New Canaan Public Schools one week ago published a continuously updated operations guide for the 2020-21 academic school year. Titled “Charting Our Course” and embedded on a new NCPS website page with other COVID 19-related information for school families, it includes timelines leading up to the first day of school, guiding principles for the district as it makes decisions about just how school will look this coming year, modeling, details on masks and social distancing, contact information for liaisons, busing information and more.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi also helped lead town hall-style info sessions with question-and-answer sessions with participants.
We asked Luizzi about the guide, sessions and what New Canaan students and families could be looking at for the upcoming academic year. Here’s our exchange.
New Canaanite: You sent the New Canaan Public Schools community a link to a “live” operations guide called “Charting Our Course” that will be updated in the coming days and weeks with information on how the district will handle the 2020-21 school year. Two of the bullet points appear to be that whether the physical school buildings open, and to what extent, will depend on “community spread” of the virus, and that a decision will be made around Aug. 12. What are some other big points to spotlight?
Dr. Bryan Luizzi: Thanks Mike—I think the guide itself is perhaps the most significant thing to highlight. While it’s lengthy and somewhat dense, the first few pages detail our approach, the universal implementation of mitigation strategies such as face coverings, social distancing, handwashing, and health monitoring, and the use of “cohorting” in the schools. he guide itself is dynamic, just as the information we’re receiving evolves so will the guide, and we’ll highlight changes through the website as well. We’ve also included links to CIAC, and we’ve developed resources focused on student, staff, and family emotional and mental health, because we know these can be trying times for everyone. Also, the recorded webinar sessions with parents/guardians at each school are now available through the website as well.
Much depends on whether New Canaan is determined to have “low,” “moderate” or “high” community spread. Who is making that determination and—briefly—how are they making it?
The state is providing us guidelines at a macro level, and we will be making decisions guided by their metrics and informed by our particular circumstances. The guidelines use several metrics, the most significant being the average number of new cases per 100,000 people in a county. 1 – 9 = Low; 10 – 24 = Moderate; 25+ = High Community Spread. Right now in Fairfield County we’re the highest in the state at a 5.6, which is Low Community Spread, so that will inform our decisions about the model we’ll begin with when students and staff return on 8/31.
You had mentioned the possibility of a “hybrid” model when we spoke two months ago, a combination of in-person and remote learning. What’s your sense now of whether we’re headed toward something like that?
Given the flexibility the governor provided schools recently, we’re reviewing the possibility of a hybrid to begin the school year at the secondary level. Regardless, our Onboarding and Re Engagement with Learning Plan brings 50% of the students in for the first four days so we can take the necessary time to teach our students the mitigation strategies and get everyone comfortable being back in school. We’ve been out since March 11, so we can’t take anything for granted.
It looks like a “hybrid” model would see students assigned into one of two “cohorts,” and they’d attend school in-person on alternating days. Students also may opt for 100% distance learning. In either case, this could present many families with practical complications—for example, ensuring that someone is home on specific days. What other challenges is the district anticipating and how are you addressing them?
Our “hybrid” model breaks alphabetically across the district (A-K = cohort X; L-Z = cohort Y), which keeps families together and may alleviate some of these issues for families with students in multiple schools. We’ve also learned quite a lot since we first closed in March, and we are implementing a Learning Management System at all levels to help with organization, materials sharing, and communication at all levels. We’re also implementing a “no visitor” policy in our schools, which is challenging because volunteerism and community are cornerstones of our school community. For the short term, we cannot let visitors enter our schools. We’re also issuing devices to all students K-8 (HS uses a BYOD model) and training our students on the use of their issued devices (iPads K-2, Chromebooks 3 – 8), which should ease the transition into remote learning for our students and families.
If there’s a remote learning component for next academic year, what would be your message to parents who are worried about facing a full school year’s worth of what they experienced for the last three months of the academic year just passed?
I want to reassure everyone that we learned quite a bit from our experiences in the spring, and the experience will be significantly different as a result. I’d also want to stress that the system we’ve designed provides for continuous improvement and growth, and we’re constantly focused on learning and evolving as a system in all of what we do.
What are some of the questions or concerns you are hearing during the info sessions you are running now with parents and faculty, and what are your responses to those?
Parents are interested in learning how we will determine if/when to adjust the model (above), if all students are expected to wear masks (yes), about mask breaks and outdoor learning (yes to both), school ventilation systems (we’ve been working on it for months and an engineer is coming this week to continue balancing the system according to guidelines), and the remote learning model (live streaming the class so students are simultaneously face-to-face or at home in remote learning. It’s a ‘blended” model in that students will be online for a portion (as when the teacher is teaching a craft lesson), then offline while working with the material, then back on, etc. I’ve shared in the sessions that just like students don’t sit at their desks and stare forward at a teacher all day while in school, that is not what they’ll be doing from home on remote learning either. I’ll be a mix, interactive, and synchronous.