HARWICH – With the COVID curve far from flattened in the United States, and Massachusetts continuing to see new cases, it came as no surprise when Governor Charlie Baker canceled schools across the state on April 21, but Monomoy Superintendent Dr. Scott Carpenter was ready.
“It’s one of those things that on some level I think was a bit of a relief,” he said. “I, personally, went into this thinking it was going to be the ultimate decision. It was just going to take time for other people to get there.”
That’s why he said the Monomoy district has been preparing for the long haul, which will now involve distance learning through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The challenge, as educators, parents, and guardians have learned since schools first closed in March, is keeping kids not only engaged, but also still learning.
Carpenter said that educators in the Monomoy district are doing their best to keep students as on-par with their curriculum as possible, but acknowledged that since distance learning isn’t the same as in-person classes, there will be gaps in students' education.
“The state put out some guidance on Friday regarding core curriculum, pre-requisite content standards for the various grade levels,” he said. “Basically, it’s ‘Here are the really important things we need to make sure kids get.’ I do think there will need to be a re-centering on what we need to go back and make up. What will we need to do in fourth grade to make up for what we missed in third?”
The situation is similar, but not the same at Cape Cod Tech, which has also been using distance learning since mid-March. But unlike public high schools, students at Cape Tech alternate between their shops and academics, something that can’t happen through remote learning.
“Cape Tech technical area teachers are being very innovative during these times,” said Superintendent Robert Sanborn. “It is a challenge for these teachers. Some of the work is centered around strengthening the theory behind the hands-on skills they perform, including the improvement of academic components of their technical work (geometry, for example, in carpentry). Additionally, this time has been used to bolster the safety skills of all technical students. Finally, technical teachers across the state are sharing best practices online through a shared Google document.”
Like Carpenter, Sanborn also acknowledged the likelihood of a learning gap.
“No doubt, there will be academic/technical skills loss during this time, but a combination of reteaching, summer services when needed and concentrating on the core skills needed in all areas will close the gaps over time,” he said.
The bonus, Carpenter said, is that it isn’t just local districts that are facing the issue, but rather students everywhere. The overarching concern is what will happen in the fall if medical experts aren’t able to come up with an effective treatment or a vaccine.
“I do worry that, without a vaccine or an incredibly effective treatment, what we will be able to do,” he said. “When will the doors be able to open up? We’ve seen over the last few days that officials are saying we’ll need to socially distance through the summer.”
“As an administrative team, we have started looking at what a socially distant school would like in the fall along with the many educational and fiscal implications,” said Sanborn. “We are also assessing our current remote learning delivery system to tweak it to offer a stronger replication of the traditional school day while keeping in mind that there is no substitute for the technical traditional school day.”
Carpenter said he’s also concerned about the impact the closures not only of schools but also of area businesses will have on the overall budget.
“I think the biggest challenge for the school will be fiscally,” Carpenter said. “What can our towns support in terms of town services including the schools? I am very worried. The schools are funded by property taxes and these other taxes that come through the town, so we’re waiting to hear from the towns what the budget impact might be from all of this. We were at a really good place just before all of this and had our budget set, but those presentations were all based on a pre-COVID19 mindset.”
An area of concern is the district meal program, which is providing food for students via drive-through and delivery options.
“All we’re doing is giving away meals to support families in need. That’s a vital role that the schools are playing, but every month, week, or day that we’re doing this, we’re…going gradually into the red because we don’t have the offsetting meal revenues coming in for the meals that are paid for.We’re running a vital service for our community, but we’re running it at a deficit.”
Then there is the question of graduation for this year’s seniors. Both Carpenter and Sanborn said they’re looking into ways of holding ceremonies safely, including weighing the option of having virtual events.
“We’ll have a graduation,” Carpenter said. “I think what it looks like is going to depend on how the state adjusts its gathering guidelines in the near future. At the moment, we would love to be able to look like a drive-in movie theater type graduation on our huge front lawn. But the gathering guidelines don’t allow a group that big to come together in any one area. My preference would be to bring people together to celebrate, but we have to do that in a manner that makes sense and keeps people safe given that situation.”
“We are currently analyzing options to the traditional graduation ceremony, but no decisions have been made,” Sanborn said. “Options include a virtual graduation or something more personal that adheres to social distancing requirements.”
Carpenter, himself the father of a graduating senior at MRHS, said it’s a bittersweet time.
“It is one of those sad things, wearing the hat of both superintendent and parent with a senior who wanted to be out there on the lacrosse field and have a normal graduation,” he said. “There’s some sadness mixed in there with the things that all of us are losing, be it spring sports, concerts, or the end of the year play. No one knows when this is going to end.”
Supt. Dr. Scott Carpenter will hold a Conversation with the Superintendent at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29 via video. Join at https://meet.google.com/bux-mdet-kfs.