State superintendent commends students, families and educators on return to learning and outlines ongoing priorities

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond on Wednesday, Aug. 12 commended the around-the-clock dedication of educators, families and students as most schools across California begin a new school year under distance learning. In a virtual news media briefing, Thurmond also outlined several urgent areas of focus for the California Department of Education to help schools strengthen virtual instruction, connect with students, and reach all learners.

“Our back-to-school season looks very different this year, and as a parent of two school-age children myself, I understand the anxieties and uncertainties we all are feeling right now. But what hasn’t changed is the tireless work of our educators to prepare up until the first day of school for a successful year,” said Thurmond. “At the CDE, our goal remains to provide the real-time support our schools need as they make decisions about how best to resume learning while keeping everyone safe.”

Thurmond discussed several priorities for CDE heading into the new school year, including:

Continuity of learning: The CDE is finalizing updated guidance to support educators in strengthening distance learning and maintaining rigor in the days and weeks ahead. As part of its research, the CDE solicited examples of successful strategies from teachers across California and will highlight selections as models for others to use. Additionally, the CDE will continue to provide assistance to local educational agencies to ensure they are meeting the unique needs of students with disabilities, students learning English, and other vulnerable student populations.

Family engagement: Thurmond encouraged schools to continue proactive, two-way communication and engagement to ensure families and students who are harder to reach, or who experience increased barriers to access, don’t fall behind. He stressed that relationships and connections — just like in the classroom — must be a primary focus in the first days of the new school year.

Digital divide: With hundreds of thousands of students still without computing devices or internet connections across the state, the State Superintendent reminded schools to take advantage of their share of $5.3 billion in Learning Loss Mitigation Funds authorized by the 2020–21 state budget. The CDE has posted online each school district’s initial allocation of Learning Loss Mitigation Funds and answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

The continued effort to close California’s digital divide got a boost from a corporate partner: Thurmond announced that PG&E has pledged $500,000 to support the immediate need of computing and connectivity. The commitment will support ongoing efforts to ensure equity across school districts in PG&E’s service area in Northern and Central California, including computing devices and Internet hotspots.