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Pine Plains Board of Ed checks on how schools are dealing with remote learning during crisis

PINE PLAINS — Along with checking in to see how the Pine Plains Central School District’s building principals and personnel have been faring during its closure, the Pine Plains Board of Education (BOE) got up-to-date on the latest district news and the district’s future at a workshop meeting on Wednesday, April 22.

The meeting was held via video conference to abide social distancing regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the entire BOE and Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler, the meeting welcomed Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Timm; Director of Pupil Personnel Services Janine Babcock; Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Michael Goldbeck; Cold Spring Early Learning Center Principal Gian Starr; Seymour Smith Intermediate Learning Center Principal Julie Roberts; and Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School Principal Tara Grieb in attendance.

Organizing meetings via Zoom, Handler reported that he has been meeting with both the county’s chief administrators and the chief school officers once a week and with the House of Delegates every other week. Additionally, he’s been listening to updates from Governor Andrew Cuomo on a daily basis.

Regarding the questions he’s received from the BOE about the district’s plans, Handler said the big question is when the school district will reopen as well as “When are we going to be able to do things?” and “What are we going to do?” 

Handler said Cuomo hasn’t decided to close schools for the remainder of the year; this week the governor spoke of slowly reopening the state. Handler also made note of the BOE’s questions concerning the coming fall and what plans for school might look like in the future. He said district’s summer activities will be dependent on what the state says the school districts can and cannot do.

Giving an update on the district’s food delivery program, Handler said it has been serving 120 meals per day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He commended the cafeteria staff for doing a remarkable job offering a variety of meals as well as the volunteer drivers who deliver the meals to students.

For his report, Timm shared the results of the survey he posted on SurveyMonkey to get a sense of student participation in the remote learning program. With a total of 86 teachers responding, Timm said he asked the teachers to answer four questions that focused on the grade level they teach; the estimated percentage of student participation in their class; the estimated percentage of students in their class who don’t have internet; and suggestions for how the district can improve online participation. Overall, his results indicated that 66% of students participate in the online learning program and 9% of students don’t have internet access.

Breaking down student participation by grade level, Timm reported that the overall participation in the core classes for grades pre-k through fifth was 78% while participation for the special classes for those same grades was 7%. For students in grades second through fifth, there was an overall participation rate of 53%, while for students in sixth grade, there was an overall participation rate of 78%; 83% of students in the seventh grade were shown to participate in the online learning program, followed by a 50% participation rate for students in eighth grade and a 71% participation rate for students in grades ninth through 12th.

As for the breakdown of students without internet, the greatest percentage was found in students in grades second through fifth with 17%, followed by students in the eighth grade with 13% and students in grades ninth through 12th with 11%.

Putting the data into context, Timm suggested that the actual percentage for student participation may vary since the survey didn’t take into account the possibility of students enrolled in multiple grades living in the same household or multiple teachers per student. When taking these factors into account, he considered that the actual percentage of students without internet may be lower. Looking ahead, Timm said he was trying to formulate a plan for parental training on the educational delivery platforms so parents could better monitor student participation.

Delivering an overview of Cold Spring, Starr talked about the expectations for instruction at the elementary school, highlighting how teachers have been asked to prepare a minimum of three lessons per week that focus on English Language Arts (ELA) and math. Each week, he said parents receive an email from him or from teachers with a copy of the lesson plan attached.

Roberts reported that the teachers at Seymour Smith meet via Google Meet a minimum of twice a week, and that assignments for students are posted on Google Classroom on Mondays with a minimum of three lessons per week in math and ELA. 

Meanwhile, Grieb reported that the expectation for teachers overseeing grades sixth through 12th is to provide students with two hours of work per day. Teachers overseeing grades sixth through eighth meet weekly to plan with a regular Sunday broadcast of assignments for the week. For teachers overseeing grades ninth through 12th, Grieb said the initial request was to provide a minimum of three assignments per week; however, because some of these assignments can take up to an hour and 20 minutes to complete, the minimum number of assignments in this case has been reduced to two. Grieb mentioned that all but two of the teachers at the junior/senior high school are presenting lessons via Google Meet. For the two teachers who aren’t comfortable with using Google Meet, Grieb has allowed them to use their own site and reported that they both noted a high participation rate of 85%.

Delivering an overview of the district’s special education department, Babcock reported that special ed teachers plan to speak to each student weekly, adding that if the teachers send out an email, a response is required to be considered minimum contact. She also reported that the special education department is conducting Committee on Special Education meetings remotely and has received positive parental participation. 

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