Students across the Saugerties Central School District will officially begin remote learning on Monday, March 30, with teachers and administrators currently fine tuning the means of communication and adapting in-class curriculum for home learning. All schools in the district have been closed since Friday, March 13 in an effort to minimize the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic through the region.
Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said the district has spent the past couple of weeks preparing for remote learning.
“I think we’re in a really good place,” he said. “We’re doing Zoom a lot and Google Hangout. We’ve had a lot of conference calls with principals and administration. We did a survey online, and we’re heading to have Chromebooks Friday and Monday.”
The district is making available Microsoft Chromebooks for students in the district who might not have home access to a device that would allow them to take advantage of distance learning over the internet. The SCSD has roughly 2,300 students, and Reinhardt said close to 300 requests had come in for the use of Chromebooks. He further estimated that with the average household having around two students, close to 600 would be served by the use of the borrowed technology.
Families who’ve requested and been approved for Chromebooks will be able to pick them up at the Saugerties High School bus circle on Friday, March 27 from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and on Monday, March 30 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“The tricky one it will be with students who can’t for any reason get any type of internet service,” said Reinhardt, who stressed that the district is making every effort to ensure all of its students are able to resume learning from home next week. “For those, our elementary teachers and high school guidance counselors are going to reach out to those families and figure out how to get those materials to them. We can obviously mail them, we can obviously have pickup times like we’re doing with the meals and the Chromebooks. But we’re going to have to fill that gap the way we would have 15 years ago if a student was out for three weeks because they had knee surgery and provide them hard copies of stuff.”
Reinhardt said remote learning will likely work differently from teacher-to-teacher, regardless of the grade. Video will either be live or recorded. Some classes were already offering some learning online before the pandemic.
“They’ve been amazing as far as preparing and getting their own stuff online, but it depends on the teacher,” Reinhardt said. “The nice thing that’s about (app-based web conferencing tool) Zoom is you can record your lesson and then students can watch it whenever they want. Our math program that we’ve been using in the elementary schools already has an online component that students have been working on so that’s a good thing. And our students are much more adaptable to this than people my age probably are. They’re used to FaceTime and that sort of thing, and they’re used to going online and watching a 10-minute tutorial on something.”
Reinhardt added that all grades in the district will have remote learning opportunities.
“For younger students I think the interaction piece may be different,” he said. “But they’ve been doing things with i-Ready math, they’ve worked with Pathways (in Education), and the questions are suited directly to them. The elementary staff is already reaching out to families to say this is what it’s going to look like, and if they have questions they should be in touch. So we’re really confident with where we’re at.”
In mid-March, Governor Andrew Cuomo officially ordered all schools across the state closed through April 1. And while that date has not been updated, it’s likely the closure will soon be extended, perhaps erasing all that remains of the 2019-20 school year. Reinhardt said the district has planned for three different scenarios.
“Every time my team meets we have a conversation about if we return April 1st, if we return in May, and if we were closed for the rest of the school year, and we always look at what each of those three pathways would look like,” Reinhardt said. Students in all grades, regardless of which scenario ultimately comes to fruition, will be required to complete their full curriculum, with remote learning being adapted to ensure as seamless a delivery of education as possible.
“There’s already state regulations about online learning, so that’s not new,” said Reinhardt. “We just have to make sure any new material between now and June would align to a full curriculum.”
That will especially be critical for SHS seniors hoping to graduate in June. Only time and the flattening of the pandemic’s curve will determine whether they’re able to receive their diplomas in a traditional ceremony.
“The ceremony itself would be based on whatever guidance we got from the state or county about whether or not we were be allowed to have a mass gathering,” said Reinhardt.
Meanwhile, the district has continued to tweak its delivery of meals to students in need, with an updated chart available at: https://www.saugerties.k12.ny.us/cms/lib/NY24000038/Centricity/Domain/1/meals%203_20_2020.pdf. Fourteen pickup points are available across the district, with two breakfasts and two lunches available on Mondays and three on Wednesdays.
“Our meal distribution is going really well,” said Reinhardt on Tuesday, March 24. “We handed out 612 meals yesterday. We’re really happy about the way that’s growing.”
Reinhardt said that the district anticipates a few growing pains as remote learning officially gets underway, but stressed that the message will be very clear to parents and students alike: We’re here for you.
“Our goal next week is about reinforcing to our community that we’re here, we’re going to work out the kinks, we’re going to figure out what’s working great and what we need to work on,” he said. “It’s going to be new for a lot of people, but this has to be our message next week to the community: We are here.”