The Wellesley School Committee (SC) met on July 15th via Zoom meeting to discuss the results of the Family and Educator surveys, which were sent out online earlier this month. Wellesley families were asked to complete the survey to help the schools collect essential data on key reopening topics.
The major issue that the SC and school administrators are grappling with right now is what school will look like in the fall for the Wellesley Public School system’s 5k+ students.
The upshot according to Superintendent David Lussier: “My expectation is that we’ll be coming back in a hybrid schedule…We don’t want students away from school for more than needed.” He says at this point Wellesley administrators will be devoting their energy to what such a model will look like.
Online learning “extraordinarily difficult”
The meeting started off with public comments, with parents of school-age children coming to the virtual microphone to air their concerns. Commenters agreed overall that online learning was, as one parent put it, “extraordinarily difficult…And we are in a best-case scenario family. We have one working parent. I am a stay at home mom. We have internet and devices for everybody.” Even with these advantages, she said the school year from March on was challenging, and she wants to see kids in the classroom.
Other parents echoed the sentiment that online learning just didn’t work for their kids and beseeched the SC to reopen schools in the fall. Judy and Nate Walsh asked the SC when considering hybrid models to keep in mind families in which both parents work. “One week on and one week off is hard,” Nate said.
Betsy Komjathy said the schools must address systemic racism and social justice, commenting on the urgency and need for concrete actions. “I urge you all to prioritize this work…Students have shared their painful experiences and they need the WPS to show that you hear them.”
Educators are with Komjathy on this point as reflected in the survey in which they rated anti-racism education as a top personal development need, along with remote learning support.
The SC has been in data-gathering mode as they’ve sifted through the results of the comprehensive, non-binding surveys that were sent out to both families and educators. Anne Beauchamp, Coordinator for Curriculum, Assessment & Accountability, and Joan Dabrowski, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, presented the results of each survey. The Family Survey, answered by 2,754 parents and guardians, covered learning model options; transportation; before and after school care; and meals in school. The 733 educators who answered the survey included over 80% of Wellesley’s teachers. The educators weighed in on their thoughts on returning to school buildings; remote and hybrid models; and needs and concerns.
Generally speaking, families were split down the middle between those who want to see kids go back to a full in-person model of schooling, and those who want to see a hybrid model put into place. More families preferred a within-week hybrid (for example, alternating between one day in school, one day at home) over a by-the-week hybrid model (one week on, one week off). Educators rated by-the-week and within-week hybrid models similarly.
Two out of three educators responded that they can return in person, however three out of five said they are nervous about returning, citing concerns about safety protocols and procedures.
Which comes first?
“The biggest chicken and egg dilemma in all of this work is we want to know from parents their intention, to help build a schedule, but they can’t tell us their plans until they know the schedule,” Lussier said.
The superintendent expressed the need to start making some concrete decisions so that the schools can then ask parents and staff what their intent is for fall 2020. “At a certain point, it has to be binding,” he said.
For staff, yes, at some point they will have to make a binding decision—are they in, or are they out? Families, however, are not under contract to the school system and have the right to withdraw their student at any time. Under Massachusetts law, parents or guardians may teach their school-aged (six to sixteen) children at home as long as they notify the local school district and receive approval for a home schooling/otherwise educated plan. (Students older than 16 may legally discontinue their public school education.)
So if families find a hybrid model objectionable, they may just not come back at all. Or even worse, they could bail part-way through the school year. Already we hear all sorts of creative schooling ideas being bandied about. The most popular seems to be the home-school co-op model. Families who get going on that would each kick in a monthly amount (we’ve heard numbers that range from $500 to $1k/month) to hire a teacher who would come to them and educate their group of kids. Think of it as the English governess model, American-style.
And there’s always home-schooling of course, for those parents with inclination, patience, and confidence to make it happen.
Don’t stand so close to me
The idea of social distancing loomed large at the SC meeting, and how effectively students and educators can be kept six feet apart. Lussier noted that some some studies suggest that a three-foot minimum might be sufficient for social distancing, noting that “the science is still very much emerging”
Emerging science notwithstanding, Lussier said that after conversations with the Wellesley Board of Health, he is convinced that six feet should be the absolute minimum standard for social distancing. “We believe we have to be stewards of great caution.”
The SC passed unanimously a motion put forth “To support planning with a six-foot minimum standard for social distancing and initial reopening”.
The SC still must work up a fully remote option for those who can’t come back due to personal concerns or because they are part of the 1 in 6 families that have a medical need for a full remote model.
Upcoming big dates:
- July 31: An overview of WPS SY20-21 reopening plans is due to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)
- August 6: WPS administration to present to School Committee three models: full in-person, hybrid, and full remote learning
- August 10: Final draft of WPS SY20-21 reopening plans due to DESE
- August 13: WPS SY20-21 reopening plan shared with the community
No graduation outside
Although it was a nice idea, the kibosh has been put on a hoped-for late-July graduation event on the Connor Darcy Memorial Field. The Board of Health got to be the bad guys on this one. When asked by school administrators to weigh in on whether kids can and/or should get together for a field graduation, the Board’s sympathy for what the Class of 2020 has lost did not outweigh the dangers of bringing together a large group of people.
Those high school doors haven’t entire slammed shut on the 2020 grads. Principal Jamie Chisum always leaves a light on for the kids, so maybe something can be organized for them to connect at a later time.
High school students step up
High School Student Advisory Reps Ian Lei and Rachel White have created a website to help keep WHS students informed about all upcoming educational matters. The goal is to keep students informed about the issues that affect them. Here’s a link to the site.
Hunnewell design gets thumbs up
The SC voted to accept the Hunnewell School schematic design. The estimated cost of the school is expected to be $45.1 million.