Greenfield schools to start year remotely

  • Greenfield Middle School on Federal Street, like all other Greenfield public schools, will begin the year remotely this fall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2020 4:04:00 PM

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Committee has made it official, unanimously voting to start the school year in mid-September with a remote/remote-plus model.

Before the vote Wednesday, the committee heard from several parents, some of whom had concerns about the community’s children and educators, including former School Committee member and Greenfield resident Margaret Betts, who said remote learning is the “only safe way” to start the year.

“It would not be a good idea to start and then shut down,” she said, referring to that possibility if COVID-19 hits the area hard this fall, as some predict.

English Language Learning teacher Karen Malley agreed with the plan, though she said she is concerned how her students will learn in remote classrooms, where it is likely to be a “lonely, stressful experience.”

Others asked for more clarity, wanting to know what a remote/remote-plus start will look like, saying students, especially younger ones, logging on to a computer multiple times a day for synchronous learning might be difficult for some families.

The remote-plus model, described previously by Superintendent Jordana Harper, is a mainly remote model, but includes some in-person services, such as teaching students in instructional “pods” with social distancing requirements in place.

Pete Brown, a Greenfield resident who has two children in the school system, said he doesn’t like the remote/remote-plus model but likes the fully in-person and hybrid models less, while Jaimye Bartak said low numbers of COVID-19 cases in Greenfield should be pushing the school district toward a hybrid model at the very least.

“This is a risk we have to live with,” Bartak said. “We can’t wait two years for this to be eradicated. We can’t sequester our kids. Second-graders aren’t going to learn well remotely.”

Harper, along with school principals, presented examples of the schedules each grade level — preschool, elementary, middle and high school — will follow.

Preschool students, for instance, will spend a half-day moving, reading stories and doing art projects. There will be some live instruction and children will follow some pre-recorded activities with caregivers’ help.

Elementary school students will begin the day with a morning meeting and spend the day — 8:35 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. — studying math, social studies, science and reading, while middle school students will start their day at 7:45 a.m. and continue until 3:05 p.m. They’ll have four class periods, studying math, science, social studies, English and more, with breaks between classes.

High school students will begin at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:50 p.m. each day. There will be three class periods that include synchronous learning and live instruction, along with individual and small group learning.

Teachers at all levels will be in contact with parents, guardians and students regularly, and unlike in the spring when they received a “pass” or “fail,” students will be graded this fall and attendance will be taken.

School Committee Chair Amy Proietti told people who attended the virtual meeting this week to contact their legislators if they have issues with the remote plans. She and other members of the committee said Greenfield can’t afford any other model but the remote one to start.

To start the year in-person, committee members said, would be more expensive because of the safety measures they’d have to take, and the district won’t know what type of Chapter 70 school aid it will receive from the state until later in October.

Proietti said she understands and empathizes with all parents and caregivers who are trying to work full time while struggling with what to do about children who are home full time.

While the School Committee voted to start with the remote/remote-plus plan, it also adopted the other two plans, so Greenfield schools can eventually get back to in-person learning in phases.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who also sits on the School Committee, said the remote/remote-plus plan is the “lesser of many evils.” She said it’s a good plan, especially since the Greenfield School Department can’t give parents any reassurances because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and whether it will get worse in the fall.

“Working families are trying to plan their lives without many good options,” she said. “Greenfield has had a low infection rate for some time, but we’ll have to keep a close eye on what’s happening with COVID-19 as we enter the fall.”

The School Committee also voted to meet every two weeks until the pandemic is under control and everyone can return to in-person learning.

“This (remote/remote-plus plan) was an extremely heavy decision,” School Committee member Katie Caron said. “We’ve been thinking about this for months.”

Caron, who serves on the Greenfield Reopening Education Advisory Team, said she, like everyone else, wants children back in school.

“We can’t get there safely or financially right now,” she said. “The entire community is interested in this, because kids, educators and the entire community are at risk.”

Caron said she hopes even those who are “mad at the School Committee’s decision” will appreciate the tremendous amount of work being done.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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