Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad told the School Committee Tuesday that elementary school students could return en masse to their classrooms sometime in March for a cost of around $150,000. A decision is likely at the Feb. 23 School Committee meeting.
Conrad also noted that the principals of the middle and high school are evaluating how to integrate struggling students into classroom seats that are currently empty.
The principals of Davis and Lane Schools have evaluated variables like potential classroom space, and the resulting initial estimate is that seven or eight additional teachers would be required to accommodate the full grades one through five population for the four-day academic week.
He said the cost is based on pro-rated salaries over two-and-a-half to three months.
“For me, $150,000 is not a bridge too far,” said committee Chair Dan Brosgol. “If we went and looked for $150,000, we could find it.” He added, “I’m not saying we are going to.”
Brosgol also emphasized that “it’s really important that we hear from the teachers on this one. It has got to be collaborative and deliberate.”
The issue most likely will be decided on Feb. 23, based on upcoming commitments. Next week’s agenda is the public hearing on the budget, followed by a final recommendation on spending for next year. “We could still be talking about the budget on Feb. 9,” he said, and the following week is school vacation.
“I see us taking a position on the 23rd,” Brosgol said. “All this is good news, though. How much space do we have? Can we fill it? How much does it cost? We’re getting all these answers.”
Data that will help the decision are expected over the next week when parent survey responses are due. Among the survey questions are whether parents are comfortable with their children’s returning to full-time in-person learning this year, and whether they need bus transportation.
If it is decided to proceed, Conrad said, the hybrid model will be discontinued for Davis and Lane students. Everyone will either be in school or entirely remote.
School Committee member Ann Guay was concerned about the prospects of finding the additional teachers necessary for full reopening. Brosgol was more optimistic. “I think we can find seven or eight teachers. How many outstanding, highly-qualified teachers may be less than we think. We are still going to be moving chess pieces around for a long time.”
In answer to a question from Guay, Conrad said administrators at the middle and high school “are looking to fill seats to capacity with students that are struggling” and are now partially or fully remote. The priority at Davis and Lane will be full reopening over filling empty seats if that’s the direction the committee chooses, he said.
Guay asked about students who, originally in school two days a week, have stopped showing up, opting to become fully remote and leaving classroom chairs empty. Conrad said principals are reaching out to families and advising them to inform the school if their children’s learning model has changed. Then any seats can be filled.
Full-time kindergarten resumes Monday, Conrad noted, and he visited Davis School this week to witness preparations. Students are “very excited,” he reported, “It was really wonderful to see how the kindergarten team had really prepared the students. There was joy.”
The children will see some familiar faces, as two teaching assistants have been promoted to full teaching status in anticipation of the full student complement.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763