Sept. 30. 2020
By Natasha Don
The School Committee convened on Sept. 23 to discuss the particulars of remote learning at Nashoba Regional High School. The high school’s administrative team walked through a presentation on the current learning model and answered the Committee’s questions. Superintendent Clenchy shared a brief MSBA update, and Business Manager Pat Marone provided financial reports.
Unclear Possibilities for In-Person Return to the High School
Committee members shared that many of their constituents have expressed frustration over the fully remote status of the high school. Stow Representative Leah Vivirito asked Superintendent Clenchy and the Nashoba faculty present when some kind of in-person teaching and learning situation could be expected. “It’s hard to fathom why the high school is full remote when other surrounding high schools are not,” she said.
Principal Cullinane responded, “In my opinion we’re getting more from the remote learning than we would from the hybrid learning in that the teachers are able to see the students every single day.” He deferred to Assistant Principal Boulay for a more in-depth explanation.
“As our task force really looked at the models for hybrid return, because of the DESE guidelines and the space we would want to give students to be safe, students were only going to be in-person one day a week,” Boulay said. “So, the majority of the learning would be remote anyway. So where we are in terms of thinking about the quality of instruction, is that as a launch it makes sense for teachers and students to really learn how to use those digital learning tools and to become fluent with our remote instruction, build a really robust program remotely so that ultimately when we do come back–whether it’s hybrid or full return–we know that we have that strong academic foundation.”
Committee members stated their understanding of the decision for the remote plan, and for the need to maintain remote learning at this time, but they continued to press for a timeline of when that status may change. They also sought information regarding the environment criteria that would indicate the district is ready to reopen the high school for in-person learning.
Superintendent Clenchy cited the unpredictability of COVID-19 case numbers and inconsistent information from the state and the health department as the main factors making the creation of a timeline difficult. “This is just so volatile, there is no crystal ball,” she said. “And I just think it would be foolish for us to say ‘yup, this is where it’s going to go’ because I don’t want to be held to that right now because we just truly don’t know.”
Representative Vivirito responded, “You’re not going to have the answer right now, I get that, but people are clamoring for the when. So, the sooner you guys can deliver that information I think the better.”
Remote Learning at Nashoba
Jeanine Boulay offered a presentation of Nashoba’s remote learning schedule to the Committee. This presentation and schedule can be found in the meeting materials section of the School Committee’s page on NRSD.net. The presentation listed quality instruction, health and safety, and community and relationships as the driving forces behind the remote learning plan’s vision.
The remote learning schedule lists the subjects that are taught live each day, and breaks down the periods A-F by time. Assistant Principal Boulay defined “live” learning as periods of “full interaction with the teacher and their peers.” She stated this may involve direct instruction from the teacher to the class as a whole, separation into break out rooms for group work with the teacher checking in with small groups one at a time, and one-on-one instruction in some cases.
“On demand” lessons, in contrast, involve the subjects of the day that are not taught live, and are therefore worked on independently by students via instruction provided electronically by teachers. Boulay explained that students log in to their subject just as they would for a live class, but after only a few minutes of instruction and clarification from their teacher they are sent to work on their assignments on their own. Deadlines are provided for the completion of these assignments.
“If a student wants more support, the teacher is still there on the Google Meet link,” said Boulay. “So, the student can stay on and work with the teacher, maybe in a small group or individually, and get the help and support that they need. If not, they can move on and work asynchronously.”
The live school day begins at 8:30 and ends at 2:37, with the exception of Wednesday, which ends at 12:13. After this time on Wednesdays, students engage in asynchronous learning while teachers participate in professional development. The remote learning schedule lists the subjects for Mondays and Thursdays as English, math, wellness, and world languages. Tuesdays and Fridays include social studies, science, technology/business, and the arts.
“We were purposeful about the way we decided which subjects should be paired,” explained Boulay. “For example, we didn’t want to have English and social studies live on the same day because they are very heavy reading and writing subjects. And, vice versa, we didn’t want math and science live on the same day.” Boulay said these decisions sought to achieve balance for the students day to day, and to provide consistency and flexibility.
Dean of Student Matthew Biggs explained methods that have already been employed to allow some in-person event attendance for students, as well as an overview of plans to create more opportunities in the future. The first of these was the orientation for freshmen and students new to Nashoba.
Biggs explained that the school campus was set up to only allow one entrance and one exit to eliminate any potential overlap of student groups coming and going from the building. Wearing masks and social distancing was mandatory and carefully monitored by staff. Biggs also explained how the “pick-a-time” reservation model was used.
Traditionally, “pick-a-time” has been an online reservation tool offered to parents for the scheduling of parent/teacher conferences. This was used for orientation to allow students and parents to pick the most convenient time to attend orientation while also grouping them in with other similarly timed students. Smaller groupings of students and their parents allowed school faculty to provide several rounds of socially distanced orientations.
Biggs stated that the first Wednesday of every month has been dedicated as the materials pick up day for students to receive any books, documents or supplies they may need for their lessons. A drive-thru track has been set up around the whole of the school building to allow for easy, limited contact pick-up, with the traffic flow moving in one direction.
In reference to plans for future in-person events on campus Biggs said, “We want to make sure that our students aren’t completely isolated for the remainder of the year. What we’re looking to do is bring people on campus in a safe and concise manner.” He cited class meetings, community building activities, and lesson-specific activities as examples of the types of in-person opportunities Nashoba’s faculty is working to create.
In summation of the learning plan as a whole after the first official week back to school, Nashoba Principal Steve Cullinane stressed that communication between teachers and administration is frequent to ensure that any potential issues are being addressed. “We’re working with our department heads and teachers to reevaluate every day,” said Cullinane. “We want to see what’s working and what’s not working, and then we try to adjust our practices so that we’re doing them the best that we can.”
District Business Manager Pat Marone presented several financial reports to the Committee, beginning with the Treasurer reports. She shared the treasurer documents that showed a total bank balance of $13,460,200.12 at the end of August.
Marone then discussed the Results of Operations report for the end of FY2020. The initial budget was $55,733,801. The actual “expended and encumbered” was $55,077,399, which left an available balance of $656,402. Marone pointed out some reasons for this excess, such as the impact of COVID-19 on the end of the year eliminating the need for transportation. Although there was overall surplus in the remaining balance, some specific budget categories fell into deficit. For example, Marone explained that the need to hire an additional teacher pushed the Special Education budget into a deficit.
The FY2020 Year End Revenue Report was presented next. Marone shared that the year completed with excess revenue of $108,979. She explained that this was largely as a result of NRSD qualifying for additional Chapter 70 aid from the state, as well as some Regional Transportation aid.
After hearing from Marone, the Committee went into an Executive Session to discuss the Superintendent’s salary. When they returned to the open meeting a motion was made to increase the Superintendent’s salary for FY2021 be increased by 1.5%, and to entitle the Superintendent to thirty vacation days within each of the remaining contract years in her agreement. The motion also stated that the Superintendent be allowed to carry over up to ten days from any one contract year to the next. The motion passed unanimously.
The next School Committee meeting is scheduled to take place on Oct. 7.