Dear Community Members:
We are at the end of the first three weeks of the school year. As promised when we announced our return to school plans, we have been evaluating where we are and where we should move next.
In short, we will continue with the current hybrid plan through the end of the nine weeks, October 23rd. There are a number of reasons for staying the course, but over the next six weeks, we need to be looking at ways to bring MS and HS students back to campus IF THE DATA SUPPORTS DOING SO. The plan would be to mirror the Elementary schedule and have all 6-12th grade students in the building Tuesday-Friday with Monday remaining the remote/online day. There are significant issues that would have to be resolved if we want to bring those students back for more face-to-face instruction.
Please bear with me as I break down our thoughts and provide some considerations to returning to more face-to-face instruction.
WHY STAY THE COURSE?
1. Currently, we have no active cases in the district and the quarantine numbers are manageable. There is no question that maintaining social distancing at the MS and HS helps when we need to do contact tracing. Our ability to achieve social distancing has reduced the need to quarantine large numbers of students or teachers when there were suspected cases of exposure. This has worked very well and is worth preserving over the next six weeks.
2. Students, teachers, and parents are starting to get into a flow. I try to spend some time every day in each of the buildings informally talking with teachers and observing students. We are very pleased with the effort and execution from our teachers, administrators, support staff and students. Thursday morning in particular, the Elementary School was just humming. Despite all of the obstacles. it looked like September 10, 2019 when no one had ever heard of COVID. Students were engaged in the learning process, and teachers were using various tools and strategies while working with the kids. In a year that has seemed surreal at times, it lifted my spirits!
We are seeing more and more opportunities for students to access real time instruction on their hybrid days. We are getting better, and the students seem to be getting the hang of it. We still have more work to do, but our teachers are getting multiple touch points a week, and kids are never more than a day away from getting in front of their teacher virtually or face-to-face.
3. The importance of the Monday online/remote days cannot be overstated. On August 31st, we had some growing pains with getting 700 MS and HS kids online with their teachers. It will improve next Monday and in the weeks ahead. If we unexpectedly need to implement all online/remote learning, the practice students and staff will receive over the next weeks will pay significant dividends. I have spoken with multiple parents who all agree that the level of instruction in our online days has improved significantly since last spring. It is only going to get better.
4. While talking with parents, they also emphasized the importance of maintaining a stable schedule. NO ONE wants to see Eastwood move back and forth between the hybrid, more face-to-face learning, back to the hybrid etc. Extending the hybrid does not guarantee that we will not see an outbreak at some point, but it still gives us a great chance to work with our kids and get to know them better.
5. While the case counts are low districtwide, we are simply not ready at the MS and HS to welcome back kids for more face-to-face instruction. We spent the month of August moving desks and tables to facilitate learning and social distancing. We have been looking at what it would take from an operations standpoint to welcome back all the students and the challenges are significant. Here are but a few of the things we would have to consider:
a. What level of risk are we willing to take? Bringing all students back to the MS and HS will limit social distancing on buses, in classrooms and in the cafeteria. I spent some time speaking with colleagues at districts who have all students back in session. Most of them have newer OFCC buildings with larger classrooms and cafeterias mixed with other public spaces allowing them to spread kids out more. The MS and HS have a greater mix of classroom sizes, and some of them will be tight.
b. We must change transportation routes to get the additional students on buses. Again, we will have to have two kids per seat on the bus which will mean no social distancing.
c. We must alter lunch schedules at the MS and HS to provide for three full lunch periods to allow adequate distance between students.
d. Physically moving desks, chairs, and tables back into rooms will take time. In addition, each classroom will need to be evaluated to try and space kids out to the greatest extent possible.
e. Classroom and hall exchanges will now be more crowded. Are there things we can do to reduce the interaction?
f. What other mitigation strategies should we consider for our buildings? More Plexiglas barriers?
These are but a handful of the things that will have to be done to bring everyone back. This will take planning, resources, and help. This is not a situation where we can flip the switch and bring all students back.
WHY WAIT UNTIL THE END OF THE FIRST NINE WEEKS?
This is a natural break in the school calendar. It also gives us the time to plan for additional face-to-face instruction at the MS and HS should the data remain positive. Also, this is a break in the schedule for the online academy, and there may be students at the MS who want to opt back in and conversely, those who may want to opt out to the online academy.
The October 23rd date gives us time to continue to evaluate the experiences not only in our own district, but in those who are meeting face-to-face more frequently with their kids. I have spoken with 4-5 other districts to discuss their case counts along with how they are managing the operations of the buildings. This is where certain size constraints in our current facilities require creative solutions to still keep some measure of social distancing.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GET TO THE END OF THE FIRST NINE WEEKS?
Just like we did in considering our next steps for this decision point, we are going to look at the data and see what the virus is doing in our schools and around us. In addition, we plan to make sure that the pieces are in place that would allow us to return if cases stay low. During the week of October 12th, we will update the community on our preparations and case counts along with a review of where things stand around us. The following week is the end of the first nine weeks and decisions will be made then on the next steps for the district.
We are all in this together. Our first priority is keeping students and staff safely in school as much as possible. Another important priority is maintaining a schedule so families can reliably plan for their daily and weekly needs. We will continue to do our best under these unprecedented times.
Brent Welker, Superintendent
Eastwood Local Schools
120 E. College St.
PO Box 837
Pemberville, Ohio 43450
"Leaders create Culture, Culture drives Behavior, Behavior produces Results." - Tim Kight