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Four Vermont School Districts, Four Back-To-School Plans

Edmunds Elementary School sits closed in Burlington on a winter day.
Elodie Reed
Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington sits empty since its closure in March. Edmunds Elementary School, along with all schools in Chittenden, Franklin and Addison county, will reopen in the fall for hybrid instruction.

With limitedguidance from the state, the superintendents of Vermont’s more than 50 school districts are releasing dramatically different plans for their communities' return to learning come fall - ranging from fully in-person to fully remote instruction, and everything in-between.

In this conversation, we hear from three superintendents about their districts' plans. And we get the perspective of one Vermont educator about their involvement in the decision-making process.

Our Guests Are:

  • Elaine Pinckney, Champlain Valley School District superintendent
  • Beverly Davis, Orleans Central Supervisory Union superintendent
  • Chris Guros, special educator at Main Street Middle School 
  • Brooke Olsen-Farrell, Slate Valley Unified School District superintendent

Broadcast live on Monday, July 27, 2020 at noon. Rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

To listen to the full conversation, and to read about Secretary of Education Dan French's perspective on the upcoming school year, head here


Champlain Valley School District:

For Champlain Valley School District’s fall plans, head here

Jane Lindholm: Can you just briefly describe what the Champlain Valley School District is doing?


Superintendent Elaine Pinckney: So we are doing fully hybrid K-12. And what that looks like is two full days of in-school, traditional learning, and two days of at-home learning. And then the third day at the high school will be fully direct learning online. In preparation for remote learning, at the elementary level, there will be more callbacks and interventions and more teacher planning and professional development. And we are at this point working really hard to figure out how we can best structure the remote days so that it isn't what it was last spring.

A playground outside J.F.K. Elementary School in Winooski remains shut down in mid-April due to the coronavirus pandemic. We're talking to state health offiicals for the latest on the virus and Vermont's response.
Credit Matthew Smith / VPR
A playground outside J.F.K. Elementary School in Winooski remains shut down in July due to the coronavirus pandemic. We're talking to state health offiicals for the latest on the virus and Vermont's response.

More from VPR: Gov. Scott Seeks To Reassure Public On School Start, Delays Reopening To September

And I should point out that the Champlain Valley School District is among16 districts that have come together to offer the same hybrid plans, encompassing Franklin, Chittenden and Addison County. How did coordinating with other districts across these three counties help?

We started off trying to say, how could we bring all the kids back? And we really for the longest time were working on that premise. And there was just no way that we could figure out how to bring back all the students. So I think that yes, there is kind of a piece around, if you're doing it collectively, it gives you courage to do it. But there's also the piece around when you do it collectively, you don't forget pieces, you are making sure that you're thinking about all of the pieces because somebody in that group has thought about the thing that you have not thought about.

More from The Frequency: Planning For A Return To High School

We're hearing that a lot of teachers aren't comfortable returning to the classroom at all. There are requests for leave. Are you confident that you and the other superintendents in these districts have the staffing to accommodate even a hybrid learning plan? 

I am hopeful, I mean, because part of the decision to go hybrid is that we can ensure social distancing, mask wearing and a lot of space for kids to move around and not be contained in a single space for the entire school day.

But hopeful and confident are obviously, you know, both carefully, well-chosen words. 

Right. We're going to be putting out a survey this week asking our teachers: Now that we know what the model is and here's what it's gonna look like for you, can you let us know if you feel confident returning? What is your choice? So I say I'm hopeful because I don't know. But I know that we're doing everything we can at our end to make sure that our teachers are safe.

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Orleans Central Supervisory Union:


For Orleans Central Supervisory Union’s Fall plans, head here.

Tell us a little bit about what is happening with the plan for Orleans Central Supervisory Union.

Superintendent Bev Davis: Our plan is that our K-8 students will be in school five days a week. For our high school students, half the students will be in two days, half the students another two days. And all the students will be remote on Wednesdays. We have offered a full remote option for families to choose from. We sent out a survey and we asked families to choose either five days fully in school, or five days fully remote, and of course, they have the option to do homeschool. About three-quarters of our families have responded and we have about 77% of students coming back in-person, and the rest are divided between remote and choosing home study. We have about 100 K-8 students who have chosen to be fully remote. And we're planning on staffing that with teachers who only teach remotely. Our high school has about 20 students who chose remote learning.

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We heard from Elaine Pinkney, who said she hopes that she has the staffing to enact the district's plan. What about your staffing? Because you've got lots of different pieces there. 

So staffing is a concern for sure. We had hoped by offering a fully remote option that maybe some of our teachers would choose that as a good option to solve some of the issues they're trying to juggle within their own families. We don't have very many teachers at this point who've chosen that. So we will just continue to work. We're hoping we have the staff. We don't know yet. With districts just now starting to release their plans, teachers and parents are scrambling to figure out what they're going to do with their own children. So we'll see how that plays out. 

"So we will just continue to work. We're hoping we have the staff. We don't know yet." -Superintendent Bev Davis

A lot of teachers say their voices weren't incorporated into the decision making process in an adequate way. Is that a fair critique? 

The way we have incorporated teachers up until this point is by putting out surveys. We've certainly had lots and lots of emails, people reaching out with suggestions, with questions, with phone calls, et cetera. Our teacher association president has been present at all of the meetings. I've had almost daily phone calls with her since March to make sure that the teachers' voices are heard. We have teachers on all parts of the spectrum here. [There are] people who just want to come back, who don't really have concerns about safety, and then there are people who have grave concerns about safety, and everything in between. So we felt like there were some decisions that we had to make based on the health and safety guidance, and we had to figure that out first. We're just getting to that step now, where more teachers will be able to participate.


More from NPR: A Teacher Who Contracted COVID-19 Cautions Against In-Person Schooling

Montpelier Roxbury School District:

For Montpelier Roxbury School District’s Fall plans, head here

How have you been involved in the decision making process? 

Special Educator Chris Guros: Well, I can speak for my own local district. I think there's been great involvement from teachers. For the past four weeks, we've been having a weekly meeting with the whole district and that has been in-person, spaced out in the gym. And there's also representatives there for our paraprofessionals and our clerical and custodial staff. And at those meetings, the admin have kind of flipped some things they've talked about. And we give them feedback and questions, concerns.

An empty school bus sits outside Rutland High School in July. Students in the Rutland Roxbury School District can choose between remote or in-person instruction for the fall.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR
An empty school bus sits outside Rutland High School in July. Students in the Rutland Roxbury School District can choose between remote or in-person instruction for the fall.

So in my particular district, it seems OK. We're trying to broaden input and get more feedback through town meetings and things like that right now. Statewide, I would have liked to see more teacher involvement in overall plans, just because the folks doing the work can definitely point out some of the questions or concerns that might arise as we get to planning at the building level.

More from VPR: When It Comes To Reopening, Officials At Rutland High School Are Staying Flexible

And do you think there should have been a statewide plan or do you appreciate this continuation of the priority of local control that Vermont has had for so many years around schooling? 

You know, local control is important and districts certainly need some flexibility to make their own plans. That said, I think at least a set of guidance that teachers and paraprofessionals, custodians had a hand in developing, would have maybe helped them avoid some of the things, pieces that are coming up now around child care and that kind of thing. So I'm not sure it needed to be set as a directive, ‘definitely do this’. But I think more guidance would have been helpful at this time because I'm increasingly concerned as we get closer to the projected start of the school year, that there's just a lot of unanswered questions.


More from VPR: ‘It’s Intense’: High School Teachers On Working From Home

How do you respond to concerns about special education and how to make it work?

It's a huge piece of the puzzle, and I worry about it all the time. Thinking back to the spring, I had some students I was able to work fairly effectively with remotely and others that I met with once or twice, where I had trouble getting them to log on. So then when we think about this year, a lot of districts, including mine, are working on a pod model where we're trying to really mitigate risk by limiting the number of students and staff that each student comes into contact with.

More from NPR: Is School Safe? Will Districts Test For COVID-19? Answering Back-To-School Questions?

Slate Valley Unified School District:


For Slate Valley School District’s fall plans, head here.

How are you addressing the needs of families in your districts?

Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell: It's a huge concern. And as such, we've decided to move to a pre-K through eighth grade, in-person model, five days a week and a hybrid model for grades nine through 12. We really want to make sure that we're able to address the social, emotional needs of our students, and the best way to do that is to do that in-person. Also, it's really hard to educate students with disabilities in a remote environment. And so we believe it's extremely beneficial for them to be back in school, in-person.

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What about aftercare? Is there any way Slate Valley is trying to address that? 

We are still planning on running our typical aftercare programs in our buildings. So we will have child care in most of our buildings until 5:30 p.m. each day. And because we have the five-days-a-week model, we have shortened the student day by about one hour and 15 minutes to allow for staggered arrival and dismissal. 

"I think it would be wonderful if there was a plan. Either all schools are going to open remotely or all schools are going to open in person. And I understand the issue of local control, but it makes the staffing dynamic and the child care dynamic really hard to implement or to address really on the local level." -Superintendent Olsen-Farrell

What do you need from the Agency of Education moving forward?

You know, I think it would be wonderful if there was a plan. Either: all schools are going to open remotely, or all schools are going to open in-person. And I understand the issue of local control, but it makes the staffing dynamic and the child care dynamic really hard to implement or to address on the local level.


Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

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Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Emily was a Vermont Edition producer at Vermont Public Radio until September 2021.
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