HUDSON—Questions about school reopening, including kindergarten preparation and classroom use in summer, were the focus of discussion at the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education meeting July 14.
School districts have until July 31 to submit a plan for reopening schools in September under pandemic restrictions, reported HCSD Superintendent Maria Suttmeier and Assistant Superintendent of School Improvement April Prestipino. The districts received some guidelines from the state earlier this month, but local school officials are still on their own in many respects.
Between August 1 and August 7 they will hear more from the governor. The challenge, said Dr. Suttmeier, is “how can we reopen safely, with learning in mind,” while supporting the students’ social/emotional development and meeting graduation requirements?
Like HCSD, each of the other five public school districts in the county must prepare its own plan following state guidelines. There are over 700 school districts statewide.
One issue concerns checking the health of children slated to come to school in person on a certain day. In Hudson last week the questions were when and where should this happen? When the child is already at school? What if a child turns out to be sick and must not stay at school? Will the child go home? How? What if the child’s significant elders are at work?
Another issue concerns HCSD’s music program, which has developed a great reputation in recent years. “Right now it doesn’t look like singing or playing instruments is something we can do” as before, said Dr. Suttmeier, though she saw a potential for some musical activities outside.
Scott Vorwald, the head of the HCSD’s Music Department, said by email July 16. “As with everything, the upcoming year is likely to look very different for our music classes. However, the goal is to provide all our students with the opportunity to learn about and create music at a high level. How that specifically looks is in the works right now. We’ve received guidance from the governor’s office.” One guideline is that for some music performances, the recommended social distance is 12 feet.
An ongoing question is what form school will take. One model is blended instruction, where one group of students gets lessons in person, while another group gets lessons online. The groups alternate, some days in person, some days online. At the July 14 meeting, Dr. Suttmeier said that the version of the blended model that “I keep thinking about” is one half of the students coming to school Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half coming Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays and Saturdays would be for sanitizing the facilities for the next group.
‘How can we reopen safely with learning in mind?’
Supt. Maria L. Suttmeier
Hudson City Central School District
Other versions of this model are also possible, she added. But she warned that even if the school starts with blended instruction, it must be ready to switch to 100% online should it be required to do so, perhaps because of an outbreak elsewhere in the state.
In the new school year, Dr. Suttmeier noted, access to school buildings and facilities will be strictly limited. Parents, delivery people, and repair technicians will be restricted to a designated places.
To draw up reopening plans, the district has formed a steering committee and subcommittees. These committees contain community members, school board members, and district officials. Jesse Boehme, the district business administrator, reported that the Safety and Operations Subcommittee is working to purchase equipment necessary for reopening.
Dr. Suttmeier, on the Communications Subcommittee, reported on the importance of speaking to students, parents, faculty, and staff about different things. The challenge, she said, is to determine how and how frequently to communicate to each of these groups.
Ms. Prestipino chairs the Teaching and Learning Subcommittee.
Meanwhile, the district is working on plans now for this summer’s kindergarten screening and for how to adjust the 1- Year Kindergarten and 2-Year Kindergarten programs, said Dr. Suttmeier by email July 15.
Until now the HCSD has run a Kindergarten Academy in the summer to prepare rising kindergarteners for the real thing. This summer that is not possible. But the district has put together totes full of kindergarten preparatory activities for the children to do at home, Ms. Prestipino said at the July 14 meeting.
Ms. Prestipino also announced that the district will have experience using classrooms for instruction this summer—for three days—when several teachers get training in the AVID college readiness program. Those teachers who feel unsafe in the classroom can get their training via Zoom, but they will have the option of attending in person. The AVID program needs modification for the pandemic reality, but classes will continue to use it.
Also at the meeting Mr. Boehme praised the IT and the Food Services departments for the work they are continuing in the summer, both to feed students and to prepare for reopening.
The next meeting of the HCSD Board of Education will take place Tuesday, August 4, at 6:30 p.m., available to the public via livestream. Those with questions for the board to address must submit them beforehand.