3 School Reopening Plans: No Full In-Person at WHS, Max. 4 Hours a Day for Elementary, WMS

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No matter what option the Watertown School Committee chooses, when classes begin in September the town’s schools will not look like they do in normal years.

Students will be attending schools on different days, or in staggered shifts with at most four hours in school each day. Also, Watertown High School will not have a full in-person option due to a lack of space in which to socially distance, Superintendent Dede Galdston said during a School Committee meeting on Monday.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is requiring all districts to submit plans for three scenarios of operating schools this fall, while adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines. The options are in-person, remote learning, or a combination of the two — called hybrid.

School officials are balancing a variety of concerns, but Galdston said there is one primary one.

“The ultimate goal is safety for staff and students,” Galdston said. “We are also trying to balance risk.There is risk associated with all these plans, the central most focal risk is COVID-19. That is the main concern in terms of risk mitigation.”

She added that there are many other risks, such as a loss in educational progress, but the others include: nutritional insecurity, loss of parent employment, access to services provided by schools, and the social and emotional impact of not students being in school with their classmates.

Students in grades 2 and above will be required to wear a mask. For PreK to first grade, students will be given plastic shields attached to hats, with the shield going completely around their head.

Ventilating classrooms will also be a focus, and rooms with no windows will have air filtration machines brought in, Galdston said.

Also, students will be five to six feet apart at all times. Galdston said she and school officials went to classrooms in the different schools to see how many students would fit in a socially distanced classroom.

“Elementary would be no higher than 12. At the middle school we might be able to do 13 or 14 in some of our bigger rooms,” Galdston said. “Class sizes at the elementary level is around 20 — some higher, some lower. What that would means is we would have to add classrooms. If we 100 percent of students come back, we would have to ad 12 classrooms per building to make that happen.”

With construction at Hosmer, and Cunniff students headed to the old St. Jude’s School in Waltham, adding extra classrooms is not an option. Galdston mentioned that the district is renting 20 tents so students could do some outdoor learning even if it is rainy, but they would not be full-time rooms.

The class sizes are higher at the high school, and WHS Principal Joel Giacobozzi said the classrooms are on the smaller side.

“As we measured all the rooms in the high school due to class size of up to 24 students and the small classrooms we have, it is not feasible to have all students be 5-6 feet apart,” Giacobozzi said. “An all in-person option is not feasible.”

PreK and preschool will be limited to eight to nine students per class, Galdston said.

The state has also allowed 10 extra days for staff development and planning, Galdston said, so the first day of school will likely be the week of Sept. 21. Students will now be required to attend 170 days of school, rather than the normal 180.

Surveys

Galdston said the remote learning plan will be used for at least a portion of the district. A certain number of parents plan to have their children attend remotely no matter which option is chosen.

In a survey of more than 85 percent of families, nearly 8 percent said they do not plan to send their children to schools and will attend remotely. Another 15 percent said they are not sure, but are leaning toward attending remotely. In the same survey, nearly half the parents said they want to send their children to school everyday.

The staff survey, which had more than two-thirds response, more than 13 percent said want to do all in-person, over 42 percent said they prefer a hybrid model, and 44 percent said they want to do remote learning.

Details of Options

In-Person Plan:

Elementary Schools

  • Half day of instruction, in-person focusing on the core subjects (math, English, social studies).
  • Staggered start: Grade 1-2, 8:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.; Grade 3-5, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; K (two sessions) 8:15 a.m.-10:15 a.m. and afternoon session.
  • The day begins with a morning meeting and ends with closing circle, and there will be a grab and go breakfast and lunch (to be eaten off campus).
  • Afternoon will be remote learning, focusing on specials (physical education, art, music), FLES (Spanish), science and special education.

Middle School

  • All grades 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., but school is considering a staggered start due to time it takes to get student in the building while remaining 6-feet apart.
  • Day opens with advisory, social and emotional learning for 20 minutes, then followed by English, math social studies and science.
  • Afternoon is remote, with classes such as PE, music, tech ed, health, Kingian training, leadership and student support. There will be reading time every other day, remotely.
  • Students will get a grab-and-go lunch

High School

In-person not possible due to class sizes and room sizes.

Hybrid

Elementary Schools

  • Four hours per session, two cohorts. No staggered starts.
  • Students in Cohort A would be in-person Mondays and Wednesdays and every-other Friday. Cohort B would be Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Friday (the ones Cohort A is not there).
  • Days when students are remote they will take part in specials, FLES and social and emotional learning.
  • In-person days start with a morning meeting and end with circle with classroom. On remote days, students will tune in at the same time.
  • On in-person days, there will be grab-and-go lunches for the next two days

Middle School

  • Two cohorts attending school for four hours on in-person days.
  • Students in Cohort A would be in-person Mondays and Wednesdays and every-other Friday. Cohort B would be Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other Friday (the ones Cohort A is not there).
  • In-person days focus on the core subjects: math, English, social studies and science.
  • Specials, world language, and electives will be held remotely every afternoon.

High School

  • Split into two cohorts, alphabetically.
  • Cohort A attends in-person Mondays and Wednesday, remote Tuesdays and Thursdays, Cohort B attends remotely Mondays and Wednesdays, in-person on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Six period schedule during in-person, with five core subjects and one elective.
  • Remote sessions include asynchronous lessons (taped or non-computer) and a live elective.
  • On Fridays, all student are remote. Students have programs with guidance staff, office hours with teachers, and time to meet with clubs and affinity groups. Teachers have time to plan.

Remote

Elementary

  • The program will be more robust that remote learning offered to students last spring.
  • Students will have more face time with teachers and they must attend.

Middle School

  • Students will have live computer sessions in the morning for English, social studies, math and science.
  • Remote interactive for specials in the afternoon.

High School

  • Seven classes will be split over two days.
  • Fridays, all student are remote. Students have programs with guidance staff, office hours with teachers, and time to meet with clubs and affinity groups. Teachers have time to plan.

Next Steps

The Reopening Task Force will meet again on July 30, and on July 31 the district’s three plans will be submitted to the state, Galdston said.

On Monday, Aug. 3, the School Committee will meet and hear the recommended option chosen by Galdston and her staff. The School Committee will vote to choose the option that Watertown will use.

The staff will make the final touches to the chosen option and on Aug. 10 they will submit the plan to the state. A webinar will be held on Aug. 11 where Galdston will answer questions from parents and others.

See more information in the Superintendent’s Newsletter.

7 thoughts on “3 School Reopening Plans: No Full In-Person at WHS, Max. 4 Hours a Day for Elementary, WMS

  1. Major League Baseball didn’t last a week before the Florida Marlins had 17 players and staff test positive. Games cancelled. Six New England Patriots opt out of multi-million dollar contracts, two because their wives just gave birth recently. Harvard University and MIT are both conducting remote classes for the next entire Academic Year. The Ivy League and Patriot League cancelled all fall sports. Major corporations are still shut down and not opening any time soon. But our School Committee and School Superintendent are still considering which option to pick and whether our kids can go back to school in September?! OK, so maybe they aren’t all rocket scientists at Harvard but I can’t help but wonder why one of the best colleges in the United States with its campus located a mile from East Watertown is going virtual for the entire next year …….but our School Committee needs to think about whether we should open the Watertown Public Schools? Really? The largest teacher union in the state of Massachusetts advised today that teachers do not feel safe going back to the classrooms. Safety of students, teachers and their families was cited as the reason. Over 150.000 people have died in the United States. This pandemic is not over. Why would we risk the lives of students, teachers and/or their families? There is no easy answer to how education will work, but there is an answer to what the safest choice is for all our children, teachers and their families.

    • Harvard is doing this because Harvard can afford to do this. Good for them. Not all schools have a sizable endowment as they do. It would be interesting to see how the decisions would change if the salaries of those making them were on the line as they are for many working Americans. Not everyone has the option of working from home and still getting paid.

  2. Some additional questions.

    1. If schools are remote will the town consider laying off or furloughing staff.

    This seems to make sense given that there will be a number of staff members that won’t be able to do their jobs and furloughing staff could save the town much needed money by not having to pay health insurance, etc.

    2. No mention of sports. If schools go remote either full or part time shouldn’t all sports be cancelled? Doesn’t make sense if kids can’t go to school but can still play on a field in close proximity to others. Soccer, football, field hockey, for instance are three that involve a lot of close contact. Same goes for winter sports should the schools continue to remain in a remote environment. Basketball, wrestling, etc are more examples.

    3. How will we as residents and parents hold the schools accountable? It’s no secret that this past Spring was a total failure on the part of the Watertown schools. What happens if it is repeated?

    4. Shouldn’t parents be made aware of other options for their kids such as online schools that the town is required to pay for if a student is enrolled? This seems far more structured, organized than what WPS can offer. This can be costly but for parents it means daily schedules and a lot more accountability.

    What if any steps did the schools take from the Spring until now to prepare the schools for in person learning? Did they price out ways to equip a classroom with safety measures, explore using other spaces in the schools for classroom learning, explore using other spaces in town for classroom space, etc.

    Also wondering if the town considered partnering with the library to have kids at computer stations in our library doing work.

  3. 1. Yet day cares are open and no one is up in arms.
    2. There is a remote option so your child doesn’t have to go. They are anticipating at least 20% of the kids will not be back in the fall.
    3. WPS are providing more PPE than probably any other district and are getting tents to encourage outdoor learning.
    4. Sports are run by the MIAA – they have pushed out the fall sports season until mid September. Trying to hang on as long as possible but with many other leagues calling of sports I think its only a matter of time. The biggest issue will be busing kids to games.
    5. I was very disappointed in remote learning and I don’t think it works. That being said from what I have heard about other public schools included Belmont, Watertown did a better job than most. Hands are tied because they are trying to make it equitable for all (not everyone has internet at home for or access to a computer for example.)

  4. Let me be brutally honest here: the brighter kids will be just fine however it pans out but the middling and special needs kids will fall behind the longer they are out of ANY classroom. The classroom provides structure and continuity that no amount of distance learning can begin to approach.

  5. No matter the decision, there will be a cohort of parents that are not happy and never will be with whatever plan is chosen. you can’t please a thousand parents with one plan. Make the best of it, find resources, and strive to help improve.

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