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Planning for full-time in person learning in the fall?
Tonya Arnold
Friday, May 07, 2021

Is the district planning to return to school full-time in the fall?

 

Yes! Everyone wants to return to school full-time. We will use grant funds to expand staffing further in our effort to bring all students back full-time despite spacing requirements that may be in place in the fall.  We will also be investing in space, furniture and supplies in the following towns:

-        At Dresden Elementary we plan to add one room portable.

-        In Richmond at Marcia Buker Elementary we plan to add a two-room portable.

-        In Monmouth, the new Memorial School and the Academy will work together as needed.  Yet, core space needs are anticipated to be met within each building.

-        The Hall-dale Elementary school site does not have room for portables without eliminating outdoor learning/play space or parking -- both already in short supply.  This school has the largest class sizes, with the least amount of space options to meet the distancing criteria.  After a site review there and at HDMHS, we determined that it is possible to move the 5th grade to that building by creating a 5-8 middle school model.  Some of the top performing middle schools in Maine follow that model.

Why was the announcement of the Hall-dale/Farmingdale change so sudden without ample time for community input?

We agree that a lengthy process with ample time for community input is best practice.  If we

had the time, we would have used that process with an expanded timeline. 

While this idea was not taken lightly, it was pulled together quickly out of necessity.  Moving the HDES 5th grade was not on our radar until only three weeks before it was shared with staff, board members, and families.  In order to get all students back to school 5 days a week next year, this quickly became the only and best option.

Here is why.  The first 4 grant programs for covid relief had very short (~2 weeks) turnaround times, as well as very short time frames for having the projects complete and fully implemented (4-6 months).  None-the-less, we started each time discussing how to create more space, transportation and added staff.  Unfortunately, in each of those situations, we could not secure quotes we needed, let alone guarantee of project completion by the deadline, to receive approval.

The new funds that are coming have a two-year window for use of funds.  This time we received a couple months of advance notice (late March) about the potential amount and a longer spending window.  Again, we looked at space needs.  We determined where we needed portable space, how much space, and how the portables would be used.   Then we contacted vendors to see who could provide portables by when.  Once we found a vendor with a timeline as early as September, we worked on site plans and code enforcement inquiries to be sure the plans would work. 

For HDES, we need four classrooms, which would be two double classroom portables.  However, the site does not allow for the placement of portables without eliminating all of the outdoor learning/play space or significant parking or both.  Those features are already in short supply, so losing more of that was not acceptable.  So, we started to brainstorm about other buildings in town.  Transitioning new space to meet codes required for schools would take too much time and money.  While brainstorming we stumbled upon the idea of renovating the interior of the MS/HS building to make space for the 5th grade.  A session to walk the building and look at the feasibility of this idea from a construction standpoint was scheduled.  Once we had a concept we could prepare for with concrete information, we confirmed May 3rd this could be completed before school starts in the fall.   At this same time, we found out that the window for the new grant requires data collection from May 7 due by May 14, with obligation of funds for planned expenses documented by May 24, in order to have any chance of receiving the funds.  We also realized there is only 5 weeks of school left to the year to prepare our students and families for this idea. 

A communication plan was put in place using a 24-hour window to inform the board members, staff and families most directly impacted to allow them to process this news with our focused support as needed before wider communication. This happened just before the Thursday full Board meeting, when we could discuss the plan in the public meeting for the whole RSU.  With full support of the Board, the following communication plan is being implemented for community:

o   Letter from Principal to the whole school community at each building,

o   A question and answer zoom forum for both school communities, where we will gather ideas to help make this situation into a great opportunity

that benefits all our students,

o   Small group or individual family meetings as requested,

o   This communication, plus

o   Both end of year and fall transition events for the current 4th and 5th graders.

Are there benefits beyond the goal of all students back in person 5 days a week?

Many of the top performing middle schools in Maine are 5-8 schools.  Collaborative programing among 5/6 and 7/8 with opportunity to access extensions will be possible. The shift will reduce the need for another administrator at HDES and also add intervention support for HDMS.  Further, with the new housing developments under construction in Hall-dale and Farmingdale, this plan provides insurance that new student enrollment would not trigger a switch back to hybrid based on spacing constraints.


View full FAQ here:   https://5il.co/sewt