At a special meeting of the Windsor Unified School District Board of Trustees, two housekeeping items meant to help prepare for the ever-shifting landscape of education in a pandemic were briefly discussed and passed unanimously.
The first was finalizing an alteration to the calendar for the 2020-21 school year that will see school starting a few days later in order to provide additional professional development for teachers and also setting a hard date before which there will only be distance learning available, Sept. 25.
“We have had a number of discussions around what the beginning of school looks like, and what we like to do as a district is give our families, teachers and students information they can depend on,” said Superintendent Jeremy Decker. “We want to establish a start date for school and establish how long distance learning can be expected. As everybody knows because, because we’re on the watchlist, we shifted our planning from a hybrid model to distance learning. We met with (the Windsor District Educators Association) WDEA recently and the main topic of discussion was the fact we need some professional development days for teachers to do distance learning effectively.”
The plan is for school to now start on Aug. 17, a delay of two days to allow time for additional professional development days before the start of the school year. This includes reinstatement of the recently canceled Aug. 7 professional learning day (removed earlier this year due to budget concerns), and two additional days of learning on Aug. 10 and 11.
Additionally, Oct. 16 is also reinstated as a professional development day for teachers to allow for follow-up learning and collaboration after having some initial experience with online learning.
“You can do a lot of professional development before the school year, but it’s important to have time during year to consolidate that information,” said Chris Canelake, human resources director.
School will not end any later, because the two days are being taken from the “Weather Emergency Week,” meaning students will need to be in place on April 1 and 2, 2021.
The district will be paying for these extra days — which will cost approximately $280,000 — out of the $3 million it recently received as part of the CARES Act, much of which is set aside as “Learning Loss Mitigation Funds.” However, these funds are at the moment one-time money, so the professional development days would again be removed for the following school year. The funds must be used by December.
“Some parents have asked ask, why not delay schools for weeks or months, and the answer is, we’re not allowed to, because the state still requires students to attend 180 days of school,” Decker said. “We’re not extending the school year because we’re borrowing from the emergency days. This will not add to general fund, and it is not changing end date of school, only the start date.”
The proposed six weeks of distance learning is not meant to be a hard end date — that decision will be up to the health department and the state — but rather a date by which the next round of decisions will be made, and is meant to provide parents with a “my child will not be physically in school before Sept. 28.”
“So, what happens then,” asked trustee George Valenzuela. “We convene another meeting? How much time to we envision giving parents to go from (distance learning to hybrid learning)?”
“I don’t have a great answer,” admitted Decker. “What happens on Sept 25? (What we’re saying is) on the 25th we’ll know what we’re doing next. As far as the transition, maybe we can do it in a week, maybe it’ll take longer, but that’s what our subcommittees are working on with our different models.”
“It just keeps changing,” added WDEA president Pete Stefansiko. “We will know a whole lot more over the next six weeks.”
A public comment received prior to the meeting asked again why the school year couldn’t just be pushed back.
“My own personal feeling is it’s best to have normalcy in our calendar,” said Decker. “And, June is rough time for instruction. As soon as June 1 hits, kids think it’s summertime. I think if we push out three weeks to a month and end in July, that’s tough for instruction.”
“For the high school we also like to give plenty of notice for graduation, so not extending the school year makes a lot of sense. With all stuff we’re already dealing with don’t want to have the end of school year constantly changing,” agreed Stefanisko.
Board president Eric Heitz, himself a teacher in another district, added that it also skews the timing of semesters and grades, which could be problematic for kids looking to apply to college.
Once the calendar changes were approved, the trustees then needed to approve an alteration to the salary schedule to match the days added back in, which they did unanimously. Adding in in this way allows the days to count towards retirement for teachers. In addition, counselors and paraprofessionals will be provided for as well, to allow them to participate in preparation for provided services in the coming year.