By SCOTT JACKSON
School officials in Quincy prefer a hybrid learning model – with students learning in-person two days a week and remotely at home three days a week – for the start of the new academic year next month.
Kevin Mulvey, the school system’s interim superintendent, reviewed the return-to-school options during the School Committee’s meeting Wednesday night. The committee approved a preliminary re-opening plan Wednesday and will review a more comprehensive plan next week.
The re-opening plan includes three different models – in-person instruction, remote learning and the hybrid option – and will be submitted to the state for approval. The committee was not asked to choose between the three models when it met Wednesday.
Mulvey had assembled a task force to map out those three options; task force members included school officials, teachers, parents, and the heads of the city’s health, public buildings and traffic departments. The task force has determined that a return to full-time in-person instruction is not feasible, Mulvey said.
“Full in-person at this point isn’t really doable at this time, but a hybrid approach…absolutely is,” he said. “So is remote learning for those students and parents who wish to remain remote when we return in September.”
There is not enough space within the city’s school buildings to accommodate six feet of physical distancing, even if alternative spaces were used, according to the preliminary plan submitted to the state.
There would be enough room at most schools – 70 percent of elementary schools, all five middle schools and both high schools, with the use of alternative spaces at some of those buildings – to accommodate three feet of physical distancing, the minimum required by the state. According to the submission to the state, however, both the district and the Quincy Education Association, as well as the Massachusetts Teachers Association, have “significant health and safety concerns” with the three-foot model.
Under the hybrid model the district is proposing, students in all grade levels would be split alphabetically between two cohorts. One cohort would attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesday and then learn remotely Thursdays and Fridays. The other cohort would learn remotely on Mondays and Tuesdays and in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. Certain high-need students would receive in-person instructions all five days.
Under the proposed hybrid model, both cohorts would learn remotely on Wednesdays, during which time the schools could be cleaned. Because of that, half days would be moved to Wednesdays from Tuesdays this year.
The hybrid model would work differently based on grade level.
Each elementary class would be split in two – half in one cohort and half in the other – with two teachers assigned to each class. Each cohort would have the same teacher four days a week with both teachers leading a combined remote class on Wednesdays.
A similar approach would be taken in the middle schools, though students would have different teachers for different subjects. Class times would be longer than they would be in a typical school year, but students would spend roughly the same amount of time learning each subject as they normally would.
The remote learning portion for both elementary and middle school students would be live.
“We really felt strongly that the days that children are remote, they still need to have that live instruction from a teacher,” said Erin Perkins, the district’s elementary curriculum coordinator. “We could not assign asynchronous activities.”
High school students would continue taking all classes, including electives. High school classes would be split into two cohorts, with the same teacher for both groups. Under that model, students would receive live instruction on the two days they attend class in-person and on Wednesdays, while the other two days they are at home would include asynchronous activities.
School Committee member Emily Lebo said she was concerned high school students would only receive a half year’s education using that approach.
“It looks like we’re going to have enough time to teach kids half of the content that we normally would with some remote supplement,” she said. “I’m not blaming anybody for this, I’m just very worried.”
North Quincy High School Principal Robert Shaw said he and Lawrence Taglieri, his counterpart at Quincy High School, would have to work with teachers on lesson planning to prepare for the hybrid model. Shaw suggested an English teacher could focus on a book or a literary unit during the in-person sessions and then give students a writing assignment for the remote days.
“I’m addressing a different part of my standards through the remote sessions than I did with the live sessions,” he said. “Not as easy for a math teacher, I don’t think, or a vocational teacher. That is a challenge and I think we just call on the creativity of people to get there as much as we can.”
Committee member Doug Gutro said he was concerned about a potential lack of structure for high schoolers during the two days of remote learning that are not Wednesdays, based on his sons’ experience last school year.
“So much of it just felt like homework that they could whenever they choose throughout the day,” Gutro said. “The lack of structure was not good. I’ve got pretty disciplined kids…but it matters. It helps.”
School officials had surveyed parents to gauge their opinion on re-opening schools in the fall; 3,456 parents, representing 4,404 students, completed the survey.
Overall, 37.5 percent of parents said they preferred in-person instruction, 32.3 percent favored remote learning, and 30.2 percent chose the hybrid model.
Parents’ preference varied by grade level. A plurality of high school and middle parents said they preferred the hybrid model; 39.3 percent of high school parents and 34.2 percent of middle school parents chose that option. The favorite at the elementary school level was in-person instruction, with 40.7 percent of the vote.
Teachers were also surveyed as part of the process; 690 teachers had completed the survey as of July 27. Roughly half of those who completed the survey teach at the elementary school level with the remainder split between middle and high school.
Teachers preferred the hybrid model; 40 percent of teachers chose that option, 35.4 percent favored remote learning and 24.6 percent selected in-person instruction.
Committee member Paul Bregoli asked if it would be possible to provide in-person instruction full-time at the elementary level, given that 40.7 percent of elementary parents supported that approach.
“Keeping their attention with an online model, I think, is very difficult,” Bregoli said. “I’ve been there as a teacher and as a counsellor and I know those kids.”
In addition, Bregoli said students in that age group are less likely to contract and spread COVID-19.
“The science says that those kids are the least likely to contract the virus and the least likely to pass it on, so I don’t think there is an issue in terms of putting people in danger – either students or staff,” he said.
Mulvey, the interim superintendent, said roughly 50 percent of elementary parents would have to opt into full-time remote learning in order to create enough space that the remaining could receive in-person instruction full-time.
“We’re not giving up on it,” he said. “We would love to see in-person for elementary, just because [of the] difficulty of doing remote learning, even in the hybrid model, for the younger grades.”
Mulvey said the district does have enough teachers to move ahead with the proposed hybrid model – as well as a remote-only program for students whose families opt to keep their children out of schools this year.
The district, Mulvey added, is looking to hire additional certified teachers as substitutes in the event they are needed in case a teacher becomes ill or otherwise needs to take time off. The district does have some specialists – such as literacy and math specialists – who could shift into teaching roles. Assistant principals and certain members of the superintendent’s leadership team could potentially be pressed into service as teachers if necessary.
The first day of classes for students in Quincy is currently Sept. 9.
The state is allowing districts to push back the start of the school year to as late as Sept. 16 so teachers can receive extra training on remote instruction. Mulvey said Quincy Public Schools should delay the start of the school year to Sept. 16 to allow for the additional professional development. That would equal a delay of five school days.