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Clarksburg School Preparing for Reopening Scenarios

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The new security doors can be seen in the school lobby. The doors are one of several updates at the school, including a public address system and an accessible bathroom. 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Principal Tara Barnes is working on a "nice puzzle challenge" in figuring how students will be situated within the elementary school come fall to comply with public health guidelines for the pandemic.
 
The state guidelines, so far, are requiring social distancing as well as masking for students in Grades 2 and up. Schools will also require a separated space for children who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19.
 
"I feel from most of our classrooms, about 15 students is the max of what we're able to get in there," she told the School Committee on Thursday. Further guidance from the state in regard to desks and dividers could mean a few more, but, she said, "I don't want at any point to compromise the safety of students or staff when I'm looking at these spaces."
 
Barnes said she's reviewing the use of "overflow" spaces such as the gym and rethinking uses of non-classroom areas and how that might affect special education teaching and splitting up classes to keep the numbers down. 
 
"I'm looking at every, every possible space that we have in our building and thinking about what other purpose it could be right now. It's because we want to have students in the classroom," she said.
 
There's also the opportunity to use the school's grounds for teaching since many of the upper classrooms have access to the lawn. If the students are outside, they should be able to remove their masks as long as they are maintaining social distancing. 
 
"We've got a beautiful space outside our school  ... and we really integrate it into our learning more and take advantage of," Barnes said. "I would like to see us pushing outside in a safe way."
 
The technology director is also working to get webcams in classrooms for synchronous learning -- the teacher could be in one room streaming into the rest of the class in another room in real time.
 
The principal's report to the committee focused on how the staff and faculty were preparing for the three scenarios requested by the state: in-person school, remote learning and a hybrid of both. 
 
"Our goal has been to focus on teachers collaborating around unit planning and spending time working on those unit plans to get them ... where they can be in person or virtual at any given time," she said. "We had a kickoff meeting this week on Tuesday and we went over the parameters of that work."
 
The planning has been on how to clearly integrate technology to a high degree and offering teachers guidance and space to do that planning so they will be ready to switch to any of the three scenarios. 
 
Everyone was getting on the same kind of template to create more cohesive planning, she said, which will be shared with special education and related services so they know what the learning targets are. 
 
Their first draft is due Aug. 14 and, by Aug. 21, a week before school starts, their plan should be completed and submitted. Barnes said the teachers were getting a small stipend for this work over the summer.  
 
"We know that planning is part of what teachers do, this is part of their professional responsibility," she said. "But given that there's these added challenges of also figuring out how to do some online teaching, integrated with what they do normally in the classroom, I felt it was appropriate to give them this." 
 
Staff that were given non-renewal notices are in the process of being called back now that the school has a budget, passed last month by town meeting. 
 
"I'm glad that we are able to bring all of our staff back because our teaching assistants are going to be really key in this scenario, because we will need staff to be in those extra overflow spaces with students," Barnes said, adding that this may also be an opportunity to lean in with more vulnerable populations. 
 
The physical education teacher has indicated he will not be returning but until the state provides guidance on how PE will be delivered, the school will not be immediately replacing him. 
 
"We know what a strain it is on families to do this work with students at home and we are really longing to see our students, and give them that in-person experience," Barnes said. "So we want to have as many students as we can in person. And I think when we look at that and we have a plan, we start by kindergarten being the priority, and work our way up in the grade levels."
 
The school is also hoping to offer a parent workshop so parents can understand the platforms being used. 
 
"We want to be prepared for any event of moving in and out of any of these kinds of phases and be ready," she said. 
 
Superintendent John Franzoni said he has been in teleconferences with the commissioner of education and getting updates on school reopening. One issue that is still under discussion is transportation. Children and the driver will be expected to be masked but there may also be considerations of the number of riders. 
 
If buses have to make multiple trips, there is the conversation that the state reduce or adjust the required days/hours to compensate, rather than lengthen the day to accommodate multiple bus runs. 
 
Should busing take place, school choice students will not be allowed to ride. Franzoni noted that it's up to school-choice parents to transport their children, although they have been allowed to ride if there are seats. 
 
But the superintendent also noted that the commissioner was concerned about "oversharing" of detailed school plans that may no longer be viable a week later because of changes in the pandemic. 
 
"A key word of the day is patience. Everybody wants to have a plan right now; it's just not feasible to have a definite plan right now given what we know from the state," Franzoni said. "One thing we've learned over the last four months is that things keep changing, but we want to make sure that we have the most updated safety guides before we communicate with the families in early August."
 
In other business, Barnes reported that 53 parents had responded to a survey about remote learning and were generally satisfied with the academics. 
 
"I'm glad to see that there wasn't more of a feeling of a negative or highly detrimental effect. And I think that speaks to just our staff and what they were able to do," she said, but there were worries about too much screen time and a few feeling that their child wasn't getting enough attention.
 
The emotional and social aspects also appeared to be of more concern than the academics and more than third were not comfortable with their children riding the bus this fall or with their children wearing a mask all day. Barnes noted that the survey was sent in mid-June and wondered if there would be a different response today.
 
The School Committee members complimented Barnes and the teachers for the job they had done shifting to remote this past spring.
 
"Just in comparison to some other local schools that I spoke to people from ... It seems like, at least from my experience, our kids had more contact with their teacher throughout the week than they did in some other schools," said Chairwoman Laura Wood. "I would hear of multiple ones that have one 20-minute Zoom session a week, and then were just given work to complete."
 
Business Administrator Jennifer Macksey updated the committee on grants she is pursuing and finalizing the school's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funds. She also reported that she and new Director of Pupil Services Stephanie Pare were able to get their licensure through the state's emergency process and that she will be pursuing her professional license. 
 
The committee voted to formalize a $300 annual stipend for the special education administrative assistant, who has been processing Medicaid claims to the benefit of the Northern Berkshire School Union towns; gave the cafeteria manager a 2 percent raise, from $30,500 to $31,110, and raised the wages of the cafeteria staff to $12.75 an hour. 
 
The committee also voted to formally put the proposed merger with Stamford, Vt., School on hold until Clarksburg can develop a long-term capital plan for its school building. The condition of the school arose as a major factor in moving forward with the merger. 
 
"We have to make sure that we have a building that's going to be open long term," said Franzoni. 

Tags: Clarksburg School,   school reopening,   

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Clarksburg School Reopening Plans Affected by HVAC Issues

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Results from a survey of parents last month. 
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School officials' plans for reopening this fall are being complicated by the condition of Clarksburg School. 
 
The administration is recommending a hybrid plan of in-school and remote because of issues with the ventilation system.
 
"Ventilation as a very key piece in keeping our schools safe," Principal Tara Barnes told the School Committee on Thursday. "We have some preliminary results that are telling us that many of our classrooms are not up to code to be able to handle COVID. In particular, they're not exchanging air."
 
Barnes said the building is being evaluated as part of the plans being developed to deliver education during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is requiring schools to submit plans for in-person teaching, remote or a hybrid model of both by Thursday.
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