ORLEANS — By this time next month, it’s expected that Nauset Regional High School can end fully remote classes and institute a hybrid model of remote and in-school education.
“We’re thinking we can do this by Oct. 15 and get a lot of this work completed and approved, and get it approved by all the people who do inspections for us,” Superintendent Tom Conrad told a relieved regional school committee Sept. 10. “If that all happens, I can see us switching over to the hybrid model immediately.”
The school veered abruptly from its planned hybrid opening when air systems at the Eastham school were found in disrepair and unable to provide COVID-quality air circulation. Conrad said he was “pleasantly pleased” that the cost of the work will likely be less than the $40,000 in the capital budget for HVAC work.
Noting that Conrad’s report came after lengthy presentations on reopening by middle school Principal Julie Kobold and high school Principal Chris Ellsasser, committee member Josh Stewart teased Conrad a bit. “You guys kinda buried the lead tonight,” he said. “If we had heard that an hour ago, we would have felt better. There are a lot of parent concerns and even teacher concerns around full remote… I feel much better that we may be looking at Oct. 15, and relatively short money. Thanks to your team for working on it.”
Conrad said several air exchange motors and other equipment in N building, a major classroom facility, have already been replaced and air flow retested. “Every classroom has passed,” he said. “N building is open for business.” Another priority is another major classroom building, A. Conrad said the region’s consulting company, Mechanical Air, identified a number of motors that needed to be replaced and ordered new equipment that should arrive this week. “That building won’t be very far behind in terms of being ready to be put on line,” he said.
Work is being done on areas of buildings B and C that are used for the school’s life skills program, including a motor replacement, Conrad said. The consultant also looked at the school’s shops and their huge fan systems. “He’s very comfortable that that’s not going to be a long-term project for us,” he said.
Science labs in E building were to be inspected this week. “That’s the building I’m most concerned about in terms of costs,” said Conrad. “We’re going to ask for estimates. They think they can turn that around pretty quickly.”
The region was still “fine-tuning” bus transportation for the high school, he said, adding that, “We’re in very good shape all the way through middle school.” He thanked parents who have volunteered to drive students to school and pick them up afterward given the severe COVID-related reduction in bus seats, and he asked to hear from more volunteer bus monitors willing to help during the first few weeks.
Member Dick Stewart wanted to know if the high school had the bandwidth to go fully remote on opening day, Sept. 16. Ellsasser said he’d confirmed that the day before. “We have 60 some odd meetings happening at a time,” he said. “The capacity is upwards of 150.”
Another member, Ian Mack, stressed the importance of providing mental health services for students during this unusual time. “I don’t think students in general will reach out,” he said. “I just want to make sure there’s the simplest, easiest path for help for them,” including a tele-health option.
In his report, Ellsasser said the fully remote and hybrid models include teachers “checking in on a personal level” with each student, both in an overall “how are you” sense and also whether they’re understanding the information and learning the skills being taught. “The last question they’ll be asking kids,” he said, “is, ‘How can I help you? What are you ready for next?'”
With feedback as to what worked and what didn’t during this spring’s remote teaching, the faculty has redesigned the experience to have “a full teacher presence and kids having access to their teachers for the entirety of each class,” the principal said. Teachers will have the option of recording part of their presentations and storing it in their Google classroom, where students and parents can view it again.
These ideas were tested last week in the school’s library, which has been turned into a teacher and resource center with three simulated classrooms. Teachers present to a group of colleagues acting as students in an in-school class and others out of sight behind a bookshelf standing in for remote learners.
The students themselves are helping out. Ellsassser said the student council asked to create a ninth grader and new student buddy program, reaching out to newcomers via email and planning to stick by them during the school year.
Stewart said he hoped the school would take advantage of being “blessed with a good deal of physical space outdoors” and allow students to take the air. “We’ve identified (outdoor) space for each classroom,” the principal said. “In the event a teacher wanted to go outside they could go out to a designated space either for a mask break or class.” Because there’s inadequate connectivity outside the building, he said, a teacher might give a 20-minute writing assignment that his or her in-school students could work on outside at the school while the remote learners in the class would likewise step outside, but at home.
The middle school in Orleans was to open Sept. 16 as well, but with its hybrid program in place. Conrad said investigations of air exchange equipment and air quality have found that “every room is all set to go. They did make a couple of adjustments. They found a way to increase the air flow, the fresh air, into the middle school. It’s a big step forward for us. We’re getting the seal of approval to move forward with that system as is right now. We’re in similar positions across all our elementary schools.”
Of the middle school’s 595 registered students, 94 have chosen to learn remotely while half of the rest will come to school Monday and Thursday and the other half Tuesday and Friday. The entire student body will learn remotely on Wednesdays, when “the vision is to mix it up,” Kobold said, with regular classes and some additional “experiential, collaborative” opportunities for teachers (one will be offering ukulele instruction) and for students to work with their peers on projects. “I’m not clairvoyant,” committee member Judy Schumacher said, “but Wednesday might turn out to be everybody’s favorite day.”