WILMINGTON — To begin the Superintendent’s Report on Wednesday night at the School Committee meeting, Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand confirmed that the Wilmington Teachers’ Association has signed a final Memorandum of Agreement. The MOA for the 2020-2021 school year will be posted on the district website for anyone interested in the details.
Moving on, Brand brought up the necessity for snow or inclement weather cancellations this year.
“Regulations do allow, with local decision, to eliminate them and replace them with a full instructional day,” he explained.
He said that remote days for snow would still require attendance tracking, regular communication, and remote work aligned with the state standards. However, he expressed a preference to keep a snow day option.
Some of the committee agreed. M.J. Byrnes considered that there could be an equity issue that prevents some students from finding alternative ways to get online in inclement weather.
“Perhaps [pushing school days further into] the spring will afford us the ability to possibly get into school,” she added.
Steve Bjork said that taking away snow days would be removing another sense of normalcy that students get so little of this year.
Jenn Bryson suggested that perhaps whether to have remote learning on a snow day could be decided per day.
Jay Samaha supported doing away with snow days and using them as remote days. While Jesse Fennelly said he was inclined toward remote days, he also said he’d like to hear more opinions perhaps from parents and teachers.
The committee suggested sending out a survey to parents to gather their thoughts.
The next items pertained to the revival of the Superintendent’s Advisory Council and School councils and the pursuit of an OPM for the new joint town hall and school administration building.
Brand then gave an update about Wilmington’s applications with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. He said that representatives from the district and the town participated in a call with the MSBA to express their continued interest in pursuing new construction and/or renovation.
When David Ragsdale asked if they would have to resubmit for next year if they’re not chosen, Bryson clarified that she thought they would roll in but wasn’t 100 percent sure.
After that, the superintendent moved onto the school reopening update. In the final word from the second HVAC assessment, Brand said the results showed that all buildings meet the requirements and would be uploaded to the district website for viewing.
In terms of staffing, he repeated that staffing remains an active challenge in which the district slowly makes progress. With substitutes, however, the tone was very different. Dr. Brand said there might not be enough substitutes to cover in case of staff quarantines.
Despite setbacks with the high school going remote for two weeks due to new positive cases, Brand established that the hybrid model switch got off to a good start. He then explained all the reasons that accepting all requests to change learning model (remote to hybrid or vice versa) would be difficult, including but not limited to busing limits, class size limits, and securing and funding additional staffing for accommodating students.
“We’re committed to providing opportunities for families to receive the learning model of their choice,” he continued. “Efforts will be made to accommodate a student at their home school in any learning plan change.”
He added that a survey would be sent out seeking these requests and that it may take 4-6 weeks to accommodate the requests that they receive.
The committee appreciated the superintendent explaining how difficult these changes would be to make. They also brought up the concerns sent in written comments.
“The theme this week is frustration and confusion regarding the hybrid model,” Bryson said. “How are we supporting families to understand and guide their children through asynchronous work?”
Byrnes also wondered what guidelines or support could be given to parents to help set expectations.
Samaha took this moment to explain why it’s preferable to have asynchronous time instead of remote students zooming into in-person classes.
“There are best practices for teaching students in front of you and best practices for teaching someone online… There’s a lot of research out there that says trying to have kids zooming in isn’t beneficial at home or in front of the teacher,” he said.
Fennelly added that all of the learning models have drawbacks and there’s no way to provide an ideal education this year.
While they considered asking in the aforementioned survey what kind of support parents need for their hybrid and remote students, they decided against it.
Bryson said, “When people go to Facebook with questions, worries and concerns, it makes me worry that we’re not providing enough avenues of support.”
The committee was still interested in finding other ways to support parents and caretakers of students in the hybrid learning model.