The Wellesley School Committee (SC) met on March 31 the same way it did last week — remotely via Zoom, the online meeting platform that’s gone from workplace communications tool to lifeline for a socially isolated population trying to remain connected. The SC was unable to hold its meeting at Town Hall as usual due to coronavirus concerns.
With all Massachusetts schools shut down until at least May 4, 2020 per Gov. Charlie Baker, the burning issue before the SC is how effectively the Wellesley Public Schools are managing the education of its over 5,000 students.
The meeting began with public comments, with parents of school-age children coming to the virtual microphone to air their concerns.
Mark S., a Hardy parent of two, said, “It think that the parents of Wellesley would like to see online and remote learning happen quickly.”
His perception is that such learning has ramped up quickly across the country, but that Wellesley has been slow to adapt. He said that the schools should by this point be able to provide “timelines and deliverables” and that “people are hoping the district is going to do a faster job and not necessarily blame the State for certain things. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Oscar E., an elementary school parent and former teacher said, “It’s been more than two weeks since this crisis started,” and that educationally it seemed like the ball was just getting rolling. He expressed concerns that teachers are not in direct contact with students, which he said “could be as simple as teachers having a 20-minute conversation with each student per day. The lack of engagement is what concerns me.”
“They are obligated to be working eight hours per day. I’m not saying they are or are not. I’m not their supervisor and I can’t account for their time, but I have that concern. When I look at the current picture, I cannot see the output.”
Superintendent David Lussier, citing Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines, said that equity and access issues around pubic education remain a concern, and that last week the SC was “eagerly awaiting guidance from DESE.”
Since those guidelines were released last Thursday, Lussier said school staff has been busy working on what remote learning 2.0 will look like. “We all agree we’d like to see our approach become broadened a bit, more comprehensive, although some things really can’t change such as a continued focus on equity and access, knowing that not all of our students are going to be able to engage.”
DESE guidelines list the top priority of the schools right now as to ensure the safety, social, and emotional health and wellness of its students.
This is disappointing to parents who want to see learning of new academic material move forward.
In an email to Swellesley from a parent who asked to remain anonymous, the parent said, “No administrator or School Committee member questioned how our students will catch up if they do not continue to learn new curriculum. Where is the concern? How can we possibly make up all of that lost curriculum? What about foundational material that you need throughout high school to succeed on standardized testing and moving onto next-level math?”
Lussier said the State guidelines are clear that “remote learning is not synonymous with online learning, where everything goes online and we’re just going to be teaching online classes. That is not the approach the state is recommending or that districts are adopting anywhere in the Commonwealth in terms of public schools.”
He went on to say that there’s a rough recommendation for learning for the totality of both indirect and direct learning “to represent about half of what we would normally expect during a traditional school day. There is a strong recommendation for reinforcing and applying foundations that have been built in the first semester.”
For older students, however, Lussier stated the desire to advance the curriculum more traditionally, which would include the introduction of new material.
What about grading?
The School Committee is still working on that. It seems clear, however, that the new Schools Standard-Based Report Cards (SBRC) rolled out this academic year for K – 5 students will not be able to serve as an accurate measure of performance as related to remote learning. Geared to communicate progress toward Massachusetts’ grade-level standards and expectations, the SBRC indicates to families whether their children are meeting standards; progressing toward standards; beginning to progress towards standards; or not yet demonstrating progress.
How grading will look at the K – 5 level for the rest of the school year is as yet undetermined.
At the middle and high-school levels, where students receive letter grades on an A – F scale, the SC is considering a move toward a credit/no credit assessment, or possibly a pass/fail system. More information on that in the coming weeks.
As the schools work toward their next steps in remote learning in what the SC is referring to as Version 2.0, Lussier noted that he and the SC are in meetings with the Wellesley Teachers Association. The constraints of staff as they try to provide productive learning are real concerns.
Lussier also noted that the SC has heard from families who are concerned that remote learning might go in a direction in which “the responsibilities are so significant that a family can’t possibly support their children in everything that’s being asked.”
Joan Dabrowksi, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, spoke about the needs of the district’s youngest learners. “We want to think mindfully about screen time…we have to keep that balanced and measured with the offline work.”
Dabrowksi also talked about emphasizing the social-emotional piece of education, making teacher-student interactions a priority, and ensuring that kids are getting physical activity. “That’s a big part of wellness.”
Sarah Orlov, Director of Student Services talked about the DESI guidelines for Special Education (SPED) students. “Basically , the guidance we were given is directed among providing some services to students and trying to hold some Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings…IEPs in a lot of ways aren’t suited to a remote environment. While we won’t be able to implement every child’s IEP as written — it simply wouldn’t be possible — what we are hoping to do is talk to families around what they feel they need the most. Then try to develop a plan that is implementable.”
As for high school students set to take the upcoming Advanced Placement exams in May, Orlov said, “The College Board weighed in very quickly with a plan.”
Students will take the exams at home, and College Board has modified the exams significantly. The not-for-profit organization has reduced the scope of content students will be tested on to reflect the part of the curriculum students would have covered up until early March, when many schools started closing across the nation.
“Going forward,” Lussier said, “We’ll see how meetings go with the Wellesley Teachers Association.”
Meanwhile, in town there are signs that kids and families are, indeed, getting restless.
Graffiti at Reed’s Pond; a Brook Path as crowded as a Manhattan sidewalk; the Wellesley College campus and the Lake Waban path closed to all but the 200+ students hunkered down on campus and the staff there to support them after throngs poured onto the privately owned property; accusations of hordes of teens congregating; testy exchanges in the Roche Bros. freezer aisle; and more.
The schools have been closed since March 12.
They’re scheduled to be closed until at least May 4.
Whether schools will open at that time is anyone’s guess. The School Committee will meet weekly on Tuesdays through the coronavirus crisis. The public is encouraged to attend the meetings, and to email any SC member with their concerns.
Here is the agenda for April 7, 2020, 6:30pm meeting, along with information on how to view the meeting in real-time, and how to participate in Public Comments.