School Committee Frequently Asked Questions

School Committee Meeting 9/29/2020

Frequently Asked Questions

 

School and Instructional Questions
What is the target for instructional time for elementary and secondary school students? 

In the hybrid model, the district is providing a combination of live in-person instruction, live remote instruction, and asynchronous learning activities. Taken altogether, the structured learning time averages to 5 hours per day for elementary students and 5.5 hours a day for secondary students.

Are asynchronous activities counted as part of educational hours, specified by law? If so, how is that monitored?

Yes, the time for asynchronous activities is counted as part of the school day when students are in an all-remote or hybrid model. Structured asynchronous learning time is an essential part of hybrid and remote learning.

Why did we choose to have hybrid students only attend in person from 8am to noon rather than full days?

After negotiating with the teacher’s union (Weston Education Association), the administration determined that the best way to accomplish the goals of WPS and WEA was to offer a two-day in school, half day hybrid plan that excused students before lunch.

Are we working to improve the remote day experience for elementary students?

Our big push is to offer live in-person instruction for elementary students five mornings per week. Under that model, there will be still some remote instruction in the afternoon, but it won’t be for as long and much of it will be filled with live instruction.

When Cohort A is live in school, why can’t Cohort B kids  at home be streamed the instruction at the same time?

It is possible to live-stream cohorts with the high school schedule and at a few times during the day with the elementary schedule. A number of high school teachers are live streaming now and the practice is growing. Similarly, many elementary teachers are live streaming morning meetings.  At the middle school, remote students are taking different classes at home than they are at school. This model maximizes in-person learning time in the core content areas. One drawback to this model, however, is that middle school live-streaming causes class conflicts.

Secondary Questions
Because the high school students only see their teachers in-person one day a week, how are we ensuring that our high school students receive full instruction in the curriculum they are responsible for mastering?

In any hybrid model, learning must happen with a combination of in-person instruction, live-remote instruction, and asynchronous activities. The challenge of hybrid instruction is that neither live-remote instruction nor asynchronous activities are as efficient for students as live in-person instruction. Teachers are working hard to develop and share best practices to maximize remote and asynchronous learning. These include live streaming, use of specific applications, and ways to support students as they are working independently or in small groups.

At the middle school, why aren’t core subjects taught on remote days in the hybrid model?

We decided it was best for students to take their core subjects live and in person and take their language, health/P.E., and unified arts classes remotely. One challenge with the hybrid model is that teachers can only teach live and in-person half-size classes at one time. The middle school is exploring how teachers can possibly provide live-remote instruction in the afternoons. This is difficult because middle school core subject teachers are teaching all morning without any planning time already.

At the secondary level, have we considered “flipping the classroom,” which involves providing video instruction for at home daily learning (5 days of week, regardless of your remote or at home days) and using in person class time for practical application of skills taught on video?  

Yes, this is one of the pedagogical models our faculty are employing. Flipped classroom instruction works better in some content areas than in others. We are working to scale up this best practice so that more teachers are “flipping the classroom” more regularly.

Because the high school’s 8-block schedule meets in person only once per week, what do you recommend for students who may have one or two study halls on an in-person day?  

We encourage high school students to take a full schedule, unless they need a study hall so that they can complete their work. We are flexibly allowing students to enroll in additional courses. 

Why do students at the high school have health and PE on their in-person day rather than just core academic subjects?

While elementary and middle school schedules emphasize in-person learning for core academic subjects, the high school schedule does not. This is because following such a schedule would severely limit the rich choice of electives that students have here in Weston, including taking AP classes, continuing with foreign language, and enrolling in two classes within a core subject area. At the high school, we are following the 8-block schedule. The trade off is that each block has the same proportion of in-school and remote learning as any other.

Would the School Committee consider readjusting the current HS hybrid model so that primary academics (math, science, english, history, foreign language) are presented on in-person days with electives on remote only (Wednesday and/or afternoons)? 

No. We would have to deny students classes that they are already enrolled in — including A.P. and foreign language classes — to make the schedule work. 

Weston-Specific Data, and Public Health-Related Questions
Is DESE’s reopening policy binding, or is it a guidance only for the Districts in the Commonwealth?

Ultimate authority to follow a remote, hybrid, or all-in-school model rests with local school committees. With that being said, guidance from DESE and state and local medical authorities is extremely valuable for school committees to make the right decisions that maximize safety and learning for students and staff.

How does DESE’s approach take into account towns with much smaller populations?  It seems like a very small number of affected families could put the district into the yellow or red category.  Does Weston Public Schools include the number of cases in Town by including those cases more localized and  located in senior living centers or at colleges (eg. Regis), versus elementary or secondary school families?

Because Weston’s population is small, it is important to take into account a number of data points, both in the moment and trending over time, to make decisions to move between all-remote, hybrid, and all-in-person models. One measure is DESE’s categorization of districts into green, yellow, and red. Because there would be a relatively small number of cases in Weston, medical and local public health experts would be able understand the context of each case and triangulate the information with other measures to assist schools with making more informed judgements.

Once it is determined that some of the positive tests include college students who are out of state, are those positive tests deducted from the town’s confirmed COVID-19 cases and the town’s percent positivity rate adjusted?

For purposes of local decision by the school systems and the Weston Board of Health, college students that are not currently residing in town are not counted.

Could we use parents to monitor lunchtime so that students could stay for full days?

One important safety measure is to limit the number of people in the building to students and staff only. Adding a rotating cadre of parents to supervise lunches adds risk that, at this point, we are not comfortable with.

If we are able to secure reliable & affordable testing, will that open the door to longer days at the HS & MS (in particular)?

One of the difficult hurdles is how to provide lunch while keeping everyone safe.  Although testing will provide tools and information, we are still struggling with how to provide a longer in-school day that spans beyond lunch.  If ideas and methods are created and agreed on, we are certainly open to enabling a longer day.

Do our opening and closing protocols consider that students may be safer in school than in learning pods or other situations that may not have such stringent safety procedures as the schools?

The students and staff of the schools are our primary concern.  We must follow the guidance of our health professionals.

Pre-K and Elementary Re-Opening to the All-In Model
What is the projected date for the all-in elementary option?

We are in negotiations now to determine a date.

Can preschool return before to an all-in model before grades K-3? The full classes are significantly smaller.

No, once we work this out for the buildings, the PK will be part of that same process.

What live remote instruction is provided to elementary students on Wednesdays?

On Wednesdays, elementary students have a morning meeting and receive three 50-minute blocks of live remote instruction from their classroom teachers. There are two half-hour breaks between the three sessions.

Will the elementary schools be able to deliver the full curriculum in the current hybrid model?  In the 5-day model?

Yes, our goal is, in either model, to provide the full curriculum, particularly the essential learning objectives for students as outlined in the state curriculum frameworks.  However, it must be noted that during this pandemic, instructional time is balanced with the safety procedures, including hand hygiene and mask breaks, and the time it takes to achieve them.  Thus, we may not cover as much curriculum as we hope.

Why aren’t we bringing students back for full days?

One of the difficult hurdles is how to provide lunch while keeping everyone safe.  Although testing will provide tools and information, we are still struggling with how to provide a longer in-school day that spans beyond lunch.  If ideas and methods are created and agreed on, we are certainly open to enabling a longer day.

Miscellaneous
Some students on IEPs have been offered to attend school for both cohort A and B days (4 days / week in person). However, the teaching is repeated…Monday’s lessons for cohort A are repeated on Tuesdays for cohort B students.  How will these students on IEPs attending 4 days per week  receive the full curriculum during the hybrid model?

In many cases, these students receive a number specialized in-school services that necessitate them being pulled out of general classroom instruction. Additionally, students in school can be supported more effectively when accessing remote instruction. Allowing students to attend school four days a week provides them access in-class instruction, remote instruction, and their services.  

Can you tell us when the first semester ends and the second semester starts…in regards to when RLA can re-enroll to hybrid or whatever the admin/science dictates.

Most likely, the last day of the first semester will either be Friday January 29th or Friday February 5th (Day 85, the midpoint of the school year, is Tuesday February 2nd with no snow days). We will start accepting requests to switch back and forth between RLA and the in-school model in early January.

What is Onika Jenkins (METCO liaison to the School Committee) contact info?

onika.jenkins@gmail.com

Planning and Communications 
Will there be a visible reopening plan for the parents to see? 

There is much documentation about our current model on the Weston Public Schools Website. Our next action step is to bring PK-5 students to school five mornings per week, hopefully starting on Monday October 19th. We are currently in negotiations with the WEA. Once we have an agreement, we will share a new elementary schedule, along with updated logistical guidelines for drop-off, pick-up, and busing. 

As far as looking out further into the future, we are committed to bringing students into school as much as our medical guidance and budget allows. Conditions surrounding the pandemic, testing, and vaccines are changing constantly. We are exploring how we can serve lunch safely, allowing us to extend the school day. We are aggressively seeking affordable, reliable testing. Once we have such testing, we will consult with medical experts to see if we can relax the 6-foot physical distancing guideline to allow for an all-in-school model. At the same time, we are monitoring COVID levels knowing that a significant rise will move us to an all-remote model. With so much change, it is difficult to develop a long-range plan. We will work to be as transparent as possible, communicating to the community about the changing circumstances and our next immediate action steps. 

What kind of insights do you hope to receive from quarterly surveys of parents and students?

We plan to send out two kinds of surveys, a monthly quick survey that can provide a general idea of how students and families are managing and feeling about the instruction, technology, expectations, and support in this new hybrid model and a quarterly more extensive survey that can address more specific issues that arise. Each survey will provide a space for students and families to express concerns and give suggestions. The first, quick, survey will be distributed next week, in mid-October. A more detailed quarterly survey will follow in mid-November.

Would it be possible to have a policy of NOT emailing students during off school-hours? 

Yes, for non-automated systems, but this would need to be discussed and considered.  Platforms such as Google Classroom sent email based on trigger points.  If a faculty member completed an assignment for Wednesday over the weekend prior (planning ahead as all faculty must) notification about that assignment are triggered once the teacher completes her work.  However, notifications are user controlled, see this support document for information about how parents/students can manage notifications.

Should there be a limit on communications from schools? Should we move to weekly school/district summary? 

With so much that has changed and the need to ensure parents/guardians are aware, it has been challenging to balance communication at the district and school levels.  We do not currently have the processes and person power to create and manage summary. 

Can schedules for new sports and activities be distributed to parents as far in advance as possible?  

We recognize that scheduling is complex for families given the hybrid model and that time to arrange transportation is important.  We will work with administration at each of our schools to help facilitate this process so that as many students as possible can participate in sports and activities.