Wilton hybrid plan, if needed for reopening schools, takes shape
WILTON — The Board of Education got a more detailed snapshot of what the school days will look like with next month’s reopening, including an explanation of its choice for a hybrid plan.
“Our goal is to make sure that the end user experience is really high quality,” Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith said during an overview presentation of three different reopening plans at the Board of Education’s meeting on July 30.
Along with a total in-person plan — a.k.a. Plan A — and a fully remote one — Plan C — the district at this time is making Plan B — its hybrid plan — one which divides students into two groups, or “cohorts.”
Cohort 1 will attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday under this hybrid plan, while Cohort 2 will attend on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, most students would participate remotely, though some with strong needs might attend in person.
Schools officials said they went with this hybrid plan for one main reason, which was they felt it afforded more time for students to have direct interaction with teachers, rather than going a whole week without seeing them in person.
“I think there’s a feeling that for some of our students an entire week remotely is too long to go without seeing a teacher,” said Charles Smith assistant superintendent for curriculum & instruction.
He also explained that it appeared to be the option most other school districts would be going with.
“That will make it much easier for our staff who live in different communities to arrange for their … childcare,” he said.
Vice Chair Glenn Hemmerle pointed out that this plan amounted to a day less instruction in person for most students, but said he would get on board with it, provided things can now move quickly.
“We’re around the corner from school starting,” he said.
“We need to lock in as soon as possible on a plan … that we can communicate to our parents,” he said, so they can begin their personal preparations.
Smith said staff appeared to be on board with it, and more meetings by grade levels would be forthcoming with teachers and parents.
“There’s really no perfect scenario for any of this,” said Cider Mill School principal Jennifer Falcone.
“I think five days of not seeing an elementary student in particular is a long time,” she said.
While Wilton High School would divide itself alphabetically — with students from A to L in Cohort 1, and students from L to Z in Cohort 2 — students at Miller-Driscoll School will be further alphabetized by classroom to enable those smaller groups to be together.
“But we did not yet come to a conclusion about whether that was what we’re going to do,” Chuck Smith said.
Alphabetizing the cohorts was chosen to augment siblings being able to attend on the same days, although there could still be details to iron out.
“We need to get really granular and look at potential impact on families,” Supt. Smith said.
“We’ve got a model,” he said. “We’ve got an approach. We’ve got some good details,” but everything will require a closer look.
The ultimate decision will likely come in mid-August, driven by the input of health officials at the state and local level.
This week, Gov. Ned Lamont softened his proclamations on school reopening, stating that at their own discretion a district can decide to start the year with a hybrid model, versus a full in-person model.
“If prevalence rates were low and we wanted to go to full remote option, it looks like we will have to get waivers,” Supt. Smith said.
District officials again praised the implementation of the Schoology software program, which they said will help improve parents’ ability to keep up with their child’s assignments and progress.
Toward that end, Supt. Smith said it’s going to be important to maintain a philosophy of “shared responsibility” in regard to school under COVID-19.
“This is not an obligation that I would want to solely saddle on our teachers,” he said of student attendance and participation.
“As a father, I also have to think differently about how I’m on the home side managing and monitoring what’s happening with my kids,” he said.
“I think culturally across the district we have to think about some of our practices differently,” he said.
Fran Kompar, director of digital learning, stressed again that school officials were being mindful of limiting the amount of screen time that any of the students will endure in any of the three plans, at the same time hoping to see them equipped to face any new technological challenges related to the reopening.
“One of the charges that we’re working on right now is ensuring that our students develop the digital learning skills they need to navigate this environment,” she said.
Supt. Smith said another survey is going to be conducted to see, he hopes, exactly how many families will be opting out of any in-person school, no matter which plan is implemented, as the district will simultaneously be responsible for meeting their educational needs.
“It’s critically important … that we begin with a mindset that these kids are full members of the class,” he said, noting they’re still trying to generate creative ideas for more seamless involvement.
“While I’m skeptical, I’m also wanting to hear more,” Low said, noting it was hard for her to wrap her head around how it was all going to look.
“I like to start with the assumption, or the goal, that every kid has to be engaged,” she said.
She acknowledged that distance learning through the end of last year “wasn’t that consistent, and so some kids did end up being bored or unmotivated or distracted, never seeing the teacher, that sort of thing,” she said.
“So we have to be sure we’re not repeating that,” she said.
Smith said more detailed plans, by school, will be presented at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 13, along with the latest survey results.