Board hears details of new normal schoolday

HUDSON—Praise for teachers, students, parents and staff—in the face of changes and on-the-fly adjustments—characterized administrators’ reports on the start of the school year at the Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting October 6.

“We’re all rookies” in this new world, said Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier. “Something new happens every day.”

Despite a commitment to fulfilling educational requirements and preparing students for state tests and college entrance exams, “I’m not expecting teachers to cover everything they used to cover, especially with online courses,” said Hudson High School Principal Robert LaCasse.

Major concerns include safety, scheduling, the need for outdoor time, the fate of standardized tests and state aid administrators said.

In September children began returning to school buildings for the first time since March. Pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, in addition to some special education students, have been having in-person classes Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Sixth through tenth graders are divided into two groups: one attends class in person Monday and Tuesday, the other attends class in person on Thursday and Friday. On school days they are not in their building, children are expected to take their classes via video screen. Eleventh and twelfth 12th graders take 100% of their classes via video screen. So do students in all grades enrolled in the all on-screen option.

With this arrangement, some teachers alternate between in-person and online instruction for online-always students. “It’s really difficult to teach online and in-class at the same time,” said Mr. LaCasse. “I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am if my teachers.”

“It’s a tough teaching load,” Junior High Principal Derek Reardon added.

Elementary School Principal Mark Brenneman said that “teachers are working around the clock.”

Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement April Prestipino offered “additional kudos” to teachers who support the professional development of other teachers as they retool for a remote audience.

Mr. Reardon also praised Paul Stocker, head of Buildings and Grounds and his staff for marking where students can sit and stand to maintain social distancing.

The students “are just happy to be here,” said Mr. LaCasse.

Both principals reported “no” issues” with masks.

New York State has cut school aid as specified in the state budget. Dr. Suttmeier reported that a state education official implied that the Hudson District’s high rate of poverty and low wealth compared with average would taken into consideration when the state decides how much to cut in the next installment of state aid.

On the subject of temperature checks, the superintendent said that students in all schools who arrive before 8 a.m. go to a “large area” where they stay socially distanced. For junior high and high school, that area is the gym, she said.

In the gym, the students sit on mats without talking to each other, sometimes for as much as half an hour before homeroom. Currently, high school homeroom lasts from 8 to 9 a.m., though Mr. LaCasse said at the meeting that he hopes to “shrink” homeroom time.

Teacher desks now “look like the command table of Starship Enterprise,” Mr. LaCasse said. Multiple video screens surround them. Some teachers wear headphones and talk through microphones, even in the presence of in-person students. Sometimes more than one teacher broadcasts their lessons from the same room. In such cases, there have been incidents where one teacher’s students heard a different teacher’s lesson. The teachers had to move further apart. Some teachers teach from home.

Lunch is “flipped,” said Mr. Brenneman, with teachers eating in the cafeteria and students eating in the classroom.

If a child shows symptoms of Covid-19, all children in the household must be sent home, said Mr. Brenneman. Dr. Suttmeier reported that school nurses are wondering whether they can use their own judgment to determine whether a symptom could suggest Covid-19. She and the nurses meet regularly with Columbia County Public Health Director Jack Mabb.

Mr. Brenneman reported that so far his school has not had to use “Covid room” it set up for students with fevers.

Mr. LaCasse said that some long tests, such as the AP exams, might be “condensed.” Dr. Suttmeier said the state is expected to decide the fate of the Regents tests soon. If Regents tests stick to their normal schedule, the next Regents tests will be in January. The fate of the grade 3-8 assessment tests is up to the federal government.

Ms. Prestipino said the state has decided it’s not possible to do assessments on a virtual platform. Students on the 100% online model would have to come to school to take the tests.

‘Something new happens every day.’

Dr. Maria L. Suttmeier, supt.

Hudson City School District

Mr. Reardon announced that the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) college-preparatory program has been extended to eighth grade but with more focus on Google files. Students are advised to leave their heavy AVID binders at home more frequently. Ms. Prestipino what’s bring discussed is how to “honor the intent of AVID” while adapting it to the new circumstances.

Also at the meeting

• Mr. LaCasse said that the attendance of online students is a concern; eleventh and twelfth grade students will be surveyed as to who wants to resume school in person

• Dr. Suttmeier said that College in High School classes are to proceed online

• Fire and lock-down drills are will still take place, now with social distancing protocols

• There are 10 locations throughout the District where people can pick up free breakfasts and lunches for children

• Mr. Brenneman said it is important for kids to be outside and he hopes the school board will allow kids to go outside, “even if only for a few minutes, in very cold weather”

Gym classes are outside, he added. For recess the district has “broken students up” into different play areas. There are mask breaks

• A challenge, said Mr. Brenneman, is “how to make school fun” for children now that big events cannot happen. Associate Principal Amanda Klopott spoke about intervention to keep elementary students and their families engaged and Associate Principal Ian MacCormack spoke about dividing elementary students into “houses” that compete against each other.

Sports have started, Mr. Reardon said. Players are allowed only two guests. In some sports, there are “concerns that players can’t tolerate masks.”

High School clubs are starting online.

• Ms. Prestipino said that in her office, with fewer people in the school, “It’s quiet, but it’s depressing” Mr. LaCasse said the sight of students sitting on the gym mat not being able to talk to each other “is kind of sad.”

Next meeting of the Hudson City School District Board of Education will take place Monday, October 20, at 6:30 pm, in Hudson High School.

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