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October 6, 2020

Even though items on the Oct. 6 agenda did not explicitly state COVID-19, the pandemic made its way into the discussion throughout the Hamilton School Board meeting.

Pandemic has impact on reopening of school

At this time of the year, principals typically give updates on their site plans that include goals and achievement from the previous year and next steps for the coming year. This year five principals representing schools that serve students in grades Pre-K to 6 presented collaboratively on how COVID-19 had an impact on school operations.

Willow Spring’s Renae MacCudden, Ph.D., Lannon’s Brian Balfany, Maple Avenue’s Kristin Koeper-Hamblin, Marcy’s Michele Trawicki and Silver Spring’s Deanna Wellens described how their school prepared for the reopening of school after schools were closed in March. Woodside Principal James Edmond, Jr., Ph.D., was unable to attend the meeting.

  • Because technology would play a critical role in being able to reopen school, professional development focused on getting staff comfortable usschool board meeting_typeing apps such as Seesaw, Google Classroom and Hangouts, Zoom, Clever, Loom and Screencastify. They credited the agility of the district’s Information Technology team in helping staff carry out instruction.
  • Schools also explicitly taught and reinforced safety expectations with students.
  • Custodial staff provided additional cleaning procedures throughout the school day and evening to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
  • Teachers record lessons each day that can be shared with students who must stay home to quarantine or isolate.
  • Because three times as many parents drove their children to and from school compared to previous years, staff spent extra time to restructure and refine traffic procedures so that students could safely and efficiently get dropped off and picked up each day. Most of their school parking lots were designed for bus traffic and not as much parent driving.
  • In addition to responding to the new traffic situation, staff developed procedures to keep students as safe as possible at lunch, recess, in the office and during team collaboration.
  • Outdoor and large indoor spaces have been maximized to spread out students as much as possible.
  • Keeping tabs on the social and emotional wellness of students has been a priority this year, according to the principals. Optional screening questions were added to the online registration process to gather information about the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of students, including job losses, illness or death in the family. Panorama is another social-emotional learning tool to help staff better understand the needs of students. Staff were trained in and provided resources to help them talk with students about the impact COVID-19 has had on them.
  • Paying attention to the needs of staff has been important as well. Because they are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their students, principals said they are trying to support employee wellness in multiple ways such as general health, nutrition, active lifestyle, financial literacy and job flexibility. They noted that professional development was planned to help them prepare for new technological expectations and provide time to collaborate. They have needed to find creative ways for staff to connect with each other when they can’t be close physically.
  • In preparation for students to learn from home at various time during the school year, more than ever before, lessons are expected to be consistent which will allow teachers to collaborate and share lesson planning. Teachers were encouraged to focus on questions of clarity to determine essential understanding.

Schools have been able to celebrate successfully keeping in-person instruction open for five weeks, receiving much gratitude from families who are happy children were able to return to school, hearing from staff members who tell them they are doing their best teaching and seeing the joy of children who came back excited to be in school and with their friends.

The challenges have been: restructuring with the loss of staff; filling open positions; evolving student contact, staff meeting and prep time; meeting the needs of diverse populations; and continuing to achieve at high levels.

Summer school rebuilt from ground up in 2 weeks

Summer Opportunities Coordinator Brian Balfany gave an overview of this year’s program. COVID-19 caused the program to be scaled back and it was built from the ground up in two weeks, he said. The format for the enrichment and invitational program provided one-hour courses for elementary and intermediate students and three-hour courses for middle and high school credit and recovery courses.

A total of 726 enrolled this year compared to about 2,000 in other years. The focus this year was on retention and recovering of learning for identified students. In grades K-8, 220 students participated in reading classes and 250 were in mathematics classes. At the middle and high school level, 48 students received recovery credits so they could be promoted to the next level. In addition, 359 students participated in “Strength, Agility and Speed.”

Classes were held three days a week from mid-June until early August. Next year the program will go back to five days a week from June 21 to July 16 with July 5 off to extend the holiday weekend.

Personnel action

In personnel business, the School Board accepted the resignation of Silver Spring custodian Lorie Block, effective Oct. 1.