The School Committee Tuesday unanimously endorsed the return of all first and second graders to Davis School four days a week beginning in mid-March.
The vote followed Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad’s recommendation. He told the committee that two classroom teachers and a special educator would be needed at an additional cost of $69,000. The motion specified that safety protocols will be sustained.
Conrad told the committee that Davis School administrators feel that this month’s successful kindergarten rollout is a model for bringing back the full cohort of first and second graders.
Tables will be exchanged for individual desks and chairs, allowing 16 students per classroom compared to the current 12. And all spaces used will be actual classrooms, not modified space.
Davis School Principal Beth Benoit noted that the configuration provides movable space for children, so they are not confined to a desk and chair all day long. “The ability to do this with protocols was a critical piece for the staff.”
Teaching assistants would add another 15 minutes to their day so they can assist with arrival and dismissal bus duty. Special effort would be directed toward minimizing the number of students who would have to change rooms or teachers, she said.
Changing teachers in the middle of the year was a concern among many parents who responded to a recent survey. Conrad noted that the return of full kindergarten necessitated moving 34 children, but Benoit and her assistant principal, Jessica Colby, “made it an exciting opportunity for kids.”
Benoit said they personally followed up with families affected by changes. “When we helped to explain, they were okay with it.” She notes that students who are learning remotely have a more difficult experience when teachers change.
The principal said teachers are worrying – about their own health, their families’, and the welfare of their students. “The four-day model eventually will make teachers’ lives less stressful,” she explained. One reason is the current model, with students coming and going, represents “a changing cohort of exposure.”
The best way for families to thank educators is to adhere to health guidelines and minimize risks to teachers, she added, noting that teachers would have preferred a higher vaccination priority but are moving forward regardless.
“We are being very thoughtful and very mindful of what that transition has to look like,” Benoit said. By shifting from hybrid, teachers will have more consistency for the entire week.
One of the moving parts is the hybrid model that has been applied since the start of school. Each of two cohorts is in school for two days a week and learning remotely the other two days.
The assumption was that consolidating the cohorts by returning to classrooms would obviate the need for the hybrid model, But feedback from parents, manifested in survey results as well as some who spoke during the public comments segment of Tuesday’s meeting, indicated that there is still some support for retention.
Committee Chair Dan Brosgol advocated for seeking a way to accommodate. “If we are going to build out classrooms, why can’t we keep some hybrid? Is it possible to structure it that way for a small number of children who may want it?” he wondered.
Benoit responded, “Finding 16 kids for a full class who want to be hybrid on the same day so teachers can teach when in person and remote is going to be complicated.” She noted, “It does feel like we provided a school with safety procedures and protocols for a student to be in the building four days. I don’t understand what two days in the building from a safety standpoint changes for them.”
Brosgol asked if first and second grade families now in the hybrid model could be surveyed to see who prefers to remain there. “Possibly, I am making a big deal about nothing,” he said.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763