MIDDLEBURY-SOUTHBURY — The Region 15 Board of Education, meeting Monday, May 11, received an update on distance learning from Superintendent Joshua Smith and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Carrie Chiappetta.

Mr. Smith noted the need to remain flexible and reminded those present that the district’s actions were driven by public health concerns; he expects public school education to change in a fundamental way, much as school shootings changed the approach to student safety.

He provided a short- and long-term overview, noting that there are many meetings taking place with school leaders in the region, the governor’s emergency operations management, and daily updates with health directors and the state Department of Education.

The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education is analyzing the region’s policies as planning for the future takes place at the district, regional and national levels.

Regional advisory teams have formed in anticipation of school reopening and personal protection equipment is on order to replace masks that were donated to local hospitals at the onset of the pandemic.

As the existing social and emotional wellness framework is enhanced and updated, conversations are taking place in a collaborative environment.

Food services has provided approximately 7,000 meals since schools closed and there is a slight slowdown in food availability with a corresponding price increase.

That service will continue until June 12, the last day of school. Mr. Smith is planning summer food options.

Many conversations are taking place to describe dining experiences when schools reopen, considering factors such as food allergies and the formation of lines for food service.

Dr. Chiappetta addressed emergency remote teaching and learning, describing how it is different from online learning because the current experience is a temporary solution to the immediate problem.

The learning plan has examined both synchronous and asynchronous learning to accommodate realities such as the difficulty of sitting in front of a screen for six hours and that families may need to share equipment.

Mr. Smith noted that the ability to access learning later in the day has helped some families adjust.

Teachers have been working with each other, reading consultants, interventionists and principals.

Dr. Chiappetta described details of instruction, including how books were distributed with lunches, use of mail to send packets to parents, various software packages to teach math.

She also described what teachers are doing at home, including lesson planning, holding office hours, communicating with parents and students, correcting assignments, attending virtual meetings and continuing professional development.

Addressing the future, the assistant superintendent commented that grade level expectations must be addressed and Mr. Smith advised looking two or three years ahead when developing ideas for the future.

An online assessment in June could inform that planning and identify learning gaps and if those gaps are with small groups of students who could be addressed individually or enough instances to warrant changes in curriculum.

Dr. Chiappetta said there are benefits to the new environment, such as the collaboration between teachers across districts and the ability to learn new virtual learning tools that can translate to a return to the classroom.

Mr. Smith pointed out that the tools had been available, but the pandemic has forced everyone to take risks and operate out comfort zones, which has been beneficial.

He ran through some of the many issues that must be considered in order to reopen schools, such as bus cleaning, furniture use, classroom capacity and layout, airflow and traffic patterns, rental policies, how to play football with social distancing and more.

Plans for graduation and summer use of schools will be based on safety guidelines and are in process as the superintendent consults with health officials.

During their report to the board, Student Representatives Mikha Shrestha and Patrick Weitekamp expressed disappointment that they will not be able to experience the end of the school year with traditional events, describing the distance learning experience and online exams.

Mr. Weitekamp noted that there were virtual experiences where students shared experiences outside of school and Ms. Shrestha thanked teachers for their efforts in helping students get through this tough time.

Board member Steven Suriani asked what was going well and where improvements could be made.

Mr. Weitekamp responded that distance learning has not been tried before now and attempting to set it up on the fly has been a challenge, suggesting that the introduction to new material could be improved.

He has been impressed with how flexible teachers have been.

During the meeting, the board entered into an executive session to review and discuss the 2020-23 administrators’ contract.

Board member Richard Spierto suggested delaying the vote in consideration of the recent high unemployment numbers and Chair Marion Manzo noted that a delay would possible put the district into arbitration.

Before adjourning, the board approved the contract with Mr. Spierto against.

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