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LPS has some technology glitches on first day of remote learning, but lots of kids log on
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LPS has some technology glitches on first day of remote learning, but lots of kids log on

From the Milestones in Nebraska's coronavirus fight series
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Lincoln Southwest second day of school

Lincoln Southwest High School executive secretary Abbey Traynowicz sorts materials for remote learners to pick up on Friday. Remote learning began Monday. 

More than a third of Lincoln Public Schools students stayed home Monday morning to Zoom into classes remotely, the first day of one of the biggest pandemic-induced experiments in education.

Given that reality, Chief Technology Officer Kirk Langer was not expecting perfection.

He didn’t get it.

His office fielded calls Monday morning from students having trouble Zooming into their classes, a problem with how the district’s grading and attendance system called Synergy was connecting students, Langer said.

Kirk Langer

Kirk Langer

Students connect to Zoom through Synergy without the teacher having to post a meeting address that could be shared and thereby opened up to unscrupulous hackers, Langer said.

Some students weren’t seeing the “join” button, or those who did couldn’t connect. The problem wasn’t with Zoom or the district’s network capabilities, he said.

Top-level engineers from LPS and Edupoint, the company that runs Synergy, were on a Zoom call Monday morning, working through the issues. Langer said he hoped most of those had been solved by late morning, though they were continuing to work through problems as they arose and planned to make some more changes overnight.

Mindy Wright, who has two sixth graders at Irving Middle School and a third grader at Sheridan Elementary, said the first day was a mixed bag. One of her sixth graders had a good experience. He was able to Zoom into all classes and he was engaging with his classes. 

The other two had more problems: both had issues with the join button, which meant her sixth grade daughter spent a lot of time hitting the refresh button waiting to get into her classes.

The day was most confusing for her youngest son, whose schedule was unclear, who had problems Zooming in and couldn't get back on after lunch. He also couldn't see what was on the worksheet the teacher was using in class.

A tale of two middle schools in a pandemic

District officials also are working with families who still need hotspots, which LPS is providing to families who don’t have Wi-Fi access.

About 200 of the 500 families who signed up for hotspots have yet to pick them up and other families were calling Monday to say they hadn’t signed up but needed them.

LPS is arranging for those families to pick up their hotspots at the high schools, which act as technology support centers for both high school students and those at their feeder elementary and middle schools.

"We knew that would create calls," he said.

He also anticipated other issues cropping up, given that 14,167 of the district’s more than 42,000 students are learning remotely. Of those, 8,868 were students who opted for remote learning, the remainder were half of the high school students scheduled to work from home Monday and Tuesday.

High school students: It's weird, but good to be back in school

The number of students on Zoom on Monday morning convinced Langer that overall, it’s working.

A total of 14,322 students Zoomed into classes Monday, a number that Langer said probably didn't include some of the remote learners but did include students in school who signed on in some classes to be partners with the remote students. 

Those students participated in more than 17,000 class periods and collectively spent 3,267,454 minutes on Zoom.

“You start to see the scope of this,” Langer said. “What those numbers tell me is, generally, it absolutely works. That is not to say in every case it absolutely works. We knew we’d have to knock those things down as they come in and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Start of school in a pandemic: Time-worn first-day-of-school traditions alongside the new ones

The remote-learning issues come on top of all the regular issues kids have with Chromebooks at the start of school, he said, now magnified because so many students aren’t in the buildings.

Langer said he’s a realist, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, and after a half a day, he thinks the start of remote learning could have been much rockier.

“I’ve been very heartened to the degree we are getting kids on and it’s working,” he said, and his staff is determined to make sure all students can get into their classes virtually.

“People for years have talked about kids having access to the internet as a bridge to opportunity,” he said. “When it comes to our remote learners it’s not a bridge to opportunity, it’s a door to the classroom. ... We will continue to make sure everyone who comes to the classroom gets in.”

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Photos: First day of school

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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