Back 2 School!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”- Nelson Mandela

Happy new school year Desert Hot Springs! As we prepare to launch the school year this Wednesday, many of us have become inundated with questions concerning our uncertain, yet immediate future. Because of COVID-19 and all of the safety protocols that have been set forth by our state and county officials, our school district has opted to begin the school year with distance-learning. As a parent, it has become quite the adventure transforming my daughter’s room into a middle school classroom, but here we are!

For your information I have attached every class schedule for each school here in the city. This will most definitely be a challenge, but as with anything else that we have experienced the last 6 months, patience will be key. None of us (parents, students, administrators, or teachers) have been here before, but we will get through this together.

Community, we need each other. Many households will struggle to create a household conducive to learning. Many students will require extended support. Together we can brainstorm and form community tutoring and support groups. Utilizing zoom and Facebook, I believe that we can offer virtual support that will greatly impact the students in need. Something to consider!

One of our middle schools will begin the school year with a new principal! Painted Hills, I have had the honor of working with him while he served at DHS High, and I am excited for you. Meet Mr. Mark Acker, principal of Painted Hills Middle!

Mark Acker far right

My name is Mark Acker. I have worked in Palm Springs Unified for the past 17 years. I began as a bilingual education teacher at Bubbling Wells Elementary. I taught at James Workman Middle School and most recently I was an assistant principal at Desert Hot Springs High School. My wife is also a teacher in Palm Springs Unified. We have three daughters (7 years, 4 years, and 10 months).

What is your vision for Painted Hills Middle School?

I have some ideas about where I want Painted Hills to go, but I would be remiss to say that any vision for the school would have to come from all of us. Schools don’t move unless it is a community effort, and I want the students, teachers and parents to participate in how we shape the vision of where we want Painted Hills to be. Having said that, I am a firm believer in constructivism. Learning is a social activity. We want our students to work collaboratively to learn from and with each other. Also, students need to be engaged in solving real-world problems.

How can parents help prepare for distance learning?

Communication is going to be key. I know how parents are feeling. Our two school aged children are entering second and transitional kindergarten this year. We have set up desks and made considerable lengths so that they are able to distance learn. The first thing I would advise is to carve out a quiet space for learning. Second, parents should be aware of the supports the district offers when students are not succeeding academically or socio-emotionally. When students are not having success with the live sessions, parents need to reach out to the school and get additional support. Also, if parents see that their child is in need of any mental health support, the district and the schools have therapists and school counselors that can work with students. Lastly, be aware of technical support. There will be “tech depots” each week where students can get their devices fixed or where they can get a new charger for their computer. Don’t let the lack of a charger be the reason why your student is not participating in distance learning.

Additionally, there is a model called the flipped classroom, where the teacher pre-records the lesson. The student then has more flexibility when they watch the lesson, as do parents if they want to help, then when the live instruction occurs the teacher is able to answer questions and engage students in practice or extension of the skills taught/learned. I know many teachers are looking at this model.

I encourage anyone that has questions to please reach out. We will get through this together.

Mark O. Acker

Painted Hills Middle School
9250 Sonora Drive
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240


Speaking of home life, I noticed something this weekend while we were preparing our daughter’s virtual classroom work area. Because this is new to all of us, many parents may not know how to properly adjust and create a pathway for success within the home. Here are a few pointers:

Take advantage of tutoring:
Parents! You are not in this alone. Tutoring is available, and with the common core math, I believe we all will need it!!!

Respect the classroom on behalf of your student:
Students will need focus in the virtual classroom, just like the physical one. Do the best you can to shield them from “in home” distractions during learning hours.

Build the routine as if they are headed to campus because they will be soon:
Keep them prepared for when the doors of the school reopen. Encourage them to get dressed, eat breakfast, and establish designated break and lunch times.

Get a hotspot:
This is important. They are available at the schools. Without a hotspot, virtual classroom instruction will utilize a majority of the bandwidth on your home wife router. A hotspot will give the student a dedicated source of Wi-Fi for classroom endeavors.

For the second consecutive year, DHS has a cooling center aimed to help provide shelter for our homeless population. The center is located at Word of Life Fellowship Center (66290 Estrella) and is in operation nightly from 5pm-7am. Donations of food and water are accepted, and we want to give a special shout-out to Coachella Valley Recuse Mission for their staffing efforts. Please spread the word! For more information, please call 760-251-3930.


Let’s be considerate. Let’s be safe. Let’s Advance DHS, see you all in a few weeks!

Dr. Kephyan Sheppard
Community Champion, Advancing DHS

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