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BOE Approves Calendar Change, Discusses Returning To School



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The Board of Education scheduled two extra meetings, for July 21 and August 4, in the course of its meeting on July 7, and it quickly became clear why: There is a lot of work to do.

During the meeting, which was conducted via video and phone calls, Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue updated board members about ongoing efforts by the Board of Education’s Re-Entry Subcommittee to plan and research reopening Newtown schools. She also presented a revision for the 2020-21 school calendar that will have students start school on September 2, which is later than originally planned but still within state guidelines of having students attend school for 180 days per school year.

The calendar change, the superintendent said, supports the local effort to meet requirements for staff development outlined in the state’s “Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together,” which offers a guideline on opening schools statewide for the fall. The state’s plan was released on June 29. Teachers, Dr Rodrigue shared, will still start the 2020-21 school year on August 26 and the two added days of staff development will focus on the nuances of teaching in the current climate.

Before the school board unanimously voted to accept the calendar change, Dr Rodrigue said, “I hope you really take it into consideration, because given what we need to do with our staff, this makes so much sense.”

The local Re-Entry Subcommittee is meeting frequently, both its subgroups and as a whole, according to Dr Rodrigue. As previously reported by The Newtown Bee, roughly 40 people are working on the Re-Entry Subcommittee, and Dr Rodrigue said the district is in “constant contact” with Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert and state officials regarding the local plan.

Per the state’s document, local education agencies are expected to submit a plan to address its requirements to the state by July 24. While changes may happen between that time and when schools open in the fall, due to the nature of the current pandemic, the local plans are asked to have different phases to handle those changes, according to discussion at the meeting.

Dr Rodrigue shared that the phases districts are asked to prepare for are fully returning to school with safety precautions; a hybrid model with 50 percent in school and 50 percent distance learning; and a full distance-learning plan, “should we be in that same scenario.” When the local plan is shared with the state for the July 24 deadline, Dr Rodrigue said details on how Newtown will address those phases will be shared.

One thing is not expected to change before September: Wearing masks in schools will be a requirement.

“That is one thing we don’t see changing at all,” Dr Rodrigue said.

The Re-Entry Subcommittee’s subgroups are focusing on six areas: facilities, instruction and technology, wellness, governance, social/emotional, and operations.

“These are by no means small tasks,” the superintendent said of each subgroup’s focus. Later she added, “The work will be communicated to you as a board and then out to parents.”

Dr Rodrigue also said she plans to send communications to parents and to offer time for parents to contact her with questions directly.

Distance Learning Survey Results

Also during the meeting, Newtown’s Director of Teaching & Learning Frank Purcaro and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anne Uberti shared results from distance learning surveys offered to students in seventh to twelfth grade, parents, and teachers. Roughly 1,100 parents, 500 students, and 355 staff members responded for the three surveys.

Some barriers to distance learning that people reported, Purcaro highlighted, were family and work issues and a lack of students interacting with peers. For parents of intermediate school-aged students and above, the lack of students interacting with peers “highly resonated.” A lack of being able to interact with district staff was also noted.

“We’ve been looking at these results. We’ve been discussing these results with our subcommittees,” Purcaro said about how the survey results will be used to better improve distance learning plans if needed.

Uberti said some survey responders reported a lack of student accountability either with grading methods or with schedules.

“I think it becomes clear what the priorities need to be as we prepare for the fall,” said Uberti, adding later that some survey comments were “very, very positive” in nature.

After board members pointed out they were not surprised by some of the survey results, due to what they have heard from parents directly, Uberti said the district is working on ways to better plan for effective online learning.

“I know that in the future you are going to see a very different plan,” said Uberti.

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