Board of Education reviews school reopening process
April 12, 2021
On March 23, the Board of Education held a session to discuss and review the early phases of the Montgomery County school reopenings. The meeting was conducted in a semi-virtual format, with multiple board members on-site at the Carver Education Services Center.
Items of discussion included bus and meal schedules, instructional schedules, use of classrooms, staff vaccinations, and integration of the digital instructional program with the in-person program. The vaccine’s impact on county-wide six-foot social distancing requirements is still unknown, but board members confirmed its importance.
“Last Thursday, invitations went out to staff. The goal is that every staff member has at least their first shot before they go back, and it’s up to the staff members whether to take advantage of that,” Superintendent Jack Smith said.
The county has set up new equipment for hot food distribution systems in underserved locations with high poverty rates, including Rockville housing, Middlebrew mobile, Shady Grove Middle School, Southlake, New Hampshire estates, Wheaton Woods, Harmony Hills, and Green Castle Summer. In the first weeks of reopening, sites have been able to provide warm meals to students. Vegetarian, allergy-friendly, and ready-to-go packaged lunches are available daily. “Simultaneously standing up a rapid transportation and food service system has been challenging,” Associate Superintendent of Operations Essie McGuire said.
CDC data indicates that public health metrics are improving, and the rate of community coronavirus cases has dropped from the red category, high risk of transmission, to the orange category.
“All the guidelines that are being shared by the CDC are still dependent upon maintaining other measures — everybody wearing their masks, washing their hands, cleaning frequently touched services,” Board Member Lynne Harris said. I know we all want to shove the masks away and go out and enjoy the beautiful weather, but [we] need to be vigilant. The better we maintain our vigilance, the more we will be able to… get our schools open. Do not relax your standards.” Harris also proposed utilizing outdoor spaces as venues for students participating in the performance arts.
Superintendent Smith proceeded to play a video explaining the logistics of in-person schooling. There are three types of learning — simultaneous learning, direct learning, and support instruction. In a simultaneous model, virtual and in-person learners attend the same class at the same time and interact with one another using digital tools like Chromebooks and Zoom. In direct learning, teachers are physically present in the classroom and use traditional classroom tools like books and paper. Support instruction is a modified version of simultaneous instruction, where the teacher instructs virtually while another educator is present in the classroom to supervise the lesson. The three types are interchangeable and can vary between classes and schools.
Tivinia Nelson, principal of Strathmore Elementary School, described and reflected on the school’s reopening experience. Students returned on March 15 and 75 percent of the community remained virtual. Strathmore ES utilized a teacher driven design, with dismissal and hallway transitions based on processes from prior years. “There were some things that worked and some things that did not. I would call it a success, and it was really a great change to see so many of our students, their faces, in the hallways,” Principal Nelson said.
“We will continue to work through [this pandemic], introducing thousands more students into the school buildings. I realize the clock is ticking,” Superintendent Jack Smith said.