Litchfield Public Schools & Regional School District 06

Litchfield Public Schools & Regional School District 06
Litchfield, Connecticut
Amy Kennedy, Chief Academic Officer; Sara Baranauskas, STEM Coordinator; Pamela Vecca Humanities Coordinator

Two Districts, One Pathway:  Reopening Schools to Full In-person Learning

Collaborative efforts between Litchfield Public Schools and Regional School District 6 were well underway before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. A shared superintendent and other previously established cooperation allowed the two districts to come together to tackle the reopening of schools.  This process fostered the establishment of a unified vision for future collaborative work for the betterment of our students and greater community.

Best Practice 1. Mission and Mindset

Christopher Leone,  Superintendent of Schools for both districts, formed a joint reopening committee to facilitate the reopening of schools. This committee, comprised of stakeholders from both districts including teachers, bargaining union leadership, building administration, central office staff, nurses, parents and local community members, determined that the health and safety of our students, staff, and community would be at the heart of this decision process.

Best Practice 2. Research and Data Collection

The committee’s first task was to research various models of reopening and gather input from all stakeholders. Next, to gauge social and emotional well being, academic readiness, and health and safety concerns, individualized surveys were sent to students, parents, and staff. In order to comply with CDC guidelines, additional data was collected. A transportation survey sent to families determined how many students were in need of public transportation. Another survey determined the number of students that would participate remotely or in-person (Connecticut families were given the option to choose temporary remote instruction).  With this information, the two districts were able to proceed with the development of three possible scenarios for reopening.

Best Practice 3. Collaboration and Problem Solving

Cross-district subcommittees used research and data to find solutions to the challenges of reopening schools. The Instruction team prepared various sample schedules based on recommended models, including a social distancing and alternating days model. The Curriculum team tackled the challenge of conducting a needs assessment for curricular and instructional resources as well as planning professional development and training for teachers and staff. The Operations team assessed all school facilities and determined which steps needed to be accomplished for reopening in terms of space, room design and personal protective equipment. The Finance team acquired and allocated funding while overseeing the district budget and ordering of supplies. A return-to-play team created a plan that resulted in both in-person athletics as well as the formation of a new esports team. An important aspect of reopening was to consider the social-emotional well being of our students and staff. This subcommittee gathered mental health feedback and developed a plan to address professional learning opportunities including best practices around curriculum, instruction and assessment.

Best Practice 4. Communication

A significant step in this process can be traced back to communication. Our staff, families and community members were provided with a Covid-19 district email address in order to provide a way to share comments, concerns and questions. Other methods of communication included text messages, email updates, community presentations, a website section on reopening, and weekly updates from the Superintendent. Virtual weekly reopening forums evolved to both virtual and in-person events, and were available for both staff and community members. These forums allowed stakeholders to have ongoing conversations and a voice in the decision making process for reopening schools. The questions and answers discussed during these live forums were then available to the school communities for reference. The decision to open in Phase One (Full In-Person Learning) followed the guidance from the Connecticut State Department of Education’s “School Decision Tree” flowchart in coordination with the Department of Public Health officials. This work and plan for reopening concluded with separate reopening plan presentations for staff, students, and community

Best Practice 5. Professional Development

Education staff was provided with a plethora of synchronous and asynchronous professional development opportunities prior to the start of the school year for students. This included mandatory Covid-19 health and safety training as well as professional learning opportunities for curricular and instructional resources. Topics covered were blended learning in a remote environment or a hybrid model, best practices in assessment, technology integration tools, equity, and trauma informed practices. With health and safety concerns at the forefront, building principals also delivered protocols and procedures concerning the reopening of schools. In addition, the school year calendar was modified to incorporate additional time for staff to plan collaboratively. A soft opening for students, which included staggered start days for specific grade bands, was utilized to ease the transition back to school and to ensure. that all staff were ready to welcome students on day one.

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