How operating fully remote and in-person learning programs increased alignment and allowed for continual improvement.
Last week, Mayor de Blasio announced a plan to abandon New York City’s hybrid learning program next school year, in favor of fully in-person and remote programs. We wholeheartedly welcome and applaud this change.
Classical Charter Schools has been operating fully in-person and remote programs since September. This model allows our scholars and staff to engage in a single learning model—either remote or in-person—eliminating the costs associated with hybrid learning about which many educators have voiced concerns.
Initially, launching a dual model was about twice as much work than a normal school year, as we were operating essentially two different schools. However, running two distinct programs without the use of a hybrid model has allowed us to continuously improve our systems and make each program match pre-pandemic schooling as much possible.
Our reopening has never been easy, with challenges including mandated quarantines, a tumultuous district-wide closure following an anxious wait to hit a 3% positivity rate, and constantly evolving policies mandated at the city, state, and federal level. Along the way we have learned, and are continuing to learn, some lessons to share with educators on a similar journey operating two distinct learning programs.
Invest in Systems: Stage Planning
We split our school year into five stages, providing families three opportunities across the year to opt-in to in-person learning and two fully remote periods due to mandated district-wide closures and quarantine periods.
Planning a new stage is like planning a new school year, meaning what is usually an annual occurrence has become frequent. Creating a standardized timeline and process for how to plan the first day of school (five times!) is critical. The standardized timeline additionally allows us to ensure that each component or system within our in-person program exists within our remote program.
Our planning timeline includes deadlines for critical components including rosters, classroom assignments, staffing, instructional schedules, Zoom links, advisory groups, family communication, data systems, and much more. Splitting both the remote and in-person school years into stages allows for continual opportunities to reset and realign our programs.
Prioritize Family and Staff Voice When You Can
So much about our daily pandemic lives is not within our control, so when possible, it is important we give our community as much voice as we can.
Our learning program is grounded in family choice, meaning we provided families with three opportunities across the school year to select their learning preference—remote or in-person. Not only has every family gotten their first choice, but they also have the flexibility to switch into the remote learning program at any time if their circumstances change. When space opens in our in-person program, we also give interested families the option to join us on-site.
Staff feedback is critical, too. As we begin planning each stage, we send surveys to staff to collect feedback and host “office hours” to collect ideas and address concerns. Some share quick fixes and others are more complex considerations like thinking through the high-school admissions process for our eighth graders during the pandemic.
Using this feedback, we are able to continuously improve our remote program to match the quality of our in-person instruction. This has led to a number of productive changes, including re-thinking how we organize our remote teams, reducing class sizes, and increasing opportunities for scholars to engage in content with platforms like NearPod. We are constantly listening to feedback and seeking to improve so that our two programs can succeed equally.
Be Ready to Adapt & Think Creatively
Much about this school year has been challenging but the evolving circumstances of the pandemic have made success in this school year a moving target. At any moment, we need to be ready to pivot.
From the Biden administration’s recent requirement of standardized testing to an abrupt reopening of NYC schools after a district-wide closure, this school year has required flexibility from all.
At many times, we had to think creatively to respond, too. For example, we created new roles to allow for coverage of teachers, as we did not use substitute teachers this year to avoid potential super spreader events. We also purposefully livestreamed certain blocks of the day for our remote scholars to maximize staffing and allow interactions between our remote and in-person cohorts. While our remote and in-person programs are distinct, we must continually think about our schools from a holistic perspective. This ensures that we are maximizing resources and operating to keep our classrooms staffed and family learning preference a top priority.
Find Ways to Expand Your Reach
We are proud that 55% of our scholars are receiving fully in-person instruction. However, with 45% of scholars still learning remotely, we have worked to find ways to involve them in our in-person program when possible too.
Scholars have the option of taking their assessments online or in-person, and many have even been so excited by these opportunities that they have made the switch to be permanently in-person. Some of our remote teachers have also offered “weekend recess” so that their scholars too can socialize and play together in-person. Nothing will ever feel truly normal until we are all back in the building together again, but until then, we will continue to find ways to build community and include all scholars in the opportunities we offer.
This post was contributed by Ms. Montgomery, Director of Strategy at Classical Charter Schools. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.