About one in three families in the Olympia School District say they aren’t comfortable with their students returning to school for a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, District Superintendent Patrick Murphy said at a joint meeting of the city council and school board held last night.
“Trying to find ways to serve those families remotely, and have an option for those families that want to come back has been complex, challenging and every other word you can imagine,” said Murphy.
The city and district leadership bodies meet annually to discuss topics of intersecting interest. Chief among those topics — as has been the case for the past year — was COVID-19, and how it turned the school system upside down.
Preschool, kindergarten, first and second grade are part of a hybrid model where every other day is in-person and the other days are remote learning. Grades three, four and five will start with that model on March 8.
To accommodate both the hybrid-learning students with the remote-learning students, certain staff members are designated to teach for one model or the other.
However, things get more complicated when considering middle school, said Murphy, because students have a different teacher for each subject.
Murphy described a complex schedule where two days are split between remote learning in the morning and in-person learning in the afternoon. By the end of March, all grades will be able to participate in hybrid learning, rather than be entirely remote, he said.
“We have never probably had bigger smiles behind our masks than seeing our kids back in schools,” he said.
Enrollment was down by about 5 percent across the district this year, said Murphy. Kindergarten saw the largest gap in enrollment, with a 23 percent decrease. Because of that, Murphy said, they’re preparing for a potentially large increase in kindergarten class size in the coming school year, as the parents that decided to delay enrolling their children in school are expected to opt-in next fall.
Also present at the meeting was high school student Rebecca McMillin-Hastings, who serves as one of two student representatives on the OSD board. She said it’s been a challenging year.
“There was such a difference for me being in-person … just being in a school, working at a desk was so much more engaging and I did so much more work,” McMillin-Hastings said. Although, she added, this model has provided more time to engage in other activities. For instance, she said, she wouldn’t have pursued becoming a student representative otherwise.
School Board Vice President Maria Flores said the school board is now tasked with submitting a recovery plan to the state by June 1. The plan, essentially, requires school officials to outline how they will make up for time lost during the pandemic.
“We have to identify the diagnostic tools and interventions that we’re going to use to help support students either catch up or accelerate,” Flores said, saying the plan’s requirements put a focus on students with disadvantages — like poverty or homelessness.
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