The Wellesley Public Schools community is being encouraged to fill out a survey on schools reopening, take part in focus groups, and engage in an online forum on Thursday late afternoon.
Those invited to the forum (update 7/10/20: view forum recording) will have a chance to hear from Wellesley Public Schools administrators. If you want to prep, you might check out Wellesley Public Schools Superintendent David Lussier’’s latest update from this week’s School Committee meeting (starting at around the 15:30 minute mark). We’ve summarized Dr. Lussier’s points here.
Lussier found the initial guidance on school reopening shared by the state in late June to be “far less prescriptive than we all hoped it would be and believed it would be… essentially they’ve really kicked the can back to the districts to sort out three options for the fall.” Those options are to get all students back in school, take a hybrid in-person/online approach, or an all-remote learning approach.
If it can be done safely, it appears most would like to have students back in school, interacting with teachers and peers face to face, even if the rollout is imperfect. Despite the efforts of staff to come up to speed on remote learning techniques and work on plans for more consistent delivery, Lussier says there’s no substitute for being in school, particularly for the youngest learners.Though any plan would need to allow for at least some remote learning component to protect educators and students whose health, or live with those whose health, could be comprised by attending classes in person.
The challenge for Wellesley and other school districts is coming up with 3 plans over the span over a couple of months, and not knowing if state guidance could change along the way and significantly alter such plans. WPS intends to share educator and family survey results with the School Committee next week, aims to have a draft set of recommendations in place by Aug. 6, and hopes to have a School Committee decision by Aug. 13. School would start either on Sept. 2 or preferably the day after Labor Day, giving staff a full week for final preparation before school welcomes back students.
One possibility is that Wellesley could take different approaches at different grade levels. Regarding the all-students-back model, Lussier says the WPS team has been engaged in “incredibly detailed feasibility work” regarding how classes could be conducted in available space. Principals have been rummaging around in school basements for unused furniture, measuring space with custodians and more to get a sense of how things could work logistically.
A citizen caller at the start of the meeting wondered if WPS might consider other space in town, such as the library, to accommodate more kids for in-person learning.
At this point, it looks “pretty likely” WPS could make in-person classes happen at the elementary school level because of available space, but it would be particularly challenging at higher grade levels. Despite the middle school and high school buildings being larger, their student bodies are too, and the class schedules are so much more complex.
“There are so many dilemmas that exist here. On the one hand we’d all like to know sooner rather than later exactly what the model’s going to be, but yet I think people also want to give us the time and space to develop these things thoughtfully,” Lussier says. He acknowledged the ripple effect of any decision on parents, teachers, staff, and students.
And all this against a background of a fast-changing pandemic, where optimism and pessimism levels change day to day.
WPS is making decisions alongside other school districts, some of which might be more or less able to handle the different reopening approaches. This will surely create political headaches for the state and districts, as communities point to what others are or are not doing. This is already happening as a result of Lexington airing its blueprint of what back to school might look like.
WPS also expects, based on the fact that the guidance delivered by the state in June was labeled as “initial,” that more guidance will be forthcoming. This could address everything from sports and other elective activities to transportation and special education. Based on the guidance given to date, Lussier says he suspects that most decisions will wind up being made locally.