Over the past two months, over 90 volunteers consisting of North Shore School District faculty, administrators, Board of Education members and others have joined together to research the best ways to ensure their students receive the best education possible come September. They formed four committees, each of which focused on one specific aspect of reopening — curriculum, physical plants and facilities, medical and social-emotional.
The committees were led by the following administrators:
Dr. Christopher Zublionis, assistant superintendent for instruction, led the curriculum committee.
Olivia Buatsi, assistant superintendent for business, and John Hall, director of facilities and operations, led the physical plants and facilities committee.
Sea Cliff Elementary Principal Jeanette Wojcik and Glen Head Elementary Principal Dr. Peter Rufa led the medical committee.
Glenwood Landing Elementary Principal Bridget Finder and district Director of Counseling Daniel Doherty led the social-emotional committee.
“People are really invested in this,” said Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo. “They want to make sure we get it right. They are very concerned about the health, welfare and safety of everybody and the stakes are high.”
Zublionis said the curriculum committee focused their work around what school could look like in three different models: in-person, online or a hybrid of the two. Additionally, he said different age groups could see differing amounts of time in school based on needs.
“If the region is allowed to reopen pending any change by Governor Cuomo,” Zublionis said, “we’re trying to have the youngest kids in-person every day and our older students in either every day or as much as possible but in a socially distanced way.”
Social distancing, Zublionis said, would be a major part of school’s potential reopening. Many summer learning classes are being held outside, which could show the potential of putting such a practice into place early on in the school year. Additional social distancing practices that he mentioned include smaller class sizes and no traveling throughout the buildings for younger students.
The district’s elementary schools already benefit from small class sizes of between 18 to 22 students, Zublionis said. Groups could be lessened to 10 to 12 students per class, something which during online learning proved to be beneficial. He also said secondary classes could be shorter and more frequent.
Zublionis said the district would likely not have to bring in too much additional staff, as current staff members could utilize different certifications, such as physical education teachers who also have classroom certifications.
“We’re really trying to approximate the most normal experience possible and that’s the challenge here for the kids,” Zublionis said. “They’ve gone through a lot already, everybody has, but it’s hard for kids.”
Physical plants and facilities
Hall said the chief objectives of the physical plants and facilities committee was to make sure all of the information created by the district is available to the community via the district’s website, as well as to make sure any alterations made to buildings conform to state codes. He said building alterations require state approval, although none are planned yet.
Hall said the committee also addressed how to make sure students remain distant from one another in buildings, as well as how the facilities staff can ensure everything is as clean as possible. Though he said remaining fiscally responsible is a focus of the facilities committee, he said the safety of those in the buildings is most important.
“The main hope is to keep the children safe and healthy, that’s always the main concern and especially so during these times,” he said. “That’s our first goal and whatever we have to do to make sure that happens, that’s priority number one.”
Rufa said the medical needs committee conducted its research using guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as research from the Harvard School of Public Health. He said school nurses played a significant role in the committee’s research
Wojcik said she and North Shore Middle School Principal Rob Dennis took the committee’s research and put it into one document. She said everything was separated into five parts: policies, buildings, classrooms, schedules and activities (see sidebar).
Wojcik said no decisions have been made yet, as the district is still waiting on notice of how to proceed from Cuomo. However, she said she is proud of the district’s ability to come together to get ready for anything that comes its way.
“We want to be sure that the work that we’re doing is research based,” Wojcik said, “then clearly communicated, effectively implemented and conscientiously enforced.”
Doherty said the social-emotional needs committee worked alongside a group of psychologists, counselors and social workers, with each of their meetings consisting of how to connect with students in online, in-person or hybrid models.
He said he learned a lot about the issue from the spring, as the district had been keeping contact with students every day online and working with teachers on how to recognize signs of emotional distress in students. Keeping connected is paramount, he said, as is providing students with mental health support as they return.
Doherty said a large factor in helping students in their return is in the elimination of the stigma surrounding mental health services. Students need to be familiar with the counseling and social work faculty. Additionally, fostering positive relationships between students, teacher, mental health staff and parents are important when it comes to learning.
“We need to focus on those relationships early in the year and have that be an emphasis as we go back to school,” Doherty said, “to help students feel comfortable no matter what format we’re in and to help them learn better as the school year goes on.”
Bringing it all together
Giarrizzo said he will compile all of the committees’ suggestions into one form which will be sent to the state. The district is in a good place in terms of its research and likelihood of a successful September, he said, but there is still a lot of work to be done over the next month, especially since any decisions made by the district will affect the entire community.
“I want to bring kids back to school safely.,” Giarrizzo said. “I want to do it with precision and with good methodology, and, at the end of this, I want to get back to joyful teaching and learning and engaging with kids and teachers because we miss them.”