Windham Southwest explores reopening options

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WILMINGTON — School officials in the Deerfield Valley are seeking input as they make decisions on whether to reopen for in-person learning while facing the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic.

Windham Southwest Superintendent Barbara Komons-Montroll presented an overview of proposals for reopening options at the supervisory union executive board's Friday meeting. The proposal outlined two options for families: students attend classes in school buildings four days a week with one day of remote learning or do fully remote learning.

"Once the board confirms that these are the models that we will move forward with, we will plan these with more detail, and we will share the details with you," Komons-Montroll wrote in a letter to families, staff, community members and school boards dated Monday.

She said the Vermont Agency of Education is providing some guidance for reopening through documents and weekly conferences with Education Secretary Dan French. Windham Southwest schools include Twin Valley Elementary School in Wilmington, Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham, Halifax Elementary School, Readsboro Central and Stamford School.

The supervisory union created a COVID task force made up of principals and administrators. They "have been working long and hard since the day school ended to develop plans to reopen schools" that meet requirements in the guidance from the state agency, wrote Komons-Montroll.

A summary of results from a survey that received about 300 responses will be discussed at the supervisory board's meeting happening virtually at 7 p.m. Thursday. Also on the agenda are the reopening models and proposed timeline.

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About 59 percent of survey respondents said they plan to send their children back to school and 41 percent do not, according to the letter. More than 70 percent of respondents want fully remote learning.

"Many respondents told us that they would like their children to attend school in person, but not necessarily every day," wrote Komons-Montroll.

A day-long meeting with teacher and staff representatives, and weekly meetings with teacher representatives also were held, according to the letter. Komons-Montroll said teachers will need to have regular time to plan and train for remote learning.

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"We agree this is a necessity and support providing teachers with the time to practice transitioning quickly and effectively to remote learning, while building their capacity to provide robust learning remotely," she wrote.

Komons-Montroll said based on the size of the schools and number of students, all the students will be able to attend and maintain social distancing requirements outlined in the state guidelines. With all of the information, she added, "it became clear to the Task Force that we need to offer families two options."

The first is to have four days of classes in person and one day of remote learning.

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"During this Wednesday remote learning day, students will remain at home and teachers will provide remote learning," Komons-Montroll wrote. "On this day, teachers will also build their remote learning skills, and have time for critical planning and collaboration. This will help prepare everybody to more seamlessly and competently transition to remote learning, each time that we are required to go remote."

The proposal calls for a supervised learning and enrichment program option coordinated by the Wings afterschool program inside the schools on the remote day.

Based on survey feedback, school officials also are proposing they develop a model for fully remote learning. And principals are meeting with staff and hosting community meetings to gather more input.

Komons-Montroll said if the board agrees to the plan, the task force will fine tune details on the two options and share information with stakeholders. She also noted that plans may change.

"Thank you for your patience, understanding, and flexibility as we work through the many details, unresolved questions, and challenges related to the reopening of our schools," she wrote. "I hope for you and your family much health and serenity."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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