Elementary and middle schools set to return to school in hybrid and all-remote models, respectively

by Preethika Vemula, News Editor
photo courtesy of Parents, Educators, NPS Staff and Students in Support of Newton Schools Facebook group

The School Committee preliminarily voted on August 14 for elementary and middle schools to reopen in a split-hybrid model. However, on August 25, Newton Public Schools (NPS) administration revised the reopening proposal, making middle schools begin fully-remote and transition to a split-hybrid model and elementary schools begin in a split-hybrid model and transition to a full-day-hybrid model. Both school levels can opt for the Distance Learning Academy (DLA). On August 26, the School Committee voted to pass the proposed changes. 

Dana Lanciloti, a Brown Middle School parent, said that she is confident that the distance learning plan will be better than that of the spring.

“There was little to no time … in the spring,” she said. “Everyone was learning as it was happening. I think [this year] will be better, even though it’s not ideal. It’s better to have students and teachers in-person, but the main concern is safety.”

Fleishman said that about 36 middle-school teachers are unable to attend in-person school. In order for middle schools to transition to a split-hybrid model in November, NPS would need substitute teachers to monitor in-person classes.

“We would need 36 substitute teachers to sit in the classes and supervise students while the teachers Zoom from home,” he said. “We would need time to find those 36 people. That’s why we had November for [a goal].”

Elementary schools, on the other hand, are using a split-hybrid model that allows students to learn in-person for two half-days and remotely for the rest of the week. Families can opt out into the DLA for a fully-remote option.

Fleishman said that NPS decided to employ the hybrid model in elementary schools, in contrast to middle and high schools, because there are fewer classes within each grade level.

“It’s more simple to do a hybrid model in elementary school because we only have six classes. Everyone’s in kindergarten through fifth grade,” he said. “In middle school, you have more classes because of special subjects, and in high school you have hundreds of electives.”

In the hybrid model, elementary-school students are split into two cohorts, Assistant Superintendent for Primary Education Khita Pottinger-Johnson said in a School Committee meeting. After students are dismissed from in-person school and on the days that they have no in-person school, students continue their learning remotely.

Fleishman said that NPS hopes to have elementary students transition from a split-hybrid model to a hybrid model with full in-person school days by Nov. 1.

Williams Elementary School Principal Ayesha Farag said that in the DLA, students will receive live-instruction over Zoom from their teachers half a day for two days a week. During the rest of the week, students will complete work independently.

The DLA consists of students and teachers from all 15 district elementary schools. When possible, students from the same elementary school will be clustered together. “The greatest successes happen in small groups. Those opportunities with smaller group sizes with the attention of staff are the most beneficial and rewarding for all,” Farag said.

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Toby Romer said that the administration will continue to survey students and staff to improve the reopening plan.

“We know the plan isn’t perfect,” he said. “We try to learn from our experience last spring from the surveys and the feedback we got. We’ll keep doing that this fall.”