On August 19, 2020

What will remote learning be like? Windsor Central explains its plan

By Curt Peterson

On Aug. 6 the Windsor Central Unified Union School District board unanimously approved acting superintendent Sherry Sousa’s presentation for reopening the district using a “hybrid” – mixed in-person and remote learning – plan to begin the first day of school, Sept. 8.

But Sousa said some colleagues think schools remaining open past Oct. 1 is “very unlikely” —  highlighting “Plan B” for returning to totally remote learning.

Enter Heather Lawler, School Administrator for the WCSU 100 Percent Off-Campus learning model.

Lawler is tasked with overseeing the remote portion of the hybrid model and those who have chosen to stay home, plus preparing for the possibility campuses will be closed again to all students and staff.

Not everyone was impressed by this past spring’s remote program after schools were shut down on a week’s notice.

“That was an emergency response,” Lawler said. “Over the summer we’ve worked hard on professional development, new teaching tools and methods, media employment and training. We hope to make remote learning feel like full school.”

The district’s remote learning plan treats students differently by age group.

K-6 grades will be taught by one teacher per level, with specialists covering subjects requiring specific skills. In grades K-4, for example, when kids traditionally learn to read, a specialist will teach in a group platform, and one-on-one remotely when needed.

Grades 7-12 will be taught as if on campus – one teacher covering each subject. What used to be called homework is now labeled “asynchronous lessons,” which means off-campus study, research, projects and experiences designed to be engaging and topically educational. ArtisTree, Billings Farm and Museum, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and Vermont Institute of Natural Science will collaborate.

WCUUSD remote learning in grades K-6 will be provided by four teachers using the Reading Elementary School Library as their central headquarters. The district is significantly enhancing internet speed at the site.

For grades 7-12, WCUUSD contributes to and participates in Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VVLC), a state-wide pool of shared recorded educational presentations, lectures, lessons, and exercises, a permanent information bank into which teachers and students can tap to greatly expand resources and social networking.

Lawler said teachers have offered to fill in for sick or indisposed colleagues when necessary. “We have a few regular substitutes with known skills and background,” she said. “But the rest of temporary teacher replacement will be done by other faculty members stepping in to help.”

Students will access the same college and educational counselling professionals as in the past.

“We have a fantastic team,” Lawler said. “Two for grades 7-9, and two for 10-12, all of whom continued to work with students in the spring shut-down.”

She added that college visits and interviews, now almost entirely virtual, present a significant challenge.

Before March, a total school shut-down was unthinkable. Now re-opening this fall is controversial, with indications it may also be temporary.

Even if WCUUSD’s remote learning program is successful, at some point the district may be told to go back to in-person education.

“That’s why we are focusing on building relationships between students and teachers this fall, no matter how long the in-person situation persists,” Lawler said. “That will assist us dealing with any changes.”

“Whatever the state requires or parents choose, it’s our intention to provide the best educational experience possible. It’s been a ‘big lift,’ it’s been hard for everyone, but we can do it,” she added.

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