The Williamsville Central School District, which abruptly halted its hybrid learning model and switched to a fully remote format just days into its new school year, is working out a plan which would return students to the classroom during parts of the week.
Thousands of students who were preparing to attend a mix of in-class lessons and at-home learning began a temporary all-remote model Sept. 15. When the model switch was announced on the evening of Sept. 10, the belief was that all-remote learning would be in place through the end of 2020.
"As you are aware, a difficult decision had to be made to go temporarily fully remote in Grades 5 through 12, because we were out of compliance with the law, and we could not have 1,400 students left behind without an education," stated Acting Superintendent Dr. John McKenna in a video message shared via YouTube. "We had to make an immediate decision to step back, reevaluate and develop a plan to fix the situation as soon as possible."
Several committees were formed last week, including a "Reset, Relaunch, Return" committee. That committee, according to McKenna, met with representatives of five other local school districts, the University at Buffalo and Erie 1 BOCES, as well as student and parent leaders, to explore the ideal instructional model.
In prepared remarks, the district listed these as "guiding principles" in their decision-making process:
- 1. We needed to maintain the same existing class schedules for continuity and consistency.
- 2. Every student will keep their existing teachers because the student-teacher relationship is critical to students' success and essential to support their social/emotional well-being.
- 3. Students should also continue to be able to maintain relationships with students in their class. These relationships are crucial to our students at this time.
- 4. We needed to ensure flexibility for our staff to allow them to take the first steps to begin this process.
- 5. We also believe it is imperative that staff receive ongoing training and support, and that they are provided the time necessary to collaborate with each other to maximize success.
Also included in a prepared message released to Williamsville school families were these details regarding a relaunch plan:
- The students and teachers will follow their normal schedule four days a week, learning in-school or at home. Current class schedules will remain the same. Wednesday's schedule will be modified.
- A daily synchronous experience for all students in each class on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and in homerooms on Wednesdays. This may look different in certain special area classes.
- Hybrid in-person learning, hybrid remote learners, and fully remote learners are all part of the same class.
- A learning model that engages students who are learning in-person and remotely during the same class period, both synchronously and asynchronously. This model will also allow us to maintain proper social distancing for the health and safety of our students.
- Teachers have the flexibility to choose how to engage students within the essential element framework. They will make choices among synchronous and asynchronous, as well as small group and whole group, based on the needs of the students and the objectives of the lesson.
- Self-Contained District Special Needs classes will continue to report to school five days a week.
- Wednesdays for teachers include a brief synchronous experience with students as well as asynchronous learning. There will also be time for collaboration, professional learning opportunities, and planning.
Once a relaunch plan is finalized, the next step will be to determine when to launch it. An announcement on a timeline, according to McKenna, was planned for "later this week," though the expected date for the announcement was Wednesday.
"The State Education Department is aware of the situation and we are in regular communication with them," he said in his recorded message. "They are supporting us as we develop our plan. Everyone in our community, including our students, staff and parents, have experienced great anxiety and stress over this situation. And that is why we have been working diligently as a team to find a solution as soon as possible."