Additional information on Hybrid learning
December 1, 2020
Just a few days ago, Superintendent Lisa Howard and the School Committee had announced that the Winthrop Public Schools will start opening back up by January 4th with the hybrid model. I had an interview with Superintendent Lisa Howard to ask about the school committee’s next steps and how this affects our school. Here are some of the questions and answers related to what everyone is wondering about.
1. How do the new parameters affect winthrop schools?
Superintendent Howard explains to me that the WPS COVID-19 Task Force built and submitted to the Department of Education, 3 return to school models this past July, Fully Remote, Full In-Person and Hybrid. The School Committee voted to start the school year in the Hybrid Model but had to then change the model to a Fully Remote Model of learning given that our town was categorized as a red community by the Mass Department of Public Health. “On November 6th, the governor had announced that Mass DPH changed the metric, and even though Winthrop continued to have very high COVID numbers in the 50s and 60s, we were redesignated as a Yellow community and the Department of Education now expected the school system to transition to a model of in-person learning. On November 23rd, the School Committee chose the Hybrid Model to start on January 4, 2021 in hopes that our COVID numbers will be lower giving us the best chance to return to in-person learning safely and remain in school without interruption.”
She explains how she thought the new DPH rubric was good because, “the original rubric that got you in the red was conservative and not based on a lot of data; it was really based on the total cases you had in your community.” But, one of the things it didn’t take into account was that communities are different sizes. “For example, Winthrop is way smaller than Lynn, but if Lynn had eight cases then they were red, and if Winthrop had eight cases we would be placed in the red too. So it didn’t make any sense, I think the rubric was conservative at the beginning, so I’m excited that they changed it allowing us to move forward and get our students back in the classroom.”
She further details how Winthrop went from very red to yellow because the population of Winthrop was now included, and including the percentage of positive cases in our community would also make a big difference in helping us stay yellow. “Once the new DPH Metric came out, it became my job to now teach the school committee about what it means to be in yellow, what changes have occurred and what we will need to do to transition to in-person learning.”
She met with the School Committee and explained, the data they needed to look at, how long they needed to monitor the status of yellow, what type of information they needed to gather from the Winthrop Board of Health, how many students can return given our 6 foot distancing rule and what the staffing looked like in the current Remote Model. She explained that we have some teachers who are teaching from home right now due to their own medical conditions and that the school needed to make sure they could return to the classroom for in-person learning when we transition to Hybrid. If teachers can not return, she explained that they would “need to either replace them or get someone to be in the classroom to keep students safe and allow the teacher to continue to teach from home via Zoom.”
Superintendent Howard clarifies that one of the other things you have to do in addition to watching the statistics is to “look at your community as your community.” For example, “we should be focusing on Winthrop and not comparing ourselves to other towns.”
“Even though our color status went from red to yellow, our COVID numbers are actually higher than they were when we were red and fully remote. This is something that we can not leave out of our data review as we determine if it is safe to come back. Our schools are very safe inside the building itself but the high numbers in the town can have a huge impact on our ability to remain a safe space as we can not prevent the virus from coming in from the outside. Lower COVID numbers in the town make it less likely that the virus will follow the students into the school and gives us a much better chance of staying in school when we do transition in, so I recommended January 4th as a date to allow time for the numbers to go down and improving our chances to go back and stay back”.
Superintendent Howard further explains the process of choosing. She states, “after sharing the information with the School Committee, they chose the date of December 7th and agreed to have the Winthrop Board of Health weigh in on the chosen date. The educators and healthcare people are weighing in to assist the School Committee in making a decision about when we should go back into the building.”
The Superintendent also gave the School Committee and the Winthrop Board of Health all of WPS’ protocols for health and safety that are based on the CDC guidelines. She mentions that the school’s air quality was tested and was in excellent standing and filters in the system have been upgraded to allow for a stronger filtration. All schools have new safety signage, which are PPE (protective equipment) and mask wearing protocols. Although the school’s filtration systems were adequate, Mrs. Howard stated that, “We felt strongly that we needed to update those and not just make them good but make them the best that we could make them.”
2. What is the school committee saying?
Superintendent Howard explains how she has been keeping the School Committee up to date. “I am surrounded by some incredibly talented people: your principal, assistant principals, teachers, ESPs, Custodians, secretaries and nurses.. I have used them all to build the return to school plans and provide updated feedback to the school committee,” she states.
She also says that the school Committee is pleased that we are ready to open when the COVID numbers in town are lower than they are right now. “We are a fortunate community with our up-to-date schools and an invested group of people working tirelessly to get us to in-person learning. We are trying to scrape up the money from Covid relief funds to buy chromebooks and headsets and cameras and everything else we need can provide the remote learning that we are doing right now and the in-person learning that we will soon be adding.”
She goes on to explain that neither remote nor hybrid models were the preferred options. “We wanted to go back to school in hybrid in person learning first, but we couldn’t because Covid and the original DPH metric wouldn’t allow us to do that. But the new Metric is allowing us to now move forward.”
She reflected on the original remote the learning process and the changes that will be made when we transition to Hybrid. “Last spring was difficult for everyone. We had to teach teachers how to teach kids how to learn in a totally new way…through a computer. When we started, it was sort of like driving a car that needed some repairs to make it drive smoothly. We learned a lot in the spring and made those repairs between the spring and now. We listened to the staff, parents, and students and have built a new Remote learning plan that reflects on those changes. Now that we are transitioning to in-person learning, we will still be offering a remote model and add the option for others to come to school in-person. As we move forward we still have the same number of kids, we still have the same number of teachers, so when we go into the remote model we’re going to have a teacher teaching kids in front of them, kids remotely, and kids who elect to say home five days a week.”
She says that middle schools and high schools have it easier in terms of remote learning because they have much stronger technology skills, whereas most elementary kids, especially from Prek to (the) second grade kids will need a higher level of support given their skills.
3. Is there anything you want readers to know about in regard to covid parameters/hybrid?
Although there is an option to stay fully remote, we also have an obligation now to offer Hybrid. Given that we have the same number of teachers and students so we have to be creative. Let’s look at the math first. We have 553 kids at the high school enrolled, and 100 kids who will stay fully remote. The Hybrid group needs to be in classrooms with students sitting 6 feet apart which requires us to bring students back in much smaller groups. This will require us to split the grade levels into two groups of students, Blue and Gold and they will attend in-person learning on different days.
The Superintendent further explained that at the Middle and High School level, when the blue group goes for their in person (hybrid) learning, the gold group will be home streaming into that class, what you will see (what you will notice) is that there’s going to be half the amount of kids as usual, if not less. Most of the class sizes are going to be about eight to ten kids in that class.
“At the middle/high school level, you are going to notice that there will be some teachers who can’t come back to work. So we have some teachers that Covid itself is very dangerous to them… if they can’t physically come back to teach when we go hybrid, it’s reasonable to let them teach from home where they don’t have to come in contact with anyone, in order to keep the quality of teaching at the highest level we can” she says.
“We will still have to have an adult in those classes to keep the students safe while they are engaging with the teacher on Zoom. At the Elementary level, students who are remote five days a week, will actually be placed in a cohort and assigned a “remote teacher’ to ensure we can focus on their developmental needs and ability related to technology and overall learning. This will enhance the remote experience that we originally thought we would be able to offer which is very exciting.”
Some are wondering what school will look like when we return. Our schools will look different; there will also be more staff in the hallways that will make sure that students follow guidelines, the cafeteria seating will be spread out, there will be lots of hand sanitizer and posted reminders about staying safe, you will have your desks cleaned before you sit down, you will have mask breaks and EVERYONE will be wearing masks at all times. Mr. Crombie will be creating a virtual orientation video in which you will hear about the changes and see the inside before you start . As for the schedules, they would be as they are if we were in full person except half the people will actually be in your classroom then you are used to.
“I am hoping we can start winter athletics. We are waiting for the School Committee to decide on that and we are waiting for MIAA to decide the date. Athletic competition will be different as there have been many rule changes to keep you safe” the Superintendent says.
As for the staff, they have been trained on these news rules and protocols to keep you safe and in school. “Custodians have been there since day one,” she says, “they’re still there, cleaning and posting signs and setting up classrooms. The cafeteria staff has been trained. They’ve been amazing, they have been with me all summer training and reconfiguring how meals will be prepared and available to you. We will continue to have meals for kids in school and those who are at home.”
There will also be different start and end times for classes. “We are going to have altered movement in the hallways… but what I can tell you is it won’t be terrible. It’s not going to feel like a juvenile detention model where you have no freedom to make decisions because you are an older group of students and once you learn what is expected to stay safe, we all trust that you do so. My opinion is that kids are more adaptable than adults and once you know what will allow us to keep the high school open, I know you will all give 100%. The teachers have been pumped to have you all back in class. Our teachers have been back in their classrooms teaching you virtually since September 16th and they miss the in-person relationships with you. Our teachers are comfortable in the building, so that should make you all comfortable. They are eager to have you return!”
“I feel very strongly that every single kid who has gone through this pandemic is going to be impacted in an emotional way, for life. And it’s how we address that from now forward. We will do that in two ways. First, in a celebratory way, where we acknowledge your resilience and your flexibility. I think this generation will have such a heightened awareness of emotion in people because, prior to Covid, (she demonstrates talking on the phone), we mostly communicate by text and social media posts. Now, being home and with small groups of people we have been forced to have face to face conversations and see people’s emotional reactions to what has been said to them. I think this has been a good thing for us all. In the past we would primarily communicate by text or posts allowing us to make comments that they did not realize could be hurtful. For example, we may have texted a comment such as, ‘Did you see the vest he/she was wearing …UGLY’ or post an emoji that was not overly complimentary about someone or something. I think Zooming and being stuck at home with our families all around us has changed some of that because people are in front of you physically and now conversations are more in-person look so you actually see that emotional response. Believe me I know that texting and social media has not gone away but I do think there has been growth in the social/emotional awareness of other people’s feelings. There have been additional good social outcomes of this time as well of course. Zooming with extended family is a good example. I imagine you have all spent more time checking in with grandparents and extended family then you did before COVID. I could probably write a book about the social emotional impact of not doing what you used to be able to do… and the impact on kids. We will be focused on recognizing and helping kids adjust to this for many years to come.”
4. Were there any plans made to help us further into the school year?
“Your teachers will remain very focused on your academic and emotional needs and do everything necessary to ensure your needs are met. We are in this together and they will always be here for you” she says.