Like all public school districts in the state, Newport’s schools were faced with unprecedented challenges when they were ordered close and shift to distance learning last month as the COVID-19 crisis escalated. For the Newport Public School Technology Department, the recent departure of the department’s director left a void in leadership at a critical moment.

Luckily, Robert Young, the Director of the Career and Technical Center, offered to step in and take the lead. With Young’s guidance, the department has been able to get Newport’s students and teachers quickly setup with the equipment and training necessary for virtual learning. We connected with Young via email to ask him about this transition period – here’s what he said.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you do at your organization? 

I am currently the Director of the Career and Technical Center. The Director of the Technology Department recently resigned from the district, leaving us without someone to guide the department during this period.  I spoke to Colleen Jermain, the Superintendent, and told her I could fill in if needed.  I have some technology background and felt like I could use my skills in this time of need.

What changes to the nature of your work and organization happened because of COVID-19? 

During this time of need, the district had to redistribute the technology to allow every student in the district to have access to a device. Most are using Chromebooks.  We also had to provide teachers some training on how to teach from home (distance learning), take attendance and make contact with students.  The technology department had to put all these measures in place with very little, if any, planning time.

What was your role in helping Newport public schools move to distance learning and when did you start this process? 

My role was to assume the position as Technology Director until one is appointed.  I had to lead the technology department during this time of need.  We have a small team and had to work throughout the district to meet the needs of the teachers, students and families.  This includes handing out the devices, making sure they have WiFi access and training on how to use the equipment.

What has been the most challenging part about this work? 

The most challenging part is that it is happening so fast. We were not ready to make a move to Distance Learning so quickly. We didn’t have time to test the system of distance learning.  Normally we would test something like this before using it, but because of the nature of the situation, we were testing it and using it at the same time. It is also challenging because as a district, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We did our best anticipating the challenges and we are working through them.

Anything you want to share with the community or think it’s important for people to know during this time? 

We are excited about this opportunity to serve the students of the city of Newport.  We are excited about the opportunity to accept the challenge to learn and grow as a district and meet the needs of the students of Newport.  The community should know there are some obstacles to overcome but we’re working hard to overcome them.