep Schools Safe
WHO: Nebraska Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council (ESUCC), LaVista, NE
CHALLENGE: Masks and other personal protective equipment as well as common cleaning supplies were hard to find in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without those supplies, Nebraska school districts would not have been able to open for in-person instruction the fall of 2020.
SOLUTION: ESUs in Nebraska collaborated with FEMA to purchase and distribute 2 million masks to schools in time for the first day of school. Another purchase was made in December. The ESUs also partnered with the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska Ethanol Board to obtain 75,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to be delivered to the schools – at no cost to the schools -- with the help of the Nebraska Forest Department, in time for the first day of classes. The ESUCC cooperative purchase program allowed districts to purchase more of the needed supplies at a reduced cost as they became available.
The ESUCC also provided other services to state schools including communication, professional development and training, coordination to provide access to the Internet and devices for students who lacked them, and advocacy on important issues such as school attendance, accreditation status and teacher certification requirements.
RESULT: Schools were able to open on time for the 2020-21 school year and continue to operate safely.
CONTACT: Dr. Kraig Lofquist, Executive Director of the Nebraska ESUCC, 402-597-4915, email@example.com.
Pullout Quote: “When the pandemic hit, everyone realized the ESUs were a perfect solution to address a myriad of issues,” said Dr. Kraig Lofquist, executive director of Nebraska’s Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council.
Michigan Association Launches Effort To Connect All Michigan Students To Internet
WHO: The Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA), Lansing, MI
CHALLENGE: The COVID-19 pandemic meant many Michigan schools closed to in-person learning and pivoted to remote learning for students. Although most students and educators were able to access the Internet from home, many were unable to do so due to the lack of appropriate devices or Internet connections. Initial data showed 500,000 students and educators could not access the Internet.
SOLUTION: To assess and address the need for all students and educators to have Internet access, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA) and its affiliate, Michigan Education Technology Leaders (METL) recognized that private and public partnerships were necessary and formed the MiConnect initiative. MAISA received a $300,000 planning grant from one of its public partners, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, to begin that work.
RESULT: A comprehensive effort to analyze the connectivity gap among Michigan students and educators is underway with the ultimate goal of leveraging public and private partnerships to close the gap and provide digital inclusion.
CONTACT: Dr. William Miller, executive director of MAISA, 517-327-9263, gomaisa.org
WHO: Region 10 Educational Service Center, Richardson, Texas
CHALLENGE: In March, 2021, educators in 10 northern Texas counties were ready to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and two supermarket chain pharmacies – Tom Thumb and Albertsons – had vaccine and personnel. However, there was no central vaccination facility available.
SOLUTION: Region 10 opened its headquarters on two Saturdays to serve as a central vaccination site. Agency personnel helped coordinate the clinics and reached out to local school districts to let them know about the clinics.
RESULT: Approximately 4,400 educators were vaccinated at the clinics.
CONTACT: Region 10 Executive Director Gordon Taylor, (972) 348-1000, firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Clackamas Education Service District, Clackamas, OR
CHALLENGE: As the first COVID-19 vaccines became available in 2021, officials in the greater Portland Oregon area recognized that ensuring educators were among the first to be vaccinated was a top priority. However, since there were thousands of educators in districts throughout three separate counties, the logistics were difficult.
SOLUTION: A member of Clackamas Education Service District reached out to four health care providers – Kaiser, OHSU, Legacy and Providence – and facilitated a partnership between the three education service districts serving the area and the providers. In less than a month, the group planned and launched a large scale vaccination clinic in downtown Portland. The Clackamas Education Service District specifically helped the effort by providing multiple staff members who were active participants in planning, promoting and coordinating the clinic.
RESULT: Approximately 40,000 educators were vaccinated within a month of the clinic’s opening, which helped advance the statewide effort to reopen schools to in-person learning.
CONTACT: Jada Rupley, Superintendent of the Clackamas Education Service District, 503-675-40