School year off to a good start

GLOVERSVILLE — Gloversville Enlarged School District administrators at the elementary school level are reporting that students have been excited to return to school in the past month. But the district has also received new requests from parents to shift students to fully remote learning since school resumed under a hybrid alternating in-person and remote attendance model.

Park Terrace Elementary School Principal Lisa Priolo and Kingsborough Elementary School Principal Trisha Bobowski on Monday briefed the Board of Education on the first month of the new school year at their respective buildings where they said kids are excited to be.

“These kids love to be at school,” said Bobowski. “They want to be here every day.”

Priolo agreed despite a student at Park Terrace having tested positive for the coronavirus in September. The district on Sept. 16 was notified that a student was confirmed to have the virus.

The district supported the Fulton County Health Department in conducting contact tracing and it was determined that the school and even the classroom could remain open due to the low risk of exposure under the district’s health safety protocols that resulted in limited quarantine by other individuals. No other reported cases resulted from the confirmed positive coronavirus case.

“I was very happy with our lack of any issues with our COVID case that we had so that made me feel very positive that we’re doing everything to the best of our ability in keeping everybody safe,” said Priolo.

Both building leaders indicated that students have been compliant with the district’s new protocols requiring social distancing to be maintained and masks to be worn in all hallways, common areas and at any time when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Administrators ahead of the school year were concerned about students’ social and emotional wellbeing following the abrupt closure of school buildings in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus and related impacts students may have experienced, leading district officials to develop support systems ahead of the new school year. But Priolo said so far, the apparent impact has been minimal.

“The kids are really doing great,” said Priolo. “We have another additional support staff at our building from the Family Counseling Center and we had a whole process set up over the summer, how we were going to refer kids if necessary with emotional or any traumatic issues that may have arisen from the COVID situation and that has been minimal.”

Similarly, assessments of student proficiency in reading and math across the elementary school buildings found that students largely avoided the “COVID-slide” district officials worried would result from the shift to fully remote learning through the spring.

“Most of our kids for i-Ready have stayed status quo since their last bench mark last school year or had an increase so that was good. I was expecting a slide and it actually was positive news,” said Bobowski.

Staff at both Park Terrace and Kingsborough are also working to redevelop plans for school traditions, including Halloween festivities, to ensure students can safely enjoy special activities in the new school environment.

“They’re elementary kids, they want to still be able to do those different activities, so we’re trying to keep it as safe as possible for them but still make school a fun experience, especially because for some of them this is their first experience,” said Bobowski.

While district officials have lamented the need to shift to an alternating in-person and remote attendance model to comply with state mandates surrounding classroom density to reduce health safety risks, Bobowski noted that the reduction in the number of students attending school in-person each day has relieved longstanding safety concerns related to Kingsborough’s traffic patterns along 11th Avenue.

“For right now because we have so many less people coming through it is nice, we’re not having that issue with double, triple parking,” said Bobowski. “We’re still waiting for the city to fix the sign that makes it one way all school day, right now it’s broken up and it stops at 9 o’clock which is a huge issue because we have kids still coming at 9:15 and we have people trying to fly up the road the opposite way.”

District Superintendent David Halloran applauded district staff and students for their efforts since the resumption of the school year.

“The fact is kids are behaving, kids are learning, and kids are happy to be here,” said Halloran. “Our biggest concern now is the quality of education for kids that are fully remote.”

In addition to the hybrid alternating in-person and remote learning model, the district for the fall made a fully remote option available to all students K-12 at parents’ request amidst continued concerns over the coronavirus. The district has set a goal of providing synchronous learning between remote and in-person students in the coming months at the secondary level, classes of fully remote students at the elementary level were assigned dedicated full-time teachers.

Roughly one-third of all district students opted to attend school in the fully remote format and are required to continue in that model through at least the first semester when parents can request to have students return to school under the hybrid model if they prefer.

Although Halloran has commended district staff for making the shift to remote learning and committed to continuing to improve its delivery in case the district is forced to shift to a fully remote format again due to a coronavirus surge, he has also frequently stated that in-person instruction is more beneficial to students.

“It’s important for us to continue stating that and continue talking about how well our kids are doing in school. We want more here, and I’d love to have the problem of saying ‘jeez, how are we going to accommodate this,” said Halloran. “Unfortunately, we’re getting requests for the opposite, we’re getting more requests for people wanting their kids to go fully remote and it’s not equal.”

Halloran pointed to the confirmed positive coronavirus case at Park Terrace as a likely driver for some of the requests even though the infection is known to have originated outside of school.

“More parents are seeking remote instruction and I think it’s based out of fear. I don’t think it’s the notion that we’re doing a poor job keeping kids socially distanced or doing a poor job cleaning the buildings, I don’t think anybody thinks that, I think it’s about reading the newspaper and seeing the national conversation,” said Halloran.

The superintendent noted that he has also received requests from parents for trivial reasons whose children do not have friends in class on in-person attendance days or who prefer the convenience of not having to get kids to school in the morning.

“We do not think remote learning is equal in any manner, shape or form. Students need to be around other students; they need the interaction of teachers. When our principal said kids were happy to be here, I’ve seen it with my own eyes in every building,” said Halloran.

While the district will consider incoming requests to transition to fully remote instruction mid-semester on a case-by-case basis likely only approving the switch for students in households with documented health risks, Halloran signaled that the district was perhaps too accommodating in granting requests for fully remote learning ahead of fall.

“I think we probably bent over backwards to a fault in accommodating to the point where the people losing sight of just how important traditional education is,” said Halloran. “We have to keep pushing hard to do what we’re doing in-house well so that people start to trust us and want to send their kids, but also recognize their own children’s education is being negatively impacted by not being here.”

By Patricia Older