School districts given 10 days for training before school starts

Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

School year would be shortened to 170 days for students

WESTFIELD – New guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sent on July 27 will allow school districts across the Commonwealth to use the first 10 days of school for additional training for teachers and staff. This means school for students would begin on Sept. 14 or 15, said Westfield Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski. 

The letter from DESE talks about the reasoning behind the decision and makes the adjustment to shorten student learning time requirements in order to provide the additional training.

“Our educators and staff are essential to our preparations for a safe and successful fall school reopening. Following collaborative discussions with the teachers’ unions, I am announcing today that school districts will have 10 additional days at the start of the 2020-2021 school year to prepare for the reopening of schools,” wrote DESE Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley.

“To provide sufficient training for educators and staff, I will reduce the 180 day and student learning time requirements for the 2020-2021 school year to 170 days and 850 hours (for elementary schools) and 935 hours (for secondary schools), so long as districts begin providing instruction to students no later than Sept. 16, 2020,” Riley said.

Czaporowski said he appreciates the decision. “Previously, we only had two days to work with our teachers and staff. Now we have 10 additional days to work with staff and make sure our remote learning is more robust. It takes training and professional development. We also have to train our staff on sanitation and safety because of COVID-19,” Czaporowski said.

Czaporowski said the district has already started looking at vendors who can do the training, and plans to use staff who did a great job with remote learning in the spring to train other staff on how to do it well.

The district had already released its draft plan at the School Committee meeting on July 16, which described a four phase hybrid model that would be phased in at the start of school in the fall. Phase one will entail remote learning for most students, and bringing in students with high needs first, including students in special education and English language learners. Also returning for Phase one will be Career Technical education students at Westfield Technical Academy, where Czaporowski said there is adequate space in the shops. He said it is critical for the freshmen to be in the building for exploratory, when they choose which career technical path they will follow.

Phase two will be a “hybrid model, full force,” Czaporowski said. “We cannot have all of the students back with adequate social distancing,” He said students returning to school can be six feet apart and not wear a mask, or three feet apart and wear a mask. “We still can’t fit everybody at three feet apart. We’re going to see some differences in different schools, according to their size.”

Czaporowski said currently they are thinking of having an A and B Week, or possibly two weeks on and two weeks off, which was suggested by a parent. He said they will work to ensure that all students in one family will be on the same alternating week or weeks.

The updated model went out to parents and staff the week of July 20, and the district is currently holding parent forums and sending out surveys to get more feedback. Czaporowski said that fifteen percent of parents who have already responded to surveys are saying they want to start with remote learning.

Since that first plan was presented, the district has met with the Boys and Girls Club, Westfield Athenaeum and the YMCA of Greater Westfield and Camp Shepard to discuss the possibility of having some students doing their remote learning at those locations, with teachers and staff on hand to assist them. Food Services Director Rachel Kania has also agreed to provide lunch for students at those locations, Czaporowski said.

The revised school calendar and the finalized plan due to DESE will be presented at a Special School Committee meeting on Aug. 10 at 5:30 p.m.

Czaporowski said the district is hoping the extra training time will allow schools to start the first phase of the hybrid model on the first day of student learning.

“It’s not good news in terms of time on learning for students, but it’s good news in terms of helping schools be prepared to be open,” Czaporowski said, adding that the Personal Protective Equipment the district has ordered hasn’t even come in yet.

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