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Albemarle set to decide on 2021-22 learning plan in May

The Albemarle County School Board will hold a special meeting May 6 to hear about plans to open schools next school year.

“We will have gotten a good feel for how things are going in Stage Four,” schools Superintendent Matt Haas said at Thursday’s meeting of that date. “We will be making the recommendation based on reaching out to our families and understanding how many of them would be planning on coming in, and that would impact them, how much space we would have in the school, and, therefore, we would give it our best shot to describe to the board and describe for the community what the school day would look like.”

Similar to the process for the move to Stage Four, the board would vote on those plans at the following meeting, May 13.

Following Haas’ suggestion at the end of Thursday’s meeting, the board agreed to hold the special meeting. Haas said the recommendation would be based on the best information division staff could provide May 6.

Earlier in the meeting, the board also unanimously adopted Haas’ $209.8 million funding request, though board member Jonno Alcaro asked for division staff to look at giving classified staff members a higher raise. Currently, they are expected to receive a 2% bump, while teachers and other certified employees would see a 5% raise.

The division officially begins Stage Four on Monday, though some students came into buildings this past week as part of a soft start.

Under Stage Four, preschoolers through third-graders can go to school four days a week and middle and high school students can attend in-person two days a week. About 65% of students will be learning in-person, up slightly from the initial 56% who picked the hybrid option late last year.

Currently, the 2021-22 school year would start Aug. 25. The School Board approved the calendar last month, but division officials are already planning changes to the document.

During Thursday’s meeting, Patrick McLaughlin, the division’s chief of strategic planning, presented a new draft of the calendar that would add five half-days for students in order to give teachers more dedicated planning time.

Students would complete work virtually and independently at home the second half of those days after attending school in-person during the first half. This school year, teachers used Fridays for planning while students had asynchronous assignments.

The change will help with learning recovery efforts. The School Board will hear about division staff’s plans for recovery at its April 22 meeting.

Some board members were supportive of the planning time but were concerned about the loss of instructional time, acknowledging that asynchronous learning is not the same as face-to-face time with teachers.

“We’ve missed so much instructional time already,” board member Ellen Osborne said.

Board member Katrina Callsen suggested making up the lost instructional time either at the beginning or end of year.

Haas said that’s something division staff will look at, agreeing that the half-days are a loss of instructional time.

“The key really is about the timeliness of the staff being able to sit down with each other during work hours to be able to analyze the student data,” he said.

With students learning asynchronously, those half-days would count as a full instruction day. The calendar currently includes 180 days.

Callsen questioned whether asynchronous should count as instructional time and said she didn’t want the calendar to say the division has the same amount of instructional days as in previous years.

“I would prefer to have the calendar say what’s really happening,” she said, echoing a point also raised by Osborne.

The half-days are scheduled for Wednesdays, according to an updated draft.

McLaughlin said the half-days would give teachers time to meet with their grade-level and subject area teams, review student data and make lessons — all of which are part of the professional learning community model that the division wants each school to adopt.

“It is difficult and challenging to ask teachers to spend time analyzing formative assessment data to make critical decisions about providing extra time and support for students and also to make adjustments to their instruction without a regular cycle of time for them to meet and do that,” Haas said. “… We have squeezed our teachers over the years and ask them to do more and more.”

One barrier to implementing the model has been dedicated time during the school day when all members of a professional learning community (PLC) are available to meet, McLaughlin said.

“One of the silver linings of our learning model during the pandemic has been the ability to provide that dedicated time during our asynchronous learning days on Fridays,” McLaughlin said. “This, coupled with our ability to meet remotely with colleagues, has allowed us to dedicate time not only to building-level PLCs, but divisional level PLCs that bring teachers of the same content together across schools to learn from and with each other.”

When combined with the professional development days currently included in the calendar, teachers will have one day a month for PLC work.

“I can tell you that in my history of working with Albemarle County teachers, having adequate planning time is something they find essential,” board member David Oberg said.

The half-days would be Oct. 13, Nov. 10 and Dec. 8 of 2021 and Jan. 21, Feb 16 and April 20 of 2022, according to the draft calendar. The School Board will vote on the changes next month.


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