WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Baker administration is pushing school districts to form plans that allow all students to return to the classroom, according to comments from the interim superintendent of the Mount Gryelock Regional School District.
Speaking on Tuesday to the School Committee's Education Subcommittee, Robert Putnam said that while districts are required to create plans for the fall that would allow remote learning or a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction, the message from Boston is that the goal is to get students back in school buildings.
"The commissioner of education, Commissioner [Jeffrey] Riley, basically, he's prioritized getting kids back into the classroom," Putnam told the subcommittee. "I must submit three plans on the 31st of July with the priority on getting all kids in the classroom. And [Riley] has — his expectation is that we are right now in the midst of a feasibility study in terms of how many kids we can actually fit in the schools."
Putnam said full, in-person instruction is the focus for himself, the building principals and the district's director of buildings and grounds, Tim Sears.
"The first thing: What can we actually fit in the existing classrooms," Putnam said. "Then, in terms of feasiblity, what other spaces are available to us. What else could we use as a classroom?"
Tuesday's meeting included reports from five of the working groups Putnam's predecessor established earlier this summer to help formulate plans for reopening Lanesborough Elementary School, Williamstown Elementary School and Mount Greylock middle/high school, which were closed in March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The technology working group reported that it has sent a "robust" survey to the district's faculty and paraprofessionals to assess what worked and did not work about remote learning in the spring and what the district needs to do going forward.
Putnam said the district is planning to provide more professional development opportunities for teachers to help them prepare for online instruction.
"No matter what we do, I'm convinced technology is the key for a number of reasons," Putnam said. "One being the fact that we need to have something in place in the event circumstances force us to close schools. We also have to have it set up in the event of a hybrid because any hybrid of both in-person instruction and remote is only as good as the remote portion of that."
Education Subcommittee Chair Steven Miller asked whether the teachers and administration were considering a model where teachers conduct lessons in the classroom that are simulcast via the web for students learning remotely.
"We have some of the hardware," Mount Greylock Principal Jacob Schutz said. "I don't know if we have the software for that. It's a question we'd have to follow up on. It's nothing we've ever done before."
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Joelle Brookner said the instruction working group earlier Tuesday heard a presentation about the HyFlex model, designed to let students take classes in person, at home or both.
"We are committed to safety first and trying to get as many students back to school as possible and are preparing for three possible scenarios: everybody's back in school, safely distanced, wearing masks or some sort of a hybrid version or if something happens and we have to be fully remote," Brookner said. "We're working on all three of those options right now."
Safely distancing students in the classroom has been the focus of the facilities working group.
Putnam said Sears has been working on removing extraneous items from classrooms and reimagining classroom layouts with a hexagonal grid that optimizes how many desks can fit in a classroom.
One of the hurdles to that plan might be the district's existing supply of desks and tables.
"It was interesting when [Miller] mentioned, is there any technology that could potentially be part of a ‘wish list' of things," Putnam said. "It might be there's some simple technology like desks that we're still working through."
Putnam said he planned to reach out to other superintendents in the county to see if there were any surplus desks in the area that the Mount Greylock district might be able to acquire.
"There are desks and instructional objects that are sometimes languishing in rooms not being used," Putnam said. "I intend to reach out to neighboring superintendents and say, 'What do you have?' And can we do some trades and deals?
"Over the past 15 years, the student population in Berkshire County has dropped by about 5,000 students, so there most likely is excess capacity in terms of classroom furniture."
All of the planning and classroom reconfiguration is geared toward meeting a state mandate to make in-person instruction the goal.
"Commissioner Riley is committed to having schools open," Putnam said toward the end of the hour long meeting. "Although we've got to come up with three plans by the 31st, he's made it clear he wants in-person instruction with all those attending school or a hybrid model.
"He's actually said, he's going to require detailed explanations or perhaps send a team to review our work if we are unable to make this happen. Right now, I'm really just focused on the feasibility study. But simultaneously, we're working on the ideas of: What do we need to put in place to increase the skill of our entire faculty and administrators in the use of remote learning?
"I posit that remote learning must be the focal point for our reopening plan, based on several things. First, high-quality remote instruction is not a skill set found across the district. It will require all our energy to make sure teachers acquire these skills. Second, we've got to prepare to provide high-quality remote learning in the event the infection rates rise in the community. … As I said before, a hybrid model will only be as good as the remote portion of the model if we find we cannot bring students back to school safely."
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Mount Greylock School Committee Votes Down Remote Learning Start to School Year
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two months of input and advice from Mount Greylock’s working groups looking at the reopening of school were undone in four hours of discussion by the School Committee on Thursday night.
On a 6-1 vote, the committee directed interim superintendent Robert Putnam to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education a radically different plan for the start of the year that moves more children into the school building more quickly than the administration was recommending.
Subject to approval by DESE and, not insignificantly, collective bargaining with the district’s unions, there will be no two-week period of fully remote learning as Putnam was proposing.
Putnam went into Thursday’s meeting with plans based on input from groups established in the spring and summer by him and his predecessor with the goal of getting the School Committee's blessing for the plan he has to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday.
Putnam laid out a plan largely like the one he presented in a virtual town hall on Tuesday evening and told the School Committee he was looking for guidance.
In a split decision on Tuesday, the Planning Board voted to recommend town meeting take no action on either of the proposed zoning bylaw amendments related to the production of marijuana. click for more
On a 6-1 vote, the Mount Greylock School Committee Thursday directed Putnam to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education a radically different plan for the start of the year that moves more children into the school building more quickly than the administration was recommending. click for more
Putnam said that, depending in part on the levels of COVID-19 infection in the area, the district will, at some point, offer families the option of keeping their child or children home for remote learning or sending the children to school for part of the week in a hybrid model.
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