BREAKING NEWS: Wilton e-Learning to Count Toward 180 Day Requirement

BREAKING NEWS–March 16, 7:45 P.M.:  GOOD news–Wilton Public School superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith announced this evening that the district’s e-learning efforts will count toward the state’s 180-day required school year.

This is a developing story and we will have more details shortly.

UPDATE:  Wilton Public Schools’ administrators notified the school community Monday evening that they have adjusted how the district will consider at-home learning. It will now “count” towards the 180-day school year requirement set by the state Department of Education (DOE).

As a result, it will allow the district to institute more rigorous learning, so that students will not only be provided with “maintenance” work but will now get materials that will “advance learning.”

In an email home to families, Smith wrote that the state DOE has relaxed its criteria for districts to receive a waiver from what they need to do meet state requirements. Administrators believe that now gives them flexibility for distance learning.

“We received updated information from Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona that has given us reason to believe that the state is going to provide greater flexibility in recognizing distance learning days as regular school days. This flexibility will likely allow us to follow our established school calendars more closely. As such, we will be working with our teachers this week to increase their availability to students and bolster our distance learning plans so they not only maintain continuity of learning, but also advance learning,” the letter reads.

The letter from Cardona was brief but clear, but also signaled that CT families will likely need to adjust to home-schooling for a longer period of time than just through the end of March:

“Due to changes in CDC guidance, in which they suggest that there may be long-term cancellations of classes, and US Department of Education guidance regarding districts’ efforts to provide continuity of education, we are planning to reduce your reporting requirements and eliminate individual district applications for 180-day waivers. Now we may all focus our efforts on providing students in Connecticut with continuing educational opportunities to the greatest extent possible.”

By being able to follow the school calendar, the district will not have to consider at-home learning days as “lost” and will no longer have to add them to the end of the school year and extend it.

“As a result, districts should engage immediately in providing continuity of educational opportunities for students and may end the school year at their regularly scheduled end date.” 

Smith wrote that the district is examining all options with regard to the school schedule, including around April’s spring break.

“If we do need to make up school days, we will consider all options available to us to 1) follow a school schedule that will present as few disruptions as possible, and 2) consider how and if we can preserve longer, necessary break periods like summer vacation.  While it is premature for us to commit to a plan for April, June, or August, please know that we are considering all options related to our school schedule, and we will communicate them to you as soon as we are able to do so,” he wrote.

More Robust Lessons

Smith has also instructed teachers to begin developing and implementing more robust learning. The CT DOE has encouraged districts and educators to communicate and collaborate with other districts, and share resources and methods for executing distance learning.

Smith shared an email he sent to Wilton’s teachers, telling them that beginning Tuesday they should “be prepared to work a regular school day” and plan to “scale up virtual instruction.” Digital and virtual tools will be used to advance curriculum, and the district will provide professional development to help the teachers do more remotely. He said the goal is “to be able to implement our enhanced plans by Monday, March 23.”

“…beginning tomorrow we are asking teachers to be prepared to work a regular school day. Here’s what this means:  Starting tomorrow, although we are going to think of these days as regular school days, we are not yet asking anyone to do anything differently instructionally. Principals will be reaching out to Instructional Leaders, Coaches, and others to engage in planning and review frameworks to scale up virtual instruction. Our special services leaders will be connecting with special educators to discuss support plans for our students.  Everyone should be ready Wednesday to begin more robust planning including how we can leverage the tools we’ve begun using (i.e. Google Classroom, Padlet, go bags) to start advancing curriculum for students. Also, beginning Wednesday, we will be asking those who need it or want it, to participate in professional learning activities to support our enhanced e-learning plan and begin to advance the curriculum.  Our goal is to be able to implement our enhanced plans by Monday, March 23rd. 

“We are moving at a breakneck pace at the moment and have quite a long list of logistics to iron out including how best to deploy all of our various staff members most productively in service to students. Please know that in the coming hours and days you will receive much more information and have opportunities through your respective teams and departments to decide how best to instruct your students. As I noted yesterday, this work is going to require our collective best and most creative thinking.”

What had hampered districts before with the 180-day requirement was the issue of equity, and the need to demonstrate that the district could provide appropriate teaching to all learners. In a conversation with GOOD Morning Wilton, Smith used an example to illustrate how difficult that was to do remotely. He described a “for instance” IEP for a pre-K student that might include toilet training activities–something difficult to do remotely.

Smith said the district’s special services teams would be reaching out to families to work out individually how remote instruction will be implemented, adding that the district will do its “best faith” effort to fulfilling all learners’ needs.

Overall, he described Wilton teachers as being “eager to kick into high gear” their work with students, and said he sensed a “new energy” in the effort, as difficult a situation as it has been for everyone.

Smith added that building principals and teachers will be in touch with students and families with more specifics.

The letter that administrators sent Monday evening is shared below:

Dear Parents, Guardians, Caregivers, and Colleagues,

As we begin our first full week with students at home, we hope this message finds you well.  Adjusting to a new way of being – at least for now – is not easy, and we hope you are taking some time to care for yourselves.  As more people across the state and the country are being diagnosed with COVID-19, we want to remind everyone to take seriously the calls for social distancing and self-monitoring.  We continue to work closely with Barrington Bogle, our town health director, and are adhering to his recommendations.  Today’s update is focused on our extended closure and our current plan to address it.  As always, we will post our questions and answers to the FAQ section of our COVID-19 webpage.

What is the status of school closures in Wilton? ­­­­

On Sunday, March 15, Governor Ned Lamont closed all Connecticut schools through March 31.

What is the status of distance learning in the district? 

Earlier today, we received updated information from Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona that has given us reason to believe that the state is going to provide greater flexibility in recognizing distance learning days as regular school days. This flexibility will likely allow us to follow our established school calendars more closely.  As such, we will be working with our teachers this week to increase their availability to students and bolster our distance learning plans so they not only maintain continuity of learning, but also advance learning.  We will also be working with our special education staff to ensure that we are carefully planning for the needs of all students as we move forward with additional distance learning opportunities. We believe our current plans provide an excellent foundation upon which we can build more robust learning activities for all students. We will share an update on this process by the end of the week.

When planning for students’ return to school, will the district consider revisiting the calendar to preserve continuity while also allowing for a summer break that is at least six weeks long?

Based on today’s announcements from Commissioner Cardona, our school calendar may not be as impacted by our closure as we originally anticipated.  As we all know, the situation with COVID-19 requires us to adjust our approach regularly.  We are practicing flexibility in our thinking and appreciate your understanding and patience as we develop, implement, and alter our plans on an ongoing basis.

Know that if we do need to make up school days, we will consider all options available to us to 1) follow a school schedule that will present as few disruptions as possible, and 2) consider how and if we can preserve longer, necessary break periods like summer vacation.  While it is premature for us to commit to a plan for April, June, or August, please know that we are considering all options related to our school schedule, and we will communicate them to you as soon as we are able to do so.

How will Wilton High School’s graduation be impacted by the extended school closure? 

As noted above, it is too soon for us to predict how our school closures will affect high school graduation.  We recognize that graduation is a milestone event of great significance not just to students, but to their families and extended families as well.  When we have more information to share about graduation, we will do so.

We look forward to sharing our next update on Tuesday, March 17.  As always, should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Assistant Superintendent (curriculum and instruction) Charles Smith, Assistant Superintendent (special services) Andrea Leonardi, Director of Human Resources and General Administration (emergency operations) Maria Coleman, or your building principal.