Wellesley School Committee meetings took on a familiar feel over the past few months, beginning with a parade of second grade parents urging public school officials to get their “young learners” back in the classroom. The hybrid model of in-person and remote online learning that Wellesley has adopted this year hasn’t been cutting it for those kids, parents argued.
Callers, limited to three minutes apiece for a total of 15 minutes among them, stuck to their talking points, an art form taken to high levels over and over again in town in recent months, from the Hardy-Update Elementary School debate to the banning of new fur sales.
The parents of second graders consistently thanked the school officials for their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some noting that they chose to stick with WPS instead of putting their kids in private schools. They also pressed the School Committee and School Department to think creatively, raised questions about money and other resources, and faithfully cited the latest stats and guidance from the state, Centers for Disease Control, and other authorities, frequently noting that viral spread has been shown not to be great among kids. Parents of children at Schofield Elementary School accounted for the bulk of callers, referencing their second graders’ larger than average class sizes that have left teachers doing their best but resulted in 7-year-olds flailing in between independent study and various breaks.
Wendy Scarisbrick, a repeat caller, shared with us a letter signed by 170 Wellesley Public School parents and sent to school and other town officials. It read in part: “Current Second Graders lost 1/3 of their First-Grade year to the COVID-19 pandemic. They not only lost time in the classroom, but they were guinea pigs in remote learning during a time when young children are learning the basic educational tools (reading, writing and mathematics) that will drive their academic careers.”
School officials, no slouches when it comes to sticking to talking points themselves, took in the impassioned pleas. But under School Committee rules, no back-and-forth is allowed during the citizen speak portion of meetings. School Committee and WPS officials, however, have referenced the plight of second graders and their parents and guardians later on during meetings. Board members have mentioned hearing such concerns as well during recent PTO meetings.
Of course as it turns out, WPS officials have been working behind the scenes to try to make happen what parents were asking for.
This past Tuesday’s School Committee meeting featured a big giveaway in the form of special guest appearances on the video conference call by principals from across the school system. Then about 28 minutes into the meeting, Supt. Dr. David Lussier did the big reveal—”a piece I’ve been looking forward to”—about second graders in fact being welcomed back to in-person learning four days a week starting on Dec. 7.
“A key part of our reopening plan since the summer has been to prioritize the return for certainly as many students as we can but to have a priority list, and of course our youngest learners have been high on that list,” Lussier said. “In fact we were so delighted when we opened in person to include our pre-K, Ks, and 1s in that particular model. Grade 2 proved to be far more complicated.”
Space, staffing, transportation, and other operational elements across all seven elementary schools were challenges, Lussier said. He acknowledged there weren’t always clear sight lines into this process for the public.
In his excitement in disclosing this development, Lussier at one point misspoke to reference fourth graders instead of second graders, though was quickly corrected by his colleagues.
But soon enough, don’t be surprised if the parents of those fourth graders, plus those with third graders, start filling the citizen speak void at the start of School Committee meetings making their coordinated pitches…
Wellesley High will be a busy place on Sunday
Lussier also gave an update during the School Committee meeting on Wellesley High School, which has temporarily gone all remote due to a COVID-19 cluster.
Baseline testing for students and staff will be conducted over the weekend, with hopes tests can be turned around on Monday, Nov. 30, a professional day for teachers and a day off for students. If all goes well, that could set up a return to in-person classes next week.