WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The interim superintendent of the Mount Greylock Regional Schools will recommend Wednesday that the school be delayed until Sept. 16 and the year begin in a hybrid learning model that sees half the students in school at any one time.
Robert Putnam on Tuesday delivered two virtual "fireside chats" for members of the school community to discuss the current state of planning for the resumption of classes after in-person instruction ended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing a Monday memo from the commissioner of education, Putnam said that the commonwealth is reducing the school year by 10 days for 2020-21.
"The full memorandum of understanding with the [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education], the Massachusetts Teachers' Association, AFT-Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers’ Union …. States that DESE and the unions have a shared commitment to the safety and well-being of students, families and staff," Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s Monday letter reads in part. "[T]hey are collaborating to support a successful start to the school year, and they recognize the need to provide additional time for educators and staff to prepare for the start of instruction."
The commonwealth is requiring schools to begin providing instruction to students no later than Sept. 16, and that is the date Putnam said he intends to recommend to the School Committee, which sets the school calendar. The original first day of school was to be Sept. 1.
As for the instructional model, Putnam explained that the commonwealth still is requiring all schools to come up with a plan for three different approaches to the start of school: fully in person, fully remote and a hybrid.
His preference is to start the year with a hybrid model.
"While the Mount Greylock Regional School District schools can accommodate all the students for in-person learning, the district administration believes the district must start the school year with a hybrid model to give students, staff and families the time and training to consistently execute behavioral protocols necessary for safe, in-person learning in these times of pandemic," Putnam said during an hour-long noon webinar that he planned to repeat at 7:30 Tuesday evening.
"Students [would] alternate between in-person learning, with safety requirements, and remote learning," he said. "High-needs students may still participate in full-time, in-person instruction.
"The hybrid model requires schools to divide a student body into two groups and then alternate bringing those groups into the school."
Putnam gave two examples of hybrid learning models.
In one, half the students would attend schools on Mondays, Tuesdays and alternate Wednesdays. The other half would attend on the other Wednesdays plus Thursday and Friday each week. On days when a student was not at the school building, he or she would receive instruction remotely.
In the other, half the students could come to the building in the morning and receive remote instruction in the afternoon. After noon, the two cohorts would swap places each day.
Putnam said there are pluses and minuses to each hybrid model, and he is waiting for recommendations from the district’s reopening groups before making a decision on which model to plan for the district’s students.
Whatever plan the school uses, the development of strong remote learning practices will be the key for the coming school year, Putnam said.
"The hybrid model will only be as good as the remote portion of the model," he said.
Plus, he noted, the district could find itself moving from in-person instruction to a fully remote model if the public health conditions demand it. And the guidance from DESE requires that schools make available remote instruction for the children in any family that does not feel comfortable sending kids to school despite the cleaning and social-distancing protocols in place.
On Tuesday, he went over the results of a family survey the district conducted.
With at least 84 percent of the families responding from each of the district’s three schools, the survey found that the majority (58 percent at Mount Greylock, 61 percent at Lanesborough Elementary and 63 percent at Williamstown elementary) "probably" send their children to school with safety protocols in place.
About the same number at each school said they "maybe" would do so — 36 percent at the middle-high school, 31 percent at LES and 30 percent at WES. Ten percent or fewer at each school said they definitely would not, with the highest number in that category, 10 percent, at Mount Greylock.
After presenting his current plan to the School Committee on Wednesday evening, Putnam will make an initial report to the commonwealth on Friday, he said. The final plan is due to DESE on Aug. 10, and he anticipated a School Committee meeting to look at that plan four days earlier.
In the meantime, he referred any members of the school community to the district’s website, which has a new page devoted to COVID-19 updates, including the reports from the district’s planning working groups as they become available.
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One of the issues no one considers or talks about is day care. Kids through 8th grade or so need home supervision. Parents need to work in many cases. Will the district make an effort to put elementary school and high school students in the same family on the same schedule?
The regional school committee last Thursday heard preliminary enrollment data for its three schools. Although the official date to report a head count to the state comes on Oct. 1, the early numbers show significant increases at Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary.
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The board met with a single-item agenda to consider its course in light of last week's directive issued by the Lee-Lenox-Stockbridge Tri-Town Health Department, which instituted a mask mandate for all indoor spaces and "crowded outdoor public events."
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On a vote of 5-2, the committee decided to direct the district's administration to have its architect finalize bid documents and conduct cost estimates in anticipation of putting to bid later this fall a project to install a synthetic multi-sport field and a track on the Cold Spring Road campus.
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