We’ve concluded our third week of hybrid classes at Masconomet. Getting students back into the building has been a lot of work, but the payoff has been seeing our students “in person” again and returning a little bit of normalcy in their lives. In the almost four months since last June, when we began planning for the return of students, until now, I’ve consistently felt like one of the NASA engineers in the film Apollo 13, who after having a pile of spare parts dumped on the table in front of them, were told to design a solution for fitting a square peg into a round hole. On an almost daily basis, we have been confronted with new challenges to solve that our pre-COVID educational system of education had not even contemplated.
So far, we’ve been able to overcome the largest of these hurdles to achieve the return of students to our buildings on a part-time basis. While we’ve achieved the goal of “making it all work,” I know that the school our students and faculty are experiencing right now isn’t what any of us would have intentionally created. School is meant to be a social activity. A student’s learning is enriched through personal interactions with teachers and classmates. As teachers, we improve our practice through a frequent exchange of ideas with our colleagues and supervisors. COVID-19 has made all of this impossible to achieve. While “Zoom school” might be great for preventing the spread of the virus, it leaves a lot to be desired in allowing the development of the meaningful relationships that are at the heart of teaching and learning.
We’re exploring what we can do to improve our model based on the feedback we’ve received. Last spring and in the four weeks we were in a remote schedule this year, we heard many concerns from parents that the amount of structured learning time provided in our schedule was insufficient and therefore putting our students at a disadvantage. Now that we’re been in a hybrid schedule for three weeks, we’re hearing the concerns that this schedule may be too much for both students and faculty to manage. Here are some of the themes of the feedback we’ve heard regarding the hybrid schedule:
- There are too many periods per day for students and teachers to effectively manage.
- Instructional time is being lost to “housekeeping tasks,” such as taking period attendance, that just take longer to complete in a hybrid model.
- There is too much daily homework assigned to students.
- Students miss the ability to get extra help from teachers that a WIN period provided in the remote schedule.
- The lack of rotating periods in the schedule means students may not have the opportunity to be at their best in all of their classes.
- Teachers do not have the opportunity to work in Professional Learning Communities, which is a valuable practice for collaborative lesson and curriculum development.
Public education seems to have more than its share of rules and regulations. Any schedule we employ at Masconomet will need to follow the regulations of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Our schedule must also allow for the sharing of both personnel and physical spaces between our Middle and High Schools. So, as we think about creating a schedule that addresses the above list, we also need to address these other requirements:
- The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Public Health’s Guidance on School Reopening.
- The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Requirement of 5.5 hours of “Structured Learning Time” each day.
- The service delivery requirements of Individualized Education Plans of students with disabilities.
- Teachers’ contractual requirements as outlined in the current collective bargaining agreement.
- The inclusion of daily “Mask Breaks” for students.
- The ability to serve daily lunches to students in both the Middle and High Schools, including:
- Accommodating separate middle and high school lunch periods in the field house.
- At least 35 minutes each day per lunch period, including passing time.
- Sufficient time in the schedule between each lunch period to clean cafeteria space.
- Coordination between Middle and High Schools schedules to allow staff shared between the two schools to teach in both buildings.
As you can see, developing a schedule that meets all of these parameters is a very complex task that will take time to complete properly. Our District Leadership Team, made up of department heads, building principals and district leaders has been meeting over the past several weeks to brainstorm possible schedule models that will both meet our identified priorities and comply with state and local requirements. We fully understand that no one schedule will satisfy everyone in our community and that any model will contain certain advantages and drawbacks. Our task has been to weigh the impact of these factors to create potential models that best support the needs of our students and faculty.
Ultimately, the working conditions of the schedules used in our middle and high schools are subject to collective bargaining with the Masconomet Teachers Association (MTA). We will begin engaging the MTA in a collaborative dialogue regarding possible schedule changes in the coming weeks. After this process has been completed and a Memorandum of Agreement has been negotiated with the MTA, we’ll be able to share any agreed upon schedule model changes and the plan for implementing these changes with the larger community.
Thank you all for your patience as we work to improve our hybrid model. This is truly a case where we are building the airplane while flying it. We will do our best to adjust our practices to address the concerns we’ve heard.