With Schools Closed For The Year, Shelburne Principal Talks Next Steps
Gov. Phil Scott announced Thursday night that Vermont schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year to slow the spread of COVID-19. An earlier order had closed schools between March 18 and April 6. It is news that will have a huge impact on kids, parents, teachers and staff.
Scott Sivo is the principal of the K-8 Shelburne Community School. He spoke with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb. Their interview is below. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: Did this announcement come in any way as a surprise to you, or was it something you'd kind of been expecting?
Scott Sivo: I have been wrestling with that since last night. I think in some ways the message from the governor wasn't unpredictable. I think that we have obviously been following the public health crisis in the state, in the nation, and have been planning around what we would do in this situation. But there's always a suddenness to that decision that obviously falls on the governor. And I think it hit all of us who work in the industry and work in K-12 education.
I'm wondering how the kind of remote learning that you're offering, how that will change with this news that kids won't be returning, at least for the rest of this academic year.
The state has I think outlined a way for schools to slowly wade into these new waters. Over the last two weeks, we've been talking and using the state language around “maintenance of learning.” And so I'd say for the next seven to 10 days going forward, our goal is going to be to use online platforms to produce a menu of learning options for parents and for students that they can access that are optional in nature, that are looking to maintain the skills that students currently have.
As we move forward, we're looking at how we're going to move learning forward. And that really is that definition of remote learning, where we are going to look at the learning targets and these standards that we have for our students, that we would carry for them in a traditional classroom, and begin to design learning and assessment. That's going to move them forward towards those goals and towards the skills that we expect our students to acquire in a given grade level.
Do you need to come up with a new plan, or are you going to continue along the path that you started, once you found out that the schools would be closed, at least initially, through April 6th?
I can only speak to Shelburne Community School; and we've tried to build a flexible plan that was going to allow us to tackle that challenge if it did come up. ... So, you know, we've done the work of creating a remote learning website that has individual pages for our grade levels and our middle-level teams. And right now it's serving, like I said, a sort of a weekly menu of, these are the options that students can engage in in each of their core subject areas, and in their arts classes.
We will ramp that up as we get into this remote learning period, where we'll probably see daily, or every other day updates with assignments and activities for students, that right now we believe will be compulsory. But again, all of this is really predicated on the guidance that we get from the state of Vermont, which we'll continue to be tuned into as we move forward to that period of remote learning.
Does that guidance that you're looking for also extend to special education and remote learning for special education students? How are those needs going to be addressed?
I think that is the key point in this transition. I think our ability to offer intervention to students and offer student services in an online platform is perhaps the biggest challenge that we have. And that's just because it is highly individualized. ...We need to provide that free, appropriate public education that's in line with the individual plans of our students.
So it's one thing to have a group of 20 students in an online chat. It's another thing to provide highly individualized instruction for a student that is tailored to their plan. And so I think that's a lot of the thinking that's going on now, is when we take that step into remote learning, what will those student services look like?
And what about end of the school year ceremonies, gatherings?
We have no information other than some early thinking and ideas that we're bouncing off of each other about how we would make this happen for our students. I think that's the other piece; beyond special education, the rites of passage and the community aspects of learning are going to be the biggest challenges that we face.
And it sounds like low-priority, but to a high school senior or an eighth grader finishing a 10-year career here at a K-8 school, it's extremely high-priority for them. And I just think that that's a challenge that a K-12 remote learning or online education system has. ...When you're a college student in an online course, you have a relationship perhaps with the professor. There might be some chat boards where you're talking with members of your class. What we're doing here is trying to maintain a sense of community within our small towns, a sense of community within classrooms and teams.