Wilton Schools: Learning in “Unprecedented, Uncharted Territory” & “Putting Teachers & Students First”

Like everything right now, last night’s Board of Education Special Meeting was incredibly unusual, with individual BOE members and school administrators arrayed on a screen, each in a little box to participate by the ZOOM online meeting platform. It’s a good metaphor for what many of the district’s students will start to experience when their learning goes online instead of happening inside of a brick-and-mortar classroom.

The meeting allowed the BOE and members of the public to hear for the first time how the educators are moving full steam ahead into what one called “unprecedented, uncharted territory” for learning, that is also evolving extremely rapidly. GOOD Morning Wilton will do our best to summarize what was covered and what the community can expect.

Kevin Smith, Superintendent

Smith paid compliments to his staff, who he said, “have been tremendous in ramping up efforts to support students and families.” Administrators, teachers, other support staff have been working overtime to support the current plan that is in place and enhance the plan so we can begin to move forward through the curriculum again.

He specifically recognized Chris Burney (town/school facilities director), Jose Figueroa (head custodian); maintenance staff Matt Corcoran, Ramon Martinez, and Mark Esposito who are not only conducting deep cleaning of school facilities, but also supporting the town of Wilton in addressing town facilities; and delivering technology and equipment to homes of students who don’t have materials in order to make sure they can access digital learning. “This is truly an all-hands-on-deck moment and our staff is exceeding expectations.”

Status with State Dept. of Education 180-day waiver:  The commissioner has eliminated the 180-day waiver requirement and directed school districts to move forward with distance learning plans.

  • District can stick with original calendar
  • Can bring all teachers back to work, without having to implement a memo of understanding with the Wilton Education Association (WEA) (teachers’ union)

Calendar, End Date, Spring Break & Graduation:  The district will run much closer to the original calendar than was first feared, since the 180-waiver requirement was eliminated. While Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13 are considered similar to ‘snow days,’ in that they will be added to the end of the calendar, the district still hasn’t nailed down an exact end date, however, as there are still some variables still to be worked out.

  • Spring Break:  Smith’s recommendation is to wait at least a week to consider options. Smith said he would like input from district families, to find out whether they had vacation plans made before the COVID-19 pandemic and intended to go, or if they preferred something different.  “I want to get input from our families and then I’ll come back with a recommendation.” [email BOE] Options are:
      1. Do nothing and keep it as it is
      2. Cancel it entirely, work through the spring break and end the school year a week sooner
      3. Move it earlier in hopes of getting back into the schools for more time in the traditional classroom setting
      4. Move it later, something Smith said he wasn’t “entirely clear on reasons why we’d want to move it later.” Perhaps, he said, to continue or repeat deep cleaning buildings or additional prep work before opening
  • Graduation:  The date will remain the same as was previously announced–June 13. However, what it will look like is still unknown.

Free and Reduced Meals:  The district has surveyed families who are eligible for free and reduced meals and will be providing lunches to many of them; in addition, the district has asked if other families need lunches provided. Chartwells will prepare those lunches in the Middlebrook kitchen and the district will deliver them.

Building Access:  Building access is restricted, per instructions from Wilton’s health director and district medical advisor; the only staff with access are “essential services,” including those providing lunches, and select business office staff to manage payroll and accounts payable. For now, staff and students will not be able to get materials currently in the buildings, including musical instruments or other items in classrooms.

Budget:  Administrators are reviewing the budget to get a clearer sense of where money is being spent as a result of the closure. Smith recommended that a portion of the $160,000 authorized last week by the BOE for stipends be allocated for instructional materials and reserve the remainder to address special education compensatory education costs.

Staffing:  Smith said that all staff have “mobilized to rise to this unprecedented occasion” and are meeting the needs of Wilton students and families. District officials are “working collaboratively with all bargaining units to ensure that work continues, albeit virtually in most cases.”

  • WEA:  There is a memo of understanding (MOU) initially in place, and the district is considering a longer-term MOU for the new, distance learning environment
  • WASA (Wilton Administrators & Supervisors Assoc.):  All administrators continue to lead district efforts and respond to families from remote sites
  • WAESCA (Secretaries, Clerical, Aides):  Many staff have been working from home (secretaries, college and career resource, business office); Smith said the district is working with union membership to “explore ways to engage all employees to support our distance learning efforts.”
  • Custodial:  Custodial staff has been working tirelessly to implement new, deeper cleaning protocols in all of our buildings.

Field Trip Cancellations:  The Paris and Costa Rica trips have been cancelled, as has the music field trip to Massachusetts, and any other trips scheduled for April. Smith predicts other trips for May and June will also be cancelled, but he will update on those down the road.

Communication:  Our intention is by Friday (March 20) to send out another detailed communication about the learning plan, both with district considerations and by school as well. So we’ll have a parent/student manual and then a teacher manual.  We’ll have that ready to go on Friday.

Curriculum, Chuck Smith
  • “The goal this week has been to just get teachers and students used to the new learning environment using the new tools, and establishing new routines. To make sure that everyone was in a place cognitively and emotionally, if they’re ready for a more rigorous curriculum. Fortunately the feedback that I’ve gotten so far has been very positive.”
  • “As we move forward in the coming weeks, we’ll begin to very gradually ramp up the rigor of the curriculum and try to move the curriculum forward. I want to emphasize very strongly that it’s going to be gradual. Both teachers and students need some time to figure out how this can work in the best way possible.”
  • “We have a lot to consider:
    • availability of students and teachers given their particular circumstances at home.
    • accessibility of technology
    • how comfortable are teachers and students with using some new tools, especially right away
  • “What’s important to me is that we have a lot of work to do around figuring out how to come back to curriculum, which means identifying what the major work of each grade level is, niche, subject area so that we can make sure that our students are ready for next year. We’re all very preoccupied right now with the immediacy of the demands of social distancing. But we do need to think about the long-term impacts for our students and for our curriculum.”
  • “That’s going to bring us into some thorny issues around assessment and grading in an online environment.”
  • “And of course, we have to think very carefully about how we can provide specialized supports and services to our students.
  • “Even something as simple as taking attendance has become much more complex and nuanced than you can imagine.”
  • “What you’re going to hear tonight is our best thinking at this time, given the information that we currently have. Things are changing rapidly every day. So it’s reasonable to expect that our thinking may change. But we’re committed to making sure that we are keeping everybody up to date on anything that does change.
Fran Kompar, Technology–”e-Learning 2.0 and 3.0″
  • “We are in unprecedented, uncharted territory. It is something that has evolved so quickly. We have to start by reflecting on what has happened in the last seven days, which is really only four school days. We presented a plan to the Board of Education, not even a week ago, and it was a plan at the time. That was our best thinking that really did put what we knew at the time at the forefront. Some of us are calling it the e-learning plan 1.0.”
  • “You may hear about e-learning plan 2.0 or even 3.0, remote learning or distance learning. But really it’s about learning. Whatever phase we are into this plan, it has been already about learning and it’s been about community. That’s really the most important part.”
  • Modern learning is ‘VUCA’–volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. I can’t think of any other time where that is absolutely the truth.
  • “It starts with our teachers, our students, and putting everybody first. That’s what this week was about–making sure we’ve got things in place to support our teachers, to support our families, to make sure that our students are going to be okay because this is a different kind of situation.
  • This week we’ve made sure that we’ve had access to devices. A survey that went out last week asking families that didn’t have devices at home to let us know–we received 124 requests from families. On Wednesday (March 11) when we closed, we had actually delivered about half of those. In the meantime, we’ve been continuing to deliver the rest–one example of how everybody has come together and how incredible everyone has been.
      • To get devices into the hands of students after we were closed, when we really didn’t want students or families to have to come to the buildings, three staff worked on master spreadsheets, coordinated by Maria Coleman. Fran Williams putting together a map, and Jose Figueroa hand delivered all the devices. Eric Haakonsen and his staff made sure the devices were found and set up. The involvement is massive and takes everybody to coordinate it.
      • The second part, there needed to be access to technical support, so the LLC team, has been working very, very hard making sure that things work for teachers, for students, for families. We had a tech help support system put into place that is a form on our e-learning plan website. Either through email or getting onto Google hangouts or a phone call and working through things with people.
  • With curriculum, to make sure that our units that are coming up, that we’re ramping up to have e-resources that originally had been physical, whether it be books or materials that would have been used with students, that we now are trying to find the right e-resources to meet those needs of our curriculum.
      • We have upgraded to the zoom web conferencing. Many tech ed vendors have been wonderful about rallying around schools districts to help. Zoom offered free service; however, in order to get it up and running took several days and took our IT staff being on the phone for many, many hours. But it’s up and going and available.
      • We’ve upgraded lots of licenses from Lexia, for reading comprehension; Newsela, which provides collections of units and leveled tech sets; Nearpod, a student engagement platform; Google Meet; “it goes on and on.”
  • We’ve made sure that we can meet professional learning and training that’s needed by our teachers to actually work in this new environment:  being able to set up a Google classroom, manage it, use Google Meet, use video instructional tools, being able to create a mini lesson record themselves, being able to add questions. “There are many, many different things that we’re translating from what has been physical to what is now online.” Things that are normally done in managing a classroom, engaging students, ensuring that they’re learning, are basically technology type skills when you go online. We launched a professional learning tool, which is a self directed tool today.
  • We can see that already in a very, very short period of time, students are engaged. This is very impressive when we look at the fact that we just launched this, it’s only been two days.
  • Digital Dashboard Engagement Stats:  Last 3 months vs. Last 24 Hours:
      • We’ve had almost as many educators and students engaged in the last 24 hours as we did in the past three months.
      • In the top 10, what used to be things like Wikipedia have fallen off and we now have things like Google sites, Google forms for analysis, Newsela, uh, been driven up to like number three or four tool being used.
  • It’s a tough time. It’s very anxiety provoking. Our staff, our administrators, everybody has been wonderful about making sure people feel a little bit more at ease. The routine is coming back–the normalcy and moving on with curriculum and learning.

Question:  How do parents know what’s getting done?

Answer:  When we begin next week with all teachers being engaged in Google classroom with students, there’ll be a checklist of all of the things that need to be done on that day or for that week. The principals will be able to talk to it a little bit more with details based on each school. There will be reflection, there will be assessment, there will be feedback. All of those things will be available because teachers will be available on a daily basis. The onus is more on the parents right now and it should really be on the students and with the teachers collaborating. Each building principal will have more building specific details.

Miller-Driscoll, Kathy Coon

“My staff, my students, my parents have been incredible. Last Monday (March 9), about a week and a half ago at around 11 o’clock, we had an idea that schools might be closed and within less than two days, my coaches and my interventionists got together and put together four weeks of plans for the kids in addition to 800 ‘go bags’ for all of them to take home. Thank goodness we sent them home Wednesday (March 11).

“I’ve had multiple emails from parents thanking us for the resources. One parent email was very complimentary about all of the information and then very eager to turn her children back over to us as soon as possible.”

“As we went forward with our e-learning plan 2.0, we had three goals in mind.

  • For the students to stay both physically healthy as well as emotionally healthy.
  • To make sure that things were developmentally appropriate. So our plan for pre K-2 is a bit different than other plans because our use of Google classroom is a little bit less technology than everyone else.
  • Everywhere we could keep things the same, we were going to try to keep things the same.

We sent out a weekly plan on Sunday and our goal over the next few weeks is to be able to enhance the plan to move instruction forward.

Next week:

  • Parents will get again, a weekly plan for preschool, kindergarten, first grade and second grade.
  • Embedded in those plans will be instructional videos
      • By grade level, we have our instructional coaches doing academic videos by grade level–reading, writing and math will all be similar; it won’t matter what class you’re in, you’ll get the same mini lesson.
      • Specials teachers (art, music and PE) will provide specials videos for the kids
      • Other videos will be provided by the classroom teacher. We tried to balance instruction and then being able to have videos from individual classroom teachers to reassure kids, for them to be able to see their teachers’ faces–a morning message eventually in their read aloud; specific assignments based on the mini lessons will come from the classroom teachers.
  • We sent kids home with a bag of books. We have amazing voracious readers at Miller Driscoll–after day one, a lot of the students plowed through these books. So we’re looking at different platforms to get leveled books to the kids.
  • We look forward to enhancing as we go, on a week by week basis and we’ll share that with parents.

Next week it’ll ramp up a little bit because kids will access the mini lesson, and they’ll have more activities to do. It’s just a bit tricky from a developmentally appropriate perspective–some kids can go online and they can post, some have a harder time with that. We’re trying to balance making things available for families that don’t necessarily have to be done in a certain time, because we also understand parents are working from home and our kids are little, there’s going to be a lot more parent support that’s needed. So we made the decision to do the videos so that parents could access them at different times.

She added that M-D is working with special education related services and interventionists to push out short videos to particular students depending upon their needs and objectives.

Miller-Driscoll Parent Reaction:  “What teachers have received has been very positive. There are questions about the possibilities around things like live streaming, so as a whole admin team, especially in our level, we’ve weighed the pros and cons to that. People are being amazing, they’re sharing resources. We rolled out a weekly plan and people have said weekly is kind of hard. So we took the whole plan and revised it–next week we’ll give the plan divided by day. Everyone’s been great, very patient and understanding.

Board member/parent feedback:  Ruth DeLuca, BOE member and M-D parent noted community collaboration has been a positive, with PTA help too. She suggested that working in teacher-student interaction and also student-to-student interaction to the school plan would be something parents would like to see.

Coon said there will be opportunities added, for example for students to take a picture of an artwork assignment and send it to the art teacher.

Cider Mill, Jen Falcone

“With online learning, we’ve been really careful to make sure that we’re balancing expectations–the academic, of course we want to keep the learning going, [with] their whole body wellness right now. We’ve really worked on making sure that we’re integrating movement breaks and mindfulness and even asking the teachers to use some of the RULER tools we’ve been working on throughout the year. That’s one of the cornerstones of what our current plan has been built around.

“We’ve also tried to create somewhat of a flexible day, that has the standard-based curriculum integrated but flexible enough that, because it’s asynchronous, that kids have the opportunity to do some work and then teachers can check in and provide some feedback.

The 2.0 version:  “We’re going to be creating a common schedule. For grades 3-5, we’re going to be starting every day with a morning meeting to review the schedule for every day. Teachers will highlight different parts of the day, different learning opportunities, and set students up for their learning for the day. Still balancing movement and screen breaks. There may be some kind of direct [instruction] but that’s going to be small and the rest of it might be able to be done not looking at a screen.

“The next goal for moving forward is starting to integrate more new learning, new units of study coming up.

“We’ve got a really solid math plan drafted and going through last minute touches. Teachers College is working on units that are ready to be implemented through an online system. We definitely have some more structures in place.”

“There’s been lots of positive feedback from families–little tech issues that everybody’s working through.”

Board member/parent question:  Mandi Schmauch:  What in your mind does a day in the life of the student look like?

“We’ve probably got about 50% of the time planned with maybe academic work, but the rest of it is filled with special area projects and time where they’re doing movement breaks. We’ve kind of taken a day and breaking it up to be more fluid and not as heavy academic as if there was a classroom teacher sitting in front of them. We are continuing to use a lot of the prerecorded video but also having opportunities here and there, especially with smaller groups to have back-and-forth opportunity. As we figure out some of our tech tools that are available to us, one of the things that is hard right now is I feel like our students are missing the connection. Once we figure out how to get some of these technologies down, we’ll be able to have better connections back and forth.

“[Sample third grade schedule:]  We have morning meeting. We move into a read aloud. Then they move into a special, either art, music, PE; they move into a break. Then they have a reading-writing block, lunch and free play. Then there’s a math block. The academic, the reading, writing, math blocks are about 45 minutes long. Then they move into another special block. We’re strategic with how we were closing out a schedule. Then we move into word study, world language or small group, either intervention or resource room. And then we end the day around 2:30 p.m. with an exit slip or afternoon meeting.

The teacher will use a daily slide deck–usually if you were to walk in a classroom you would see the schedule posted on the board. We’ll use the slide deck as the schedule and it will have big ideas, learning targets that the kids can see at a glance and then take them into the learning from that slide.

Middlebrook, Lauren Feltz

“With the staff, there’s just been a real spirit of collaboration and can-do around getting a wonderful learning opportunity set up for all of our students. Like all our colleagues across the district, we spent week one in a place of review and we’re going from review to new, and moving from keeping skills from regressing into continuing instruction and having kids proceed through their grade level curricula.

“We definitely prioritize student wellness as well as maintaining and leveraging the connections and warm relationships that our students have with staff at Middlebrook.

“It’s all about learning. We really benefit from the fact that our students are used to living in a Google classroom environment. A lot of the online interaction is stuff they’re very, very comfortable with.

“In the school building, when they’re collaborating in Google classroom, there’s also a lot of interpersonal interactions that go along with that. But we do have kids who feel very empowered in the tools that they’re using. We’re already seeing dividends from that. We have teams that are reporting anecdotally, they can confirm that 80% of their students interacted with some of the content we had. On Monday (March 16), the very first day of e-learning, we had one reading teacher who did 42 individual online reading conferences with the students.

“Everyone is using all of their considerable skills and creativity to bring about wonderful opportunities for Middlebrook kids.”

“A day in the life is going to be fairly predictable and structured for kids. We were looking to give them a school schedule, but really trying to fill about half of a typical day. We have built an e-learning schedule where classes would actually be scheduled from 9:50 a.m. until 2 p.m., and there is a half-hour lunch break in the middle.”

Students are going to be able to interact with almost all of the instructional content at their own pace and at their own time (asynchronous learning).

  • Most of the lessons will have some sort of video content where kids will receive some direct instruction.
  • Often there will be a connection wellness check-in–the warm, fuzzy side of maintaining relationships.
  • Then there’ll be a task that kids can engage in–sometimes independently, sometimes collaborating with other peers, which can be done both synchronously and asynchronously depending on the format.

Kids will have 25-minute classes; it’s an opportunity for kids to know that their teachers would be available to respond to them. That might be by email; that might be collaborating in a document in Google classroom; it could also be something like a web video chat so that kids are having a really personalized experience. It doesn’t mean that every child has to be interacting with their teacher in real time during that 25 minute period every day. But they have the opportunity, so students will have tasks that they can complete. Most of those tasks at the secondary level, students work on over multiple days before turning in because we want them to be doing deep thinking about their work.

There will be a daily task that students have to interact with and submit every day. That is actually how we’re going to track attendance for the class. It may be that they complete an assignment in Google classroom or respond to a Google form; it could be a wellness check-in where teachers ask a question about how kids are feeling. Students will have from when the class posts the tasks. So if I have social studies first period on Monday, I go in and start working on my task and I have until a period on Tuesday to submit it. As long as I had interacted with that content and followed the directions before a period on Tuesday, then I would be considered that I had attended the class.

Assignments will be posted through Google classroom, but the vast majority of my teams are also using the parent homework page on their team website. Often the team homework page is reflecting the to-do list that’s within Google classroom. Parents may want to try going to that as a resource to see the child’s to-do list.

On my to-do list is to make the daily check-in that we’re using for attendance to be something that teachers will mark as ‘received’ in PowerSchool so that when parents go into PowerSchool to check, it won’t be graded, but you’ll see a green check Mark to indicate that the child has submitted their work, as an added [way to review] the frequency with which we have students not participating and not submitting daily work.

If we see any patterns of students not participating, we certainly would want to reach out. If we saw three in a row where a student wasn’t participating, if the parent has been marked as a student absent for the day, we’d want to reach out and support some participation in that.

So students will see all of their classes on their regular schedule. Core class material will be posted for them and opportunities for them to interact with their teacher every day. The stride compliment will continue on its normal rotation and teachers are working the full day, so they will be able to collaborate with each other, collaborate with special services and related service folks and each other, and also be responding to students and giving feedback on student work.

Parent/Board Member Question:  So it’s a combination of recorded videos and posted work and a chance on Google classroom, Google docs, or work individually or collaborate with their peers. What is the real time, teacher availability during each day?

Answer:  There’s a 25-minute period for each class to have direct access to their teachers and the teachers can use that flexibly. They could be live-streaming things to a small group of students. They could be doing conferencing with students. It could be an opportunity where all of the kids whose family can make it work for them to attend synchronously that day could be collaborating in real time. Even when there is a plan that allows for synchronous collaboration, there will be an asynchronous way for kids who can’t attend during those 25 minutes that day to also interact with the content and successfully attend the class.

Some teachers may put kids on something of a rotation so that in order to keep groups small, the teacher may rotate and see a different set of kids on a different day of the week. I’d like to give our teachers some flexibility and empower them to make some thoughtful choices around.

Parent question:  The 25 minute periods, are these something that are very similar to what they had? Or is this more of a flexible?

There are 25-minute periods, the equivalent of when we have an early dismissal for professional development. The students have A-through-H period during that time and during that time they can get started on the tasks for the day. When the teacher is online, if they needed any clarification or if they needed to be pointed towards a different resource… There may be classes where the children actually complete the work in that amount of time; but certainly there will be classes in certain disciplines where one of the goals of the class is to develop independence and stamina where they will continue on with some of that work outside of those 25 minutes.

Parent/board member questions:  Questions about accountability; grades; is scheduling by child, color or class; and are there specific times that teachers are available?

  • The schedule:  The whole school be having A-period at the same time, so the child will be following their schedule for A-period. The goal is that the teacher is only responding to about 20-24 kids at a time as opposed to responding to 100. So each child will be following their own schedule, A-H period, and they’ll rotate as if we were at the school building, the days 1-6 for the stride rotation.
  • Accountability:  There certainly will be accountability and children will be graded on the mastery that they do or don’t show of the content. We are not trying to rush ourselves in defining exactly what the grading and assessment is going to look like. We would like to make sure that we’re being thoughtful and reasonable and getting it right. We have every intention of being able to close out the third quarter and have report cards as usual. We expect that will happen on a very similar timeline to what we had originally projected.
  • Teacher availability:  If I want to talk to my reading teacher and I have her C-period, I know that C-period assigned time is a great chance that I’m going to be able to get my question answered or get feedback on my work then. But certainly, just like students can make appointments for extra help during a typical school day, kids who are stuck on something or want another pass at something, they can actually rewatch the content in this format, which is an interesting opportunity. But teachers are working full days–it’s not that they’re going to constantly be online with students, but they are certainly going to be spending part of their non-student facing time responding to students’ work in terms of feedback on their work, but also responding to students’ queries or requests for further explanation.

Parent/Board question:  How do we know if a child is having difficulty? Is there a way for teachers to let parents know if the kids are falling behind?

Answer:  Certainly, if the child can do the work is going to show us one thing. We need to be a little creative about the way we ask kids to show the work. My music department is a great example:  the children record themselves singing or record themselves playing an assigned piece of music and submit it. That’s very authentic. Kids can actually video themselves doing the math problem that they’re stuck on. I want to actually see your process so I can see where your errors are coming in–looking at the success or not success that students are having with me.

One part of that also is giving kids the tools they need to reflect, a rubric or a student-facing checklist:  these are the things that we want you to feel confident at. And giving students the opportunity in a very emotionally safe way to say, ‘this is the part that’s hard for me, or this is the part that I’m stuck on.’ That’s actually an approach and a process that our middle school kids are incredibly comfortable with. One of the really great ways to know if a child’s being successful is to ask the child, and that is one of the reflection questions that teachers may use as the check-in that we use for attendance. ‘Which part of this would you like me to give you more detail on? Or, how would you rate yourself on your confidence in this process?’ So that teachers could pull together small groups and assign additional instructional videos or do small group instruction in a format like zoom, where they can actually interact with kids in real time.

Any questions about Middlebrook should be emailed to Lauren Feltz and she will compile a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and send them out.

Wilton High School, Bob O’Donnell

“We really, really invest in our students and our families right now. It just hasn’t been the same. So we’re looking forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy, but I want to assure the high school clientele that we will be ready to launch Wilton High School e-Learning 2.0 on Monday (March 23).

“We held some excellent planning sessions with all of our departments that we as administrators were able to go in through Google meets and check in with the teachers and the instructional leaders and support help.

“We are in full preparation mode to be ready to move students and staff forward with our learning, with our curriculum and with our standards. Our teachers are really working concertedly to compact curriculum, prioritize student learning outcomes and standards. I’m very proud of the faculty and their commitment and dedication they’ve shown.

We have developed a very thoughtful e-learning plan–the four hallmarks of that plan:

    1. Setting up e-learning norms for our constituents:  We’ve emphasized to the teachers that it’s almost like going back to day one of a different type of learning environment. A couple of the norms, for example, are basically identifying and modeling online learning behavior that we want to see and want our students to exhibit; and then narrating these behaviors constantly and reinforcing them with students. And celebrating our rock-star online learners.
    2. Checking in with students at all classes each day to ensure we’re really, really focusing on the human element:  Making sure that they’re okay and that they’re ready to engage, ready to focus on academics and be minds on.
    3. Establishing protocols on how to communicate with the class:  As an example, we’ve been working on what we have described as a basically a Wilton high school e-learning overview for the week that we’re going to be asking all of our teachers to use:  announcements for the class and attendance protocol (still being ironed out); what are the learning targets and the objectives that students are expected to do and know? What are the detailed instruction? How will students be expected to lead assignments? What is due when? And an opportunity for special notes or what resources students need. So we want teachers to fill this out on a weekly basis to post it up on Google classroom. So families will be able to take a look at the e-learning profile and hopefully partner with the students.

      We recognize there’s a lot more independence at the high school level. There may be an increased level of involvement with the parent community that certainly will be welcomed. Learning at the high school be primarily asynchronous, so students and families can anticipate some type of recorded mini lessons or activities. Certainly at times we’ll be synchronous learning where and when appropriate. And some of the examples of the technology that the students and the teachers will be using–Google meets, Screencastify, Nearpod.

      We’re asking the faculty to look at this through, to some extent, a UDL lens, to try to focus on multiple means of representation. Students can anticipate texts, videos, digital simulations, virtual tours, images–a lot of different ways for information to be represented to students. In terms of the engagement–verbal and online discussion and digital learning platforms, protected chat rooms, opportunities for students and teachers to interact.*In terms of the actions and multiple ways of expression–different physical models and sketches, some written texts involve students producing videos, slide performances.

    4. Organizing the day:  What is the school day going to look like for our kids and how are they going to experience that? What’s going to be different on Monday with WHS e-learning 2.0? We are going to organize our days and weeks according to our alternating block schedule. We felt  that was important to have a sense of structure for the students, teachers and families. We’re asking students and families to anticipate to the maximum extent possible to be prepared to be minds-on during those assigned periods while realizing there may be some flexibility and an asynchronous learning environment, and the students will have additional time to engage outside of class and also families may have some challenges.

So our current scheduling model:  We have 55-minute periods, as opposed to 85-minutes periods right now under the current irregular alternating block schedule. We’re going to ask our students to engage during those times. Our faculty will be committed to being available to our kids during those time periods.

The day will start at 9:20 a.m., and the end time is 1:50 p.m.; we felt it was important to have our teachers have an opportunity for an hour at the beginning of the day for instructional effectiveness team meetings and preparation and an hour at the end of the day.

Students will be able to look at the calendar on Monday, here’s my schedule through Friday. These are the days when I have free classes. These days I have four classes and these are the times when my teachers would be available to me.

We’re imploring the WHS parent community to structure kids’ days in any way they can to say we’re going to get the vast majority of our students locked in or ready to engage with the teachers during that time period.  There are also times when teachers are free. Although that is prep time, our teachers like they always do, will make themselves available to students for whether they require additional support or additional communication. Our kids will have our teachers available to them ready to support their learning.

Parent Question:  So Monday (March 23) is really when everything is going is being implemented–anything that’s happening this week is not required, is not part of the grading system?

Answer:  This week was really about avoiding regression and just having a connection with kids. Those are not things to go in the grade book. We’re going to relatively quickly shift the focus to a more rigorous learning environment with more advanced expectations. But early on it’s about building relationships and getting students reoriented to this e-learning platform 2.0.

Question:  Some of the lab or other classes have mini classes or additional 45 minute periods that go along with them. Is the schedule going to allow for those to continue, or are we just going to do abbreviated going forward?

Answer:  We’re still ironing out some of the minis, but we are committed to trying to making those work, for example in the math classes, and we believe we’ll be able to do so. This is still somewhat iterative right now, but the framework of the schedule and the idea that students can look at the week and know not unlike during the regular school day environment. This is when my classes are beginning and this is when my teachers are going to be available. I think that framework is going to provide some really good structure for our kids and our family and our staff.

Question:  Do you know anything about AP exams? If they’re going to happen and will our students be prepared to take them?

Answer:  We will be able to prepare students to take them. What we’ve heard from the College Board thus far is there may be some flexibility depending on the amount of time that schools are out across the country and the world, that there may be some flexibility to use the later testing time. So one week later or two weeks later, we also just got an update. I don’t know enough about the possibility yet, and again, there are no promises coming from me about the possibility of somehow testing from home. The College Board is exploring different options and we’ll probably have more forthcoming information in the next days and weeks.

Board Member Question:  It is a stressful time and this is probably directed more at the high school than the other schools, for juniors and seniors. Has there been some conversation about creation in some way of a helpline for students. Not academically, but emotionally, who may be going through or suffering? This is an unusual time, so the usual stressful needs, that we could reach out somehow or they could reach out to us if they have problems or issues outside of the academic world?

Answer:  We do have tools that we’ve already implemented–Gaggle Speak Up, for one–so not only can students reach out, but if their peers are aware that somebody’s struggling and they can reach out too.

Our school counseling team worked conservatively today to develop a document to achieve just that goal, for all of our students to be able to check in. It’s got opportunities for kids to give feedback to both the school counseling or counseling staff and the mental health staff under leadership. We reviewed that document this morning and it’s going to be a good communication mechanism between the school and the students. So that’s another avenue that that will be front and center because wellness right now is paramount and we want to make sure that our kids are ready. We recognize that it’s an anxious time for them and we want to meet all of their needs, including the social/emotional needs.

Deb Low, BOE Chair:  I think we’re all aware that this has to be a balance between health and concern for the stress that kids are going through and families. That’s why I get a little sensitive when I hear people being overly anxious about assessments. We need to really think carefully and slowly about that. Let’s not add stress where we don’t need it right now.

Question:  How the students will be assessed?

Answer:  I’m going to ask everyone to just sit tight. We’re in a complete new paradigm and so we’re proceeding in priority order of how we address some of the issues. So starting with the educational infrastructure, making sure that we have the tools, the resources. The admin team has been meeting daily and we keep revisiting this question. There’s been such a scramble to get things ready for next week and we’re just going to table this question for a day or two. We’ll come back to you and we’ll let you know very specifically how we intend to assess and also how we intend to manage attendance as well.

Special Education, Andrea Leonardi

“The level of commitment and energy that the special education student services, related services folks have been engaging in over the past few days, to pull together not only a program of study that will support the students who will be engaging in the programs you’ve already heard about from each of the four schools, but also in wrapping around our most complex students who require a level of direct instruction that won’t always work asynchronously.

“There’s been a great deal of creative work being done with our staff of special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists and social workers, [who] have really taken a deep dive into a lot of different opportunities and are going to push forward both synchronous instruction.

“We’ve identified a platform for what in the vernacular is called ‘tele-therapy,’ where folks are going to be doing actual direct, interactive therapy with students through the computer, as well as asynchronous work and supporting the general education classes. We expect to be up and running–we had to do some work on the digital privacy side before we can roll out the training, so this is taking a few more days to get the training to the teachers and then also the training to the primary caregivers at home.

So we’ll be rolling out a full panoply of related services to be done synchronously with staff from behavioral mental health, to speech and language, OT, direct instruction from special education teachers on a wide variety of goals and objectives that students have in their IEPs. Those services will be able to be done both in small group and in services according to the child’s IEP.

Our goal right now is to be rolling with those services on March 30.

Between now and then there are a number of different things happening with students with disabilities. We have opportunities for connection to families and connection to students. People have been using Google meet and other avenues to connect with their students and with their families, to check in to make sure they’re up and running with the technologies and with their devices, so that we can help families develop an individualized schedule of instruction over the next week or so.

We’re excited about the opportunities going on. The teachers have been amazing. The related services staff have been unbelievably creative in pulling together opportunities for their students.

All of the collaborators in the general education environments are making sure that their students who are participating in the general education environments are receiving the supports they need as we roll out the e-learning plan. From an instructional side, I am growing increasingly confident every day that we’re going to meet the needs of each and every learner.

The new [digital] platform we found is one that is going to change the game from what I thought it was going to be two or three days ago, to what I think it will be able to accomplish now. I’m excited about that and we’ll be getting more information out to the parents as we move forward with the platform.

Talking about the social and emotional needs of our students and also the social emotional needs of our families. This is a heavy lift. As all of you have your children home, know that I’ve seen some of the humorous accounts of families on Facebook talking about what it’s like to be your child’s teacher and working from home. We are going to be very sensitive to that and work with families to make sure each and every family gets the support that they need from us. In some cases we’ll be having virtual team meetings with families and staff to make sure we help them set up the structures they need and respond to their feedback when things aren’t working so that we can get involved with them and help make sure that this works to the greatest extent possible for each and every student and family.

We have about 600 students with IEPs who have individual programs of service, from preschool through age 21. We also have an obligation for our students who are in current outplacements. So we have some obligations to attempt to work with those families as well. Because not all of the outplace schools are providing any e-learning opportunities. So we have some work to do to make sure that each and every one of those students is also getting an educational experience that’s meaningful.

Board Question:  What do you anticipate in terms of purchasing more resources? We had talked about needing funds perhaps to cover some of the materials or digital platforms or programs, connectivity. Do you anticipate that we’ve got most of what we need or we’ll be needing a whole lot more?

Andrea Leonardi:  We have most of it. The platform has cost, but the bulk of that cost is in training of staff and in the platform itself–it’s a proprietary platform, which has a tremendous amount of resource embedded in it for the teachers and for the students and families. The big cost to bear in special education is going to come when this process resolves and we begin to engage in taking a look at the compensatory education obligations that we will have to kids with disabilities.

Question:  So our extended school year, our summer program for special needs students, should we anticipate that that might grow a lot?

Answer (Andrea Leonardi):  You’re right about that. The staffing will grow in terms of how much service we’ll need to provide, how many students will be engaged, and stay with us, that will have staffing implications.

Answer (Fran Kompar):  That question about resources that we’ve added because they all have costs implications or may not. We have Gaggle, which filters all of our Google suite, which is primarily what we have been using with our students. But since we’ve added on hangout meets that our teachers and administrators have been using in the last few days, as we use that with students, we felt it would be our responsibility to have filtering for that. So we’ve put that into place. I’ve got a couple other things that we’re adding, but the biggest cost that I can see right now is the materials that we will need to ensure that the curriculum can continue.

We had a lot of physical materials that we’re now needing to buy e-resources for. So that might be eBooks, it might be through Overdrive audio books [and other] digital resources. We are going to have a plan in terms of what we will need in terms of funding for that.

Board member question:  Students that tele-therapy is not going to work for, what’s the workaround for those kids?

Answer (Andrea Leonardi):  The platform we’ve chosen, we’ve been working with them and their clinicians will be supporting us with our kids who are struggling with the platform. But the platform itself is suited for a wide variety of learners including learners who use augmentative communication devices, learners with significant cognitive disabilities. It really is very well suited to a wide variety of learners. As we roll this out, we’re going to gain feedback from our families in terms of what’s working and what’s not. But I anticipate that the vast majority of our learners are going to benefit from the platform itself. And those who don’t, we’ll have to work around.

This platform is far more robust than a Google hangout. This has screen mirroring capabilities so that it’s actually like a virtual tabletop where the teacher can engage with the student’s screen. So there is both video and live interaction. It’s about as close as you can get in a virtual, socially-distanced environment to engage with the student. The only thing that therapists can’t do is touch the student. There are times when that’s necessary, but it’s the only thing in a socially distant environment that’s out.

Question:  So, for those students–I am not holding you to this–but would we possibly increase the amount of therapy they receive over the summer or how do we help?

Answer:  We will be addressing the compensatory education piece with each individual student when this resolves and we get back to a learning environment. It may be increased services over the summer. It may also be increased services that spread throughout next year, depending on how much service is missed. It’s going to be an issue now; it’s also going to be an issue later. How much service can you actually benefit from in any one day? Operationally these are young people who need to have a life too. So we’re going to be working with the families, but when this is all over, there will be a mountain to climb for all of us to understand the impact of this. The compensatory education and issues that may arise will be done individually.

Question:  Any mandate or anything from the state around PPTs and how you’re managing those?

Answer:  I put a short moratorium on PPTs, to allow the staff to focus in on getting the e-learning plan 2.0 up and running. We are anticipating some feedback from the state Department of Education this week on how we are handling some of the required meetings. In terms of annual reviews, the triennial reviews, triennial testing is on hold because our psychologists and teachers can’t do the testing. We don’t have the availability to sit down at the table and do the testing.

We’re not having PPTs this week or next week, but I anticipate in the following week out we will be rescheduling PPTs unless something very drastic happens at the state department level.

Then we’ll be getting to do the meetings again. But the teachers right now need to be focused on getting instruction up and running. Remember that every time we have a PPT, we’re pulling all teachers–including the general ed teachers and administrators–away from the instructional work that’s happening in the learning environment. We’re hoping to get some further clarification from the state about whether or not we’ll have some easing of the rules on getting annual and triennial reviews done. But if not, we’ll be back up and running and pulling staff to do that work within the next week or so.

Deb Low:  Personally I am totally impressed with our team in terms of being able to think about mental health, to think about adding normalcy through predictable schedules, through communication, through calendars and advance. You’ve spoken very thoughtfully about the transition between keeping something going into getting into new learning. So the transitions have been well planned. It’s helpful to have more and more details, we really want to get a handle what that looks like for our kids and I’m sure parents are thinking, what’s that going to mean for our families?

So it is a work in progress that we have gone through almost week one and we’ll be definitely ready for 2.0, or week two of this.

Finance, Anne Kelly-Lenz

At the last meeting we assigned $160,000 that we had frozen for those expenditures. That is going to be allocated for the items that Fran has already put in the bag and coming in already. As we see any other savings, we’re going to put that in there. As the requests are coming in and we get an idea of what we’re looking at for all the digital and different sources that are needed, to make sure that we cover it.

HR, Employees and Contracts, Maria Coleman

We have a tremendous staff that has mobilized so quickly in an unprecedented situation. We are fortunate to have so many people working virtually, literally since day one. Our administrators, our teaching staff, our custodians certainly are heroes in their work, to clean; and many of our secretaries have been working since the closure as well, supporting us behind the scenes.

It’s important to remember that we have collective bargaining agreements with many of these groups. Those are contractual agreements for a certain number of days of work and a certain pay off over the course of the year. So we’re currently working with each of those unions to talk about this change in working conditions. We will likely need memoranda of understanding for each of those groups because we have a change in working conditions for them.

It’s our desire certainly to support those groups, to engage them in the work that we have ahead of us. They are our employees because they have a lot to contribute to the work that we do. It truly is a community effort. There’s not just one group that can do this work alone. We really believe and know that we need everyone to do this work.

Currently we’re looking at how we can engage some of the groups that haven’t been able to participate since day one in doing the work–the paraprofessional, how we can engage in their efforts to help some more at this work. We have a lot of creative, out-of-the-box thinking. It’s our desire to get everyone as an active participant in this work.

Naturally there are people that are concerned about what might happen if this is an extended closure and we’re looking at reduced work hours for people. Some of the people that are most obviously impacted are going to be substitute teachers; some of our hourly workers–people working in the cafeteria or cafeteria supervisors, some of our staff members who work in continuing education for our child care. In those cases when people are facing loss of pay, we reach out to them and let them know what their rights are, from applying for unemployment–not because they’re unemployed, but because the Department of Labor is coming out with new guidance specific to COVID-19 in perhaps giving benefits to people who don’t necessarily lose their jobs, but are facing a loss of pay as a result of this pandemic.

This is going to be an ongoing process of us communicating to you and to our parent community about how people are getting the work done on behalf of our students and we’ll see how things evolve in the weeks to come.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Heather, This is awesome! Thank you for providing this to the public. As a parent of a high school student, this helps put things in perspective and gives us a tool to refer to when trying to figure this all out.

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