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School divisions shoring up learning plans; CHS students in good standing to receive A's

Charlottesville and Albemarle County school divisions are ready to begin online teaching opportunities after spring break — a month after Gov. Ralph Northam initially ordered Virginia schools to close.

The Charlottesville School Board met Thursday for the first time since the pandemic took hold in Virginia and Northam’s order. The board held its meeting virtually over the Zoom video conferencing app. The Albemarle County School Board met earlier in the day, as well, to discuss the division’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county school division discussed its plan for online learning last week.

Charlottesville schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said the division is moving into the third phase of its continuity of learning plan, which includes teaching new material from April 13 to June 5. The first two phases involved delivering free meals, distributing technology and starting to connect with students.

Students in kindergarten and first grade will have printed workbooks mailed to their homes, while students in second to fourth grade will work on online activities through SeeSaw, the division’s learning management system. Fifth- through 12th-graders will have virtual instruction, in what division consultant Gertude Ivory referred to as “emergency remote teaching.”

Charlottesville High School students who were passing their classes as of March 13, when Northam ordered schools to close, will receive an A letter grade. Those who were failing as of March 13 will have to complete several learning modules to receive an A letter grade.

“All of our coordinators, administrators and teachers have done a phenomenal job in trying to quickly design instruction in a new landscape,” Ivory said.

If the division opted to make the courses pass/fail, that could complicate the NCAA eligibility of student-athletes.

No assignments will be graded for the rest of the school year, though teachers will provide feedback.

“Grading would add to the stress of students,” Ivory said.

CHS Principal Eric Irizarry said the learning modules will be released every two weeks for students. Teachers and counselors will hold virtual office hours on Fridays to give students a chance to talk with them.

“We’re just trying to stay in constant communication and thinking outside the box in how to engage [our seniors],” Irizarry said.

Atkins said the division is still working on creative ways to recognize the Class of 2020.

Before the pandemic, the School Board was in the middle of a difficult budget cycle for the upcoming fiscal year. The board has requested $61.7 million from the City Council while the city manager has proposed $59.4 million.

Last month, councilors supported $626,000 in cuts to the proposed budget to allocate to the school division. What effect the pandemic will have on the budgets has not been determined.

Albemarle County

The Albemarle County School Board needs to cut $2.68 million from its budget for this fiscal year, division staff said Thursday during a special meeting. What exactly those cuts could look like will be discussed in greater detail at the board’s next meeting on April 16.

County Executive Jeff Richardson told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that the county government and school division need to cut $6.24 million this fiscal year due to declining revenues.

“We don’t have additional information on the numbers,” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the Albemarle school division’s chief operating officer. “We anticipate having a more robust conversation at the next meeting.”

The School Board hasn’t adopted a budget for the next fiscal year yet.

The division is preparing continuity of learning plans for elementary, middle and high schools, and teachers will communicate directly to students by April 15 regarding those plans, said Debbie Collins, the division’s deputy superintendent.

“I want to publicly praise all our employees,” Albemarle schools Superintendent Matt Haas said. “In the wake of shutting down our brick and mortar and high-contact schools, you, in a matter of days, have worked to stand up a virtual school for 14,000 students.”


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