Photo credit: Ray Johnson
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Supt. Alexis Meyer has her hands FULL. Not only is she dealing with a global pandemic and the chaos it has wreaked on school, but she’s got several key administrative positions to fill. She gave EG News some time Thursday to talk about everything she’s working on.
First, she has found a candidate to take over as principal at EGHS. The School Committee will meet Tuesday morning to vote on approving the contract. The committee will also vote on the contract for a new finance director, a position that’s been vacant since February. Meyer declined to identify either candidate before Tuesday’s meeting.
That just leaves the EGHS vice principal and athletic director positions to fill. The vice principal job has been posted but Meyer cannot post the AD job until the School Committee votes to accept Chris Cobain’s resignation (which came Wednesday; read more HERE).
Meyer said she understood Cobain’s desire to undertake a new challenge but she said she was sorry to see him leave.
“I want to congratulate him and wish him the best. But for our district, I don’t celebrate his leaving,” she said. Still, she said, “I’m grateful for the time we’ve had him here to promote our athletic program both at the high school and at Cole.”
She said fall sports remain a question mark, just as what exactly school will look like, but she said the R.I. Interscholastic League is eager to be able to offer at least some fall sports.
About school, Gov. Raimondo Wednesday released the five metrics she and the departments of health and education would be looking at to determine a district’s readiness. Unlike the blanket distance learning mandate Raimondo gave in March, this time decisions of how to do school could vary from district to district.
Here are the metrics:
- Statewide data – Does the state-level data indicate we should be in Phase 3 or higher?
- Municipal readiness – Do municipal-level case incidence rates indicate it’s safe to fully reopen? If the incident rate is above a certain level in a particular city or town, that municipality won’t move forward with in-person learning.
- Testing readiness – Does each district have the ability to test all symptomatic staff and students and get results within 48 to 72 hours?
- Supply readiness – Does every school have more than sufficient cleaning supplies, soap, hand sanitizer, and face masks?
- Operational readiness – Does every district have a plan that has been vetted by the Department of Education (RIDE) and DOH? Does every plan include necessary health precautions including mask requirement, social distancing, stable pods, safe transportation and accommodations for staff and students with underlying health conditions? Does every school have a point-person to work with RIDE and DOH on testing and contact tracing? Does every school have health screening protocols in place? Does every school have a plan to support staff and students if they become ill?
Right now, the state is in Phase 3, but confirmed cases have trended a bit higher in recent days and Raimondo Wednesday dropped the number of people who could gather for social events from 25 to 15. In East Greenwich, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is 104, but that’s since the pandemic arrived in March. Barring some truly calamitous local uptick in cases, EG easily passes the second metric.
At this point, it’s unclear any district in the state could guarantee COVID-19 test results within 72 hours for all symptomatic staff and students. Gov. Raimondo has said the state is working on improving test result turnaround times. Right now, the average turnaround time is less than a week.
With regard to supply readiness, according to Director of Facilities Bob Wilmarth earlier this summer, the district has been able to get supplies.
That fifth metric is close to being met but not fully there. East Greenwich got a response from RIDE to the plan it submitted earlier in July (find the plan HERE). While the general feedback was positive and aspects of the plan were commended, some additional information was needed. And certain aspects of the fifth metric remain opaque. Meyer said Thursday she is waiting for guidelines from the Department of Health about what to do if a student or staff member becomes ill. Who, exactly, would need to quarantine? If someone who rides a bus gets ill, does everyone on that bus need to quarantine? What about the other students and staff that person came in contact with?
On Thursday, the district sent out a “Student Learning Choice” survey to district families, asking parents to pick either in-person or the distance learning for their students. “The choice between distance or in-person learning will determine how your child begins the school year,” the survey reads. It is almost guaranteed full in-person learning is not going to happen in East Greenwich (there is just not enough available square footage to allow recommended distancing). So, parents are really having to consider the two days in-person, two days distance-learning outlined in the district’s plan.
Meyer said other districts that had already polled their families found about 30 percent were opting for full distance learning.
Some private schools are erecting tents to serve as outdoor classrooms. Meyer said EG may use tents but not as replacement classrooms. Rather, the tents the district is considering would be used for shorter periods of time, for lunch, for shade, for activities. According to a RIDE spokesman, tents are OK as long as they conform to local regulations.
If distance learning is enacted, Meyer said it would NOT look like the distance learning that took place last spring.
“I think you’re going to find it’s going to be a different experience than what distance learning looked like going into an emergency setting,” she said, with students following a daily schedule that would mimic a normal school day.
She said all teachers would say getting to know their students in person was important. That was perhaps the only good thing about the forced distance learning in March – teachers already really knew their students and knew which students would need the most help.
If the district does not have at least some in-person time, teachers would have to get to know their students via computer, a bigger challenge.
One other idea that’s come up is equipping teachers with cameras and microphones to be able to lifestream their classes. Meyer said she was exploring that idea but said it was more complicated than just buying a bunch of cameras and microphones and would rely on teacher buy in.
“Every district is having these same conversations,” she said. “It requires discussions with teachers about how to make this work.”
Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. the district is holding a webinar with district pediatrician Howard Silversmith and the district’s school nurses. If you have a question for them, submit it HERE by Sunday. Here’s the link to join the webinar: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86123461573. Also, if you have questions about the reopening plan, email them here: [email protected].
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