New Fairfield Public School District’s administrators have been working feverishly to develop plans for the reopening of schools. In a special meeting of the New Fairfield Board of Education on July 13, there was an extensive introduction and discussion of plans for reopening in September. Though many details are still being determined, administrators were ready to relay a good amount of information.
Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino explained that she is engaging in weekly calls with state-level officials to discuss guidelines and potential plans while crafting an official reopening plan which is due to the Connecticut State Department of Education on July 24. This plan is “a little less involved than the one that we need to give to the community and all of the stakeholders in New Fairfield,” she said. The state asked districts to create plans for three scenarios: to be fully in school with some remote learning, a heavier remote plan, and a wholly remote plan. She went on to say that the plans are being created with the following priorities in mind: the health and safety of staff and students, the social-emotional wellness of staff and students, building relationships with children and families, and student learning. Cosentino stressed that in order to attain success in planning, administrators had to significantly reduce class sizes, adjust the MS schedule to best rely on the team model, and modify HS schedules to maximize time with teachers, build relationships, and include additional math and social-emotional supports.
Plan A will be for students to be fully in school with expectations that students will attend all day every weekday. There will be remote learning components included in this plan, with Cosentino stating that, “parents can make the choice to keep their kids home and continue with distance learning.” In Plan A all students will be assigned to classrooms in the elementary schools, which will be leaning on all interventionists and coaches to serve as classroom teachers within their certifications. Students will be assigned to teams at the MS and will be given a full schedule at the HS. Unlike the less structured spring distanced learning, students at home will be zooming throughout the day in a synchronous plan. Board member, Mr. Rick Regan, supposed that some students may want to come in and out and it was confirmed that the administration is planning for this eventuality. Administrators will ask for adequate notice if a student is opting to switch to learning from home or school. All at home students will be accountable for all work. Regan also asked if there was a plan in the works for teachers to teach from home with students in class, for example if they are in quarantine due to travel, which he was assured is “not impossible.”
A hybrid model, Plan B is a blended program that would likely be relied upon in a moderate spread of Covid-19. The plan includes all students being placed in groups A or B, based on last name. Group A would be in school on Mondays and Tuesdays, learning remotely Wednesday through Friday. While group B would be learning remotely Monday through Wednesday and in school Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays would be reserved for deep cleaning each week. Administrators are working incredibly hard to plan for this scenario, one that is mired in hoops. It was noted that many districts in the region will be adopting this model if the need arises. This helps the school in a variety of ways, including the fact that many staff live in neighboring towns in the region.
Finally, Plan C is to learn entirely remotely, but in a much more rigorous manner than spring. Likely there would be a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning, but the plan has not fully been determined. While this plan is not ideal, Cosentino said that her personal opinion is that Plan C will likely go into effect at some point, “I am planning to go out again…I do believe from watching the news and seeing what’s going on in the country that eventually we’ll be out again, out of school and be on Plan C.” She is confident that the work that has gone into reducing class sizes and modifying schedules will help in this scenario.
Administrators from each school walked the board members through adjusted daily schedules, with the caveat that they are in draft stage. Where elementary students may have spent time together on a carpet or partnering to read, they will now be largely at their desks to complete work. In light of that, administrators are imbedding more movement breaks, quiet time, and community-building activities. At MHHS, the teacher team-up model will still be in place, but with modifications. Specials will likely take place in classrooms, though they are exploring options for PE. At the MS, students will have 5 primary classes, with the reintroduction of Core 21, a class that had been successful a few years ago. They will have community-circle homerooms and movement breaks throughout the day. Finally, the HS will rely on its block schedule with a largely similar schedule with which rising sophomores through seniors are familiar. They will be introducing a math workshop, as has been previously reported on, to shore up underperforming math scores. BOE member, Ms. Kathy Baker, asked what precautions were going to be taken for specials like music and band that indelibly involve air particulates. Administrators are still considering how best to handle those classes. More information will be conveyed on particular classes at the BOE’s next meeting.
Dozens of NFPS staff members have been taking part in three committees that are steering the reopening plan–operations logistics, academics, and social-emotional wellness supports. The committees are hashing out best practices, understanding that “we know that we are not headed to normal,” Assistant Superintendent, Ms. Julie Luby, said. She also stressed that all parties understand that “there will be aspects of this that don’t please all people.” In addition, she said that this will continue to be a work in progress, acknowledging that the plans will continue to shift as needed.
In an Operational Systems Steering Committee update, Dr. Richard Sanzo, Director of Finance and Operations, detailed the current logistical plans. They include modifications that are being made to classroom layouts, establishing bathroom protocols, plans for how best to handle common areas, considerations for evening use of the facilities, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, in-classroom lunch planning, and transportation issues–including planning surrounding the high volume of parents who may opt to transport their children to and from school. Planning is in the works for the health practices and protocols for school nurses, including plans and training surrounding personal protective equipment, health screening, and standards for Covid-19 exposure. He went on to say that there is an overlapping plan for continuity in instruction being developed, with staffing and attendance implications in mind. Sanzo explained that the school will follow state and federal guidelines regarding a threshold of Covid-19 cases. The guidelines at the time of this meeting are: if a case is diagnosed, a school would go into a 2 to 3-day closure. Board member, Mr. Dominic Cipollone, asked whether there would be a quarantine area for suspected cases, to which Sanzo said yes, there will be an isolation room until a parent or guardian picks them up. He also clarified that there is no plan to test all staff before reopening.
The Teaching and Learning Steering Committee has been working to plan for “blended learning,” Luby said, noting that they define the term as best ways to use technology with a focus on face-to-face instruction. To get that started, there is increased staff development in process on a variety of remote teaching tools and practices. Though they are giving the staff optional offerings in July, there will be a consistent staff calendar of development opportunities in August. In light of the large amount of staff development that should occur, the BOE approved shifting the school calendar to bring professional development days forward to just before school opens, now September 2.
This committee is also working on a district supply list by grade level to publish in the near future for parents and students, pointing out that the list may contain unexpected items because Luby explained “we don’t want kids sharing materials.” There is also discussion regarding what materials should stay in school versus home. There will be a new tool called SeeSaw for kindergarten through grades 3 or 4 that will help students work more independently. For older students, Google Classroom will continue to be the primary tool. The committee is documenting procedures on how students might best use Google Classroom to their advantage given the larger number of classes and teachers they have in the secondary schools. They are also looking at when and which assessments to offer, though they know that a switch from STARR testing to iReady is happening this year. A group within the committee is looking closely at remote relationship building among teachers and students, plus peer relationships.
Assistant Principal, Ms. Allyson Story, detailed the work that the Social-Emotional Steering Committee has been completing in “really trying to think about the relationships, and what we know, that relationships matter.” The committee is mindfully planning for staff, students, and families to transition back into the school year, both mentally and physically. They are looking at screening and assessments to gauge stressors, trauma, and how best to support students; student engagement and emotional safety; family engagement; communication among teachers and students; and making sure that staff are supported. They are also considering how best to teach students social-emotional skills when in a blended or remote environment.
In addition to all of the aforementioned planning, the school is working to plan for special education needs, support personnel placements, and many daily procedures. Sanzo mentioned that there will be budget impacts, though staffing planning has kept costs in check. Board member, Mr. Greg Flanagan, asked about fall sports, to which new Athletic Director Mark Ottusch replied, “we are proceeding as if we are going to have a fall season.” Kids are practicing in cohorts of 10 or less and they stay in their cohort the entire summer. The kids “are really excited to be able to get out there and do that.”
The next regular Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 6, 7pm.
By Sarah Opdahl