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CDE Currents: October 2020

Tony's message
Teachers of the Year
Good Time to Heal
Digital Divide
Wildfire Update

Tony’s Message

Tony Thurmond

We know that in addition to what we learn in school, many more important lessons are learned through life experiences and overcoming adversity. For nearly all of us, 2020 has been an education in resilience and what that truly means. We have been forced to be resourceful on a level that was nearly unimaginable a year ago.

I can’t say enough how grateful I am that so many of you—our educators, teachers, mentors, and parents—have risen to the challenge of these times. I hear stories daily that are not only heartbreaking but inspiring.

As I write this, thousands of students, families, and educators are still recovering from record wildfires that decimated communities across California. To support those in need, the California Department of Education (CDE) has launched a new fundraising effort—the CDE Emergency Response Fund External link opens in new window or tab. —in partnership with the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation (CDEF). Funds will be used for essentials such as food, water, computers, internet hotspots, personal protective equipment, and other supplies. You can learn about how this builds off of relief efforts already underway.

The CDE is also working to ensure students have the access to computing and connectivity needed to succeed. By working closely with technology companies, we have made available more than 500,000 additional computing devices for California students in need. School districts can use their $5 billion in CARES Act funding for learning loss and distance learning to acquire these devices. In the meantime, I continue to advocate for permanent, long-term solutions to expand high-speed internet access for all households. Internet should flow like electricity, and we cannot stop until we have closed the digital divide for good.

Equipping all students with the technology they need remains crucial as some schools move toward reopening, many of which are doing so by utilizing a hybrid model that combines distance learning and in-person instruction. The majority of our schools are still in distance learning, but counties are increasingly being removed from the purple “widespread” state status for COVID-19 infection rates.

I will say it again: We all want children back in the classroom—but only if it can be done safely. Reopening a school is ultimately a local decision made by the school district in cooperation with their respective county health agency. Some districts are moving to
reopen in a hybrid format. Others are staying in distance learning for the rest of the calendar year. We are working with county superintendents and public health officials to provide support as these decisions are navigated.

As we work to assist educators and families during wildfires and reopening schools, there is another crisis I am committed to addressing—the crisis of racism, hate, and bigotry gripping our state and nation. Last month, I announced the “Education to End Hate” initiative, which includes $200,000 in mini-grants to expand training for educators across California on anti-racism, anti-Semitism, LGBTQ+ inclusivity, anti-Islamophobia, fighting bullying of Asian American students, and anti-hate focus areas.

In addition, we are scheduling a second round of virtual ethnic studies sessions that will feature live interactions between ethnic studies scholars and students demonstrating lesson plans. These sessions follow our first round of popular ethnic studies sessions held in July. Like the first sessions, the upcoming ethnic studies will be broadcast and archived for later viewing on the CDE’s Facebook page External link opens in new window or tab. . I encourage everyone to join us for these events.

Our education in resilience continues as we move into fall, past the presidential election, and into the next year. I am confident that all of us will have emerged stronger and have honed impressive skills and resourcefulness as 2021 begins. #strongertogether

Tony Thurmond's Signature

Teachers of the Year

2020 Teachers of the Year Share Distance Learning Successes and Struggles

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world, and that includes California teachers, many of whom are having the most challenging teaching year of their careers. The 2020 California Teachers of the Year, who are ambassadors for the profession and serve as representatives of the state for the 2020 calendar year, are no exception. These five exceptional educators shared with CDE Currents some of their own experiences, highlights and wisdom gleaned from the difficulties of the year so far. Below are excerpts from their testimonials.


Teacher of the year Sean Bui

Sean Bui, who is a ninth through twelfth grade English language development and business law teacher at Cupertino High School in Cupertino, Fremont Union High School District, in Santa Clara County:

My teacher friend, Lynn Chen, sent me an image from the Marvel Movie, Avengers: Endgame, which shows the hero, Dr. Strange, with 14 arms. It referred to the fact that teachers are trying to ensure that students feel safe while making sure that the video interface is working, ensuring that their own technology/PPT is working, ensuring that they aren’t on mute, trying to assess students formatively, trying to keep students engaged, while balancing possible home issues, etc.

Trying to be “Teacher Strange” is difficult, but it becomes even more difficult when the area from which I’m teaching experiences a power outage in the middle of class. Ironically, this occurred while I was in a breakout room with students, talking about how technology can be broken. My character trait of always needing to be in “teacher control” combined with my already innate fear of technology caused me to be anxious and drive to a place where there would be power. My heart was filled when I received emails from a few students, whom I had just met a week or two before, letting me know that they knew that I would be in a panicked state and that they wanted to assure me that everyone stayed on the Zoom meeting and continued to work on the assignment that I had previously assigned until the time for class was over.

My teaching mantra has been this checklist shared with me from my awesome principal, Kami Tomberlain: “My daily teaching checklist: 1. Keep them safe 2. Lower their anxiety 3. Make them laugh 4. Make them feel loved 4. Teach them something.”


Teacher of the year Brenda Barreras

Brenda Barreras, who is a kindergarten (and now second-grade) teacher at Good Hope Elementary School in Perris, Perris Elementary School District, Riverside County:

At the end of the day on March 13, it was announced that school would be canceled until further notice. It felt so surreal as I hugged my students goodbye on that day. We really didn’t have concrete answers for our families as to how everything was going to be handled due to the pandemic. You could see the worry in everyone’s eyes. I teach in a low socioeconomic area so my constant worry was “Do these families have enough food to eat?” “Are the parents still working?” “Can they survive in this situation and not get sick from this virus?”

During the summer my principal announced that I was going to be looping my students to second grade. After it was announced in my county that we would be teaching virtually, I spent my summer preparing for this new grade. I wanted to give my students the best of me.  I am a strong believer that young students learn best when they are having fun and when they are moving and doing. How was I going to incorporate learning using digital platforms and balancing it out with spending time on the floor engaged with hands-on learning activities? 

Today, once again my students and I are able to sit on the floor of our own homes, and play these games together once or twice a week. I play music and our eyes and minds are focused on the activity rather than a computer screen. We feel complete again! We are able to sing, dance, and talk with each other about events in our lives and most importantly, my kids are learning! It might not be perfect nor ideal but we are making the best of it. We are happy again. For periods of time we feel like we are actually together in our classroom enjoying being with each other as we learn.


Teacher of the year Mandy Kelly

Mandy Kelly, who is a sixth grade multiple-subject teacher at Trabuco Mesa Elementary School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Saddleback Valley Unified School District, Orange County.

The hardest part has been the energy. There is something about a room full of excited students, eager to learn, and actively collaborating. Many of my students weren't able to utilize the camera, so we had to find ways to bond without seeing each other. And so much of school today is hands-on and collaborative. The time it takes to make some of our favorite activities digital is outrageous, but we as teachers want to provide those activities for our students, even digitally, and even if that meant spending hours. So much work for a short 30-minute activity, but we do it because we don't want the students to miss out.

As a teacher and a mom of a kindergartener, I Zoom with my 6th-grade students while having my daughter's Zoom class right next to me. At the end of her Zoom, her class says "Bye, class family". My students heard her and said, "We are a class family too!" From then on, they decided that they too would end every zoom with their own "Bye, class family!"

Give yourself grace. Give parents grace. And give the students some grace. In the spring, my students panicked when some form of tech didn't work. The amount of stress that they put on themselves broke my heart. So, we created a mantra: No day of distance learning is complete without tech trouble. It will happen, and we will figure it out, together. Starting this year with that mind-frame really helped. We run in to tech trouble every day, I have to rearrange lessons every day, the students are getting different information every day. But focusing on supporting each other, being flexible, open to change, and understanding the inevitable tech trouble has actually bonded us, even from a distance.


Teacher of the year Guy Myers

Guy Myers, who is a ninth through twelfth grade drama and musical theatre teacher at John Burroughs High School in Burbank, Burbank Unified School District, Los Angeles County:

A drama classroom is an incredibly collaborative environment, and making sure everyone feels like they are part of the family here is key to helping them come out of their shells as performers and learn not be afraid to take risks onstage and in life. No matter how different we all are, we always had the safe container of these four walls of our classroom, and now that is gone, so building a sense of community is much more difficult. Each student has a unique situation at home, and the disparity in access is bigger than ever. Too many students right now are feeling isolated, and that is the part that breaks my heart. Like all teachers, I want to reach every student, make sure they feel supported, and encourage them to think critically and creatively.

After we were all sent home, the students and I wanted to come up with something new so we could still work together on a fun project, and we developed and created our own online web murder mystery web series. The students created an outline and characters, chose costumes and props and settings at home that could work for the scenes, wrote and filmed their own segments, and edited it all together. It has had thousands of views online through our IGTV account (@jbhsdramabackstage) and our YouTube channel (JBHS Drama), and we all learned new skills along the way! It was such a hit that George Pennacchio from ABC7 covered it on the news! It was one of those incredible moments where we realized we could still make some wonderful memories together no matter the circumstances.

Encourage the students to get creative with how they can prove mastery or understanding over content you are teaching. It isn't going to look the way it did in our classrooms. Many of my students are more adept at navigating the virtual world, and I continue to learn from them. Stay hopeful, find the joy in each day, and remain grateful for what you have in the moment.


Teacher of the year Katya Robinson

Katya Robinson, who is a kindergarten through third grade special education teacher at West Sonoma County Consortium School in Sebastopol, West Sonoma County High School District, Sonoma County:

The hardest part of distance learning is feeling as though I'm not doing enough for my students and their families. I see how much the families are struggling with distance learning, and everything I have done thus far doesn't seem like enough. It's a real soul crusher.

If I had to mention one highlight this year, it would have to beour amazing speech teacher Amanda Reece. Amanda is a consortium speech and language specialist and conducts therapy with my students. She is a great in-person teacher but her online game is making me want to tune into her speech channel every day. The only way I can describe her teaching is a mix of Thomas the Train meets the Muppets, who connected with a magician.

Amanda has a speech theme where students have to hop on the speech train and travel to different places. Amanda puts on the conductor's hat and suddenly a background image appears and the train is "choo-chooing" by. Suddenly the students are transported to a farm, then the bottom of the ocean to play an "I Spy" game,then a trip to the zoo. The kids are cheering and commenting with excitement about the lesson. Amanda has a great ability to keep students with severe disabilities engaged in distance learning with her positive outlook, her creative nature and delivery of her lessons.

Our families have been through a lot this year. First, it's the pandemic and being isolated and then the wildfires in our county which had some families evacuated.  It's one thing after another, which seems like we have no break in-between crises. I hope educators know that this is difficult and hard for everyone involved in distance learning and we all need to give each other a break and check-in on one another. Offer compromise, offer compassion and expect the same thing back. Remember this isn't going to last forever. Keep teaching, keep learning new teaching tricks and find ways to enjoy teaching during this time. You are doing a good job. Give yourself a break.


Good Time to Heal

CDE introduces new resources for schools to combat a rise in bullying, hostility and hate; moves forward with revised Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum

Nearly everyone who has glanced at the news lately probably has noticed an alarming number of stories of not only police brutality, but instances of racial attacks and harassment. Unfortunately, our schools are also being affected by this increasingly toxic climate.

To combat this disturbing trend, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced in September a new, multifaceted “Education to End Hate” initiative to help educators and students confront the hate, bigotry, and racism rising in their respective communities. This new initiative consists of a series of strategies by the California Department of Education (CDE), including educator training grants, partnerships with community leaders, and virtual classroom sessions.

“We have a president who doesn’t even want to discuss issues like slavery and the impacts we still see today. Instead, he’d rather stick his head in the sand and stoke more division at a time when we need healing. It feels like every day we are seeing heartbreaking examples of more anti-Semitic behavior, bullying of Asian American students because of our president’s rhetoric, discrimination against our LGBTQ neighbors, and violence directed at people of color,” said Thurmond. “It’s time to double down on our efforts to combat all forms of hate, bias, and bigotry.”

Educator training grants of up to $200,000, funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, will be awarded to local educational agencies (LEAs) to support educator training in the areas of anti-racism and bias. This grant program comes in partnership with organizations that lead educator trainings, such as Equality California, the National Equity Project, and the Museum of Tolerance.

“We launched the application process for our school districts to participate, and we already have more than 300 responses,” said Thurmond. “We look forward to announcing the first round of award recipients. These funds can pay for materials, pay for substitutes, pay for a trainer—we want LEAs to have the flexibility to use this support to meet their needs.”

In the coming weeks, the CDE will host a new series of virtual classroom sessions that will be broadcast live throughout the state on our social media channels. These sessions will engage students, educators, and families in a wide-ranging dialogue about the many forms of bias young people across California face—and ways schools can lead efforts to end discrimination.

Topic areas for upcoming sessions are anticipated to include anti-racism, including racism against people of color, oppression of native people, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, bullying of Asian-Pacific Islander students, and bullying of LGBTQ youth. The virtual sessions will be modeled after the Ethnic Studies virtual classroom series this summer. Thurmond will also host a public roundtable discussion among leaders from prominent racial and social justice organizations, educators, and state lawmakers to brainstorm additional ideas for ways schools can influence change.

Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Update

The CDE is also moving forward with the adoption process for the revised Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), a valuable tool for educators to teach students the history and struggles of traditionally marginalized populations. The public comment period for the revised ESMC concluded on September 30.

Following the public comment period, the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) in November will review the public comment and CDE recommendations. This will determine what additional revisions are needed to the revised draft prior to releasing the draft for another 45-day public comment period. The CDE recommendations to the IQC will take into account input from experts in the field, submitted feedback, and public comment. The revised ESMC will then go to the California State Board of Education for consideration in March 2021.

“We must acknowledge that in some cases, curriculum taught in schools has not done enough to highlight and preserve the contributions of people of color and has actually minimized the importance of their role,” Thurmond said. “This curriculum will be another valuable tool in combating bigotry and prejudice in our schools.”

More information on the ESMC can be found on the CDE Model Curriculum Projects web page, and the full draft curriculum can be found on the CDE IQC August meeting web page. Public comments on the ESMC should be directed to

Closing the Digital Divide with map of California.

Collaboration and Commitment: How the Superintendent’s Digital Divide Task Force is Narrowing the Technology Gap

When COVID-19 safety concerns forced districts to physically close schools last spring and shift to distance learning, the need to make sure all students had the necessary devices and connectivity to participate in online learning became more urgent than ever. The lack of access to devices and home internet connectivity impacted the state’s most vulnerable students and shined a spotlight on the long-standing digital divide.  

Now, the COVID-19 public health crisis has forced the entire state and nation to confront one of the biggest and most inequitable barriers to access and opportunities for students.

Early in the pandemic, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond created the Digital Divide Task Force to immediately accelerate strategies and solutions. Under the state superintendent’s leadership, California has made big gains:

  • The CDE worked closely with the Governor’s Office and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to secure $25 million in funds through the California Tele Connect Fund, which subsidized 86,848 hotspots in 371 rural, small and medium schools across California.These funds are now be able to subsidize resources through December 2020 or until students return to the classroom, whichever comes first.
  • In June, the CDE granted $5 million from the California Advanced Services Fund to 14 districts with large populations of high needs students to purchase computing devices.
  • 73,065 computing devices that were provided by donations to the Bridging the Digital Divide Fund were delivered to high-need school districts.   
  • Donations from T-Mobile and Google made possible the delivery of 100,000 hotspots to 222 LEAs across the state.
  • In August, the State Superintendent announced a collaboration with Apple and T-Mobile that would allow districts to purchase up to 1 million discounted internet-enabled devices.
  • After a worldwide technology shortage limited available supply, in October, the CDE in collaboration with numerous technology companies was able to locate and secure more than 500,000 additional computing devices that districts could purchase and provide to students.  
  • Internet Service Providers that have participated in the Digital Divide Task Force hearings designated liaisons for escalation of problems accessing low-income service programs and committed to removing other barriers to low-cost service.
  • HP Enterprises donated 40 of their Aruba Wi-Fi bundles to extend the connectivity of a school’s network to areas around the school to extend the network beyond the indoor classroom space.


laptop ready for distribution

laptop ready for distribution

The Digital Divide Task Force and its internet and technology partners have put together programs to make it easier for schools to acquire necessary equipment and services for their students. LEAs are encouraged to start the process now as devices are in high demand across the country, and can view more information on that at the CDE Securing Devices and Connectivity for Students webpage.

In addition, the Governor’s Office and lawmakers included $5.3 billion in one-time funding in the state budget for schools to strengthen distance learning. These funds can be used immediately for purchasing needed technology, and more information can be found on the CDE’s Learning Loss Mitigation Funding webpage.

The work does not stop here. Providing internet connectivity to our students is not something needed only during a pandemic, but it is essential to closing the opportunity gap and preparing the workforce of tomorrow. Households in urban areas struggle to connect due to both affordability and aging infrastructure. And an estimated 1/3 of rural households have broadband.

The State Superintendent continues to advocate for permanent, long-term solutions and investments that ensure internet flows like electricity to every home in California.

Wildfire Update

aftermath of a wildfire

California is experiencing the worst fire season on record. The California Department of Education (CDE) has been closely monitoring the situation. Here’s the latest:

  • Five of the ten largest wildfires in California recorded history burned this year.
  • More than 230 public school sites serving families in nearly 100 school districts have been impacted by evacuations.
  • Instruction has been suspended for at least one day for more than 132,000 students.
  • At least four school facilities have been damaged or destroyed.

During wildfire events, CDE provides representation at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), State Operations Center. In addition to coordinating with interagency leadership, CDE works to identify impacts to local educational agencies and to elevate any unmet local needs.

CDE’s Emergency Services Team is always looking to improve our situational awareness of ongoing emergencies and their impacts, but local mapping and data sources aren’t always available. CDE recommends LEAs coordinate closely with their county office of education throughout a wildfire event or other emergency. Any impacted LEA can also seek guidance from CDE by contacting

Other Resources:

Disaster and Emergency Resources

Wildfire FAQs

Air Quality Guidance Tool


CDE Currents is the monthly newsletter from the California Department of Education. It is written and produced by CDE employees.

Editor: Scott Roark
Co-Editors: Dina Fong, Jonathan Mendick, Katina Oliphant
Writers: Cynthia Butler, Dan Thigpen, Dina Fong, Jonathan Mendick, Scott Roark

Design and Layout: Scott Roark
Illustration: Jesse Nix
Web Production: CDE Web Services Office

Would you like to contribute? Do you have story ideas to pass along? Send your ideas and inquiries to We welcome your participation.

Questions:   Communication |
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, October 20, 2020