Wilton plans for a new face for education
WILTON — “My message really is, school is going to look very different in the fall,” Kevin Smith, superintendent of schools, told the Board of Education Thursday night, May 21, during its online meeting.
The Re-Entry Planning Committee has begun meeting, and while it’s still a long way from drawing up specific plans for implementation, Smith said progress is being made in formulating a wider look at what the considerations need to be for school to start up again in the fall.
He shared some pieces of an early document, which builds off of several areas of focus, including public health risks, concerns for the economic hardships on families, impact on student learning, health and behavioral norms, physical infrastructure issues, transportation, food services, scheduling and staffing.
The committee intends to explore each area of concern in detail, he said, creating guideline questions and a set of actions targeted to those questions. Along with specific considerations for each area —such as whether screening measures should be age specific, or if there should be creation of isolated areas for people who might become sick during the day — there are also secondary issues that must be weighed, such as how food allergies come into play if students have to eat in their classrooms, reasonable time expectations for students to have to wear masks, and just general issues like security, fire drills and random social and emotional concerns.
“We’ll be meeting weekly as we move forward to flesh out these assumptions … to create an action plan,” Smith said, noting the group found itself “getting into the weeds” of details very quickly at its first meeting this week.
Having just received its preliminary guidelines from the state on Wednesday, May 20, on protocols for opening summer school, Smith said more detailed guidelines on reopening schools in the fall are expected by mid-June.
“It does seem really daunting and really challenging and really overwhelming,” board member Ruth DeLuca said, “but I do have absolute faith in our ability to see it through and to get there and to have a plan that makes going back to school successful.”
She noted that other countries were already doing it “and it’s being done well,” so the possibility is there.
Smith also spoke to the possibilities he saw in the district of using this entire crisis as an opportunity to correct failures or shortcomings in terms of how it has served some students in the past.
“Our traditional system … doesn’t serve all kids,” he said, “so we had gaps in the way we had been doing things.”
“I share the sentiment that this is really an opportunity to better serve many of the kids that we were underserving,” he said.
Smith was also frank about the current e-learning system, which he said was adequate to meet the immediate needs for an emergency situation, “but it is absolutely not sufficient for what is to come.”
“We have the time, we have the opportunity, to be better,” he said, noting a unique paradigm shift from teaching being an individual act, to teaching as a team act, opening it up to new possibilities.
In terms of team building, Chair Deborah Low said she was inspired by a video Smith sent to his staff asking them to reflect on the next school year and what it will require.
She asked the same of her board in a letter prior to the meeting.
“What attitudes should we bring to this?” she asked. “What skills should we put to use? What are our roles … and expectations?”
Member Mandi Schmauch cited consistency “and making sure that we maintain the consistency,” as well as keeping up good communication with the public.
“No one has all the answers,” she said.
Toward that end, member Gretchen Jeanes put in a plug for flexibility.
“We can come up with this wonderful plan and there might be a hiccup somewhere,” she said.
“I think that we as a board need to make sure we can come back and scramble and be here … It’s not the same board work that we were doing last year,” she said.
“There’s going to be a lot of trials and tribulations as we go through this process,” Vice Chair Glenn Hemmerle said, citing patience and positivity.
Other members also noted a focus on safety, resiliency, health and closing the gaps in academic progress.
“There’s plenty to be overwhelmed about,” Low said, “but as we see this as an opportunity … we’re going to come out stronger and be more adaptable and be able to face the next crisis.”
“We’re going to be embarking on something completely new,” she said.
“It’s going to take courage.”