September 25, 2020
Dear Parents/Guardians, Staff, and Community Members,
Our second full week in the hybrid model of instruction is nearly behind us and I continue to be so proud of the work of all of our students, staff, and families as we work together on our ultimate goal of making sure we stay safe and engaged during these times. There has been a lot of conversation this week about whether and when we should move our PreK-5 learners to more in-person instruction. Please find an update on the status of those discussions below.
Since the announcement by the Secretary of Education Dan French September 22 regarding Vermont schools moving from the hybrid learning model (Step II) to modified, in-person learning (Step III), I have been conferring with our administrators and my fellow Champlain Valley Superintendents about how this transition could safely take place for our youngest learners and their teachers/staff. The Vermont Agency of Education has developed a FAQ fact sheet about transitioning from Step II to Step III to help provide some clarity about the differences between the two steps.
We are being guided in this decision, not only by feedback from our administrators, parents/guardians, and staff, but by the benchmarks created by the Champlain Valley Superintendents Association (CVSA) to assess readiness in reopening. These include:
Adequate staffing levels
Assessing that our health and safety practices and routines have been well established
And determining if the COVID-19 data tracked by the Vermont Department of Health indicates low enough community spread to safely allow for more in-person learning
Here are some of the questions we are still working to answer as we determine how to approach such a transition. Staffing: Do we have enough to accommodate an increase in in-person learning safely? Transportation: while we currently have enough staff for our current level of bus capacity and routes, we don’t know what that would look like if we needed to potentially double the number of students riding our buses. Do we have enough health screeners to handle the increased load of students and staff? Nutritional Services: what accommodations would be needed to our cafeterias from both a structural and safety perspective if we decide to use them for their intended purpose?
Every school district will continue to look different in terms of the steps they are taking toward reopening; one needn’t look any further than this interactive map. We have and will continue to refer to the Strong and Healthy Start Guidelines from the AOE as well as the ever evolving CDC guidance for schools, as our conversations continue. We are still working on how best to make a transition considering the benchmarks stated above in addition to the current guidance regarding the 3-6 ft physical distancing requirements for students in grades PreK-5.
What’s a Flipped Classroom?
As we settle into Hybrid Learning this fall, you may hear teachers talking about using a flipped classroom approach. With students learning in-person two days a week and the rest online, teachers are rethinking their instructional approach to adapt. The flipped classroom model starts with a prompt (e.g., an investigation, a problem, a provocative question, a video) which engages the student in learning before the topic has been introduced in class. Then, when students are together with their teacher, they compare results, analyze evidence, construct arguments, and collaborate in their work. These in-person activities prioritize higher order learning skills when the teacher is with students, which makes the most of our small class sizes during Hybrid Learning.
So why do they call it a flipped classroom? Well, mainly because instead of starting with a lesson in class and then assigning homework, students start on their own with a brand-new question and then go deeper in class with the teacher and classmates. In other words, instead of presentation followed by practice, the flipped classroom is an investigation followed by consolidation of new learning.
Starting with a question also means that we’re designing to engage learners through the use of inquiry. Instead of starting with answers to be learned, we start with a question to investigate. We believe that redesigning lessons to emphasize inquiry and spark curiosity is a sound approach given some of the challenges of keeping students engaged in online learning. We are proud of the work that our teachers are doing to innovate and engage all of their students during Hybrid Learning.
We understand the continued strain and hardship families are experiencing finding childcare during remote learning days. I wanted to remind you of several resources. The state now has 35 childcare hubs in 87 locations. They can be found on this interactive map from Vermont Afterschool. You can also view the hub locations in list format. In addition, the state also has a childcare financial assistance program.
I hope you all have a relaxing weekend and stay tuned for additional updates next week.