Changes On Way for Weston Public Schools

Weston High School

Last night’s School Committee meeting focused on plans to bring students in for more hours at every level of schooling, from elementary to high school. In an emotion-filled atmosphere, school administration, Committee members, students and parents spoke to the issues and challenges that less-than-full-time has brought to all of the public school community.

John Henry, School Committee Chair, started the meeting on a personal note, reminding participants that the School Committee is made up of volunteers, all of whom have children in the Weston Public School system. The School Committee has put in countless hours in an extraordinary year, and will continue to work for the best outcome for all. Mr. Henry also chastised parents for the tone and content of recent emails and letters to the school administration and committee. The summary of all of this is that it would be behoove Weston to behave as a community and not an us-against-them. He also suggested that parents consider sending communications to Governor Charlie Baker to request that teachers be prioritized for vaccinations, which would bring an additional level of comfort.

Both John Henry and Dr. Midge Connolly, Superintendent of Weston schools, mentioned that the WEA (Weston Education Association, the teacher’s union) has never left the negotiating table and that Weston will achieve goals because of the WEA, not in spite of it.

Dr. Connolly presented the results of the recent parent/student surveys at the middle school and high school levels. I do not have the charts for this yet, but will publish when they are available on the school or Weston media site. What was shown in the results is that the parents are a lot more unhappy about the current situation than students are, at least as reflected in the surveys. Neither group is happy.

Changes a-coming

For the high school, changes are coming quickly–on Monday, March 1 to be exact. Instead of the current 9 am-12:45 schedule, HS students will mirror the recent Middle School schedule changes and start time will be 8:30 am and end time 1 pm. Next week, both the high school and the middle school will begin an every-other-Wednesday in-person schedule (for students not in Remote Learning Academy). Simultaneous broadcast of classes will continue, for students who cannot be in class due to quarantine or illness. RLA will continue as-is (with extended hours) and negotiations with WEA will also continue.

On March 15, for in-person students, both Weston Middle School and Weston High School are proposed to move to 5 days/week. This means that distancing will change from current 6 feet, nose-to-nose, to 3-5 feet distancing. Grab-and-go lunch will continue to be available but there will be no in-school lunch. Remote work will take place in the afternoon.

On April 5, elementary schools will get their own mega-change (proposed) which is all-day attendance (dismissal 2:20 pm). Elementary schools are all-in already but do not currently have lunch. The change means lunch at a six-foot distance and outside when at all possible (weather-dependent).

At all schools, there will be a number of other changes that are still under discussion, mostly on the operational side. Schedules need to be worked out, and new bus routes developed as more kids will be on the buses on a daily basis. The schools also plan to move to pool testing which is less expensive than the current asymptomatic testing, as well as a better judge of what is going on in the schools. There is some thought that athletes would have required testing.

These are the changes proposed by Dr. Connolly and the administration, subject to approval by the Weston Board of Health, the Weston Emergency Management Team, and of course, the Weston Education Association. Dr. Connolly mentioned by letter today (February 24) that families uncomfortable with the greater number of in-person hours and smaller physical distances would be able to move their students to the Remote Learning Academy. More information is coming on this.

“Trust Us”

After School Committee comments and questions, the floor was opened to the students who were in attendance. Several high school students spoke eloquently about the effects of the current reduced in-person time. Nate Icke, president of the senior class, said it was not just the traditions they have lost–dances and parties–it was the mental health that was the most critical concern now. Based on his own experiences with depression and isolation, he has started an Active Minds chapter at the high school. More on this in a future Owl.

Nate asked the administration and the School Committee to “trust us”–trust the students. They want to help things happen, and want to keep the schools open. Dr. Connolly noted that the students had done a fantastic job of being careful with masks and distancing, allowing the school to stay open. Alex Cobb, SC member, mentioned that on an operational level, help will be needed from the students in figuring out parking at the high school when everyone is back all-in.

Jackie Liu, a high school student in the Remote Learning Academy, asked that the administration and School Committee remember the special issues that affect certain populations. She explained that it is not necessarily best for all students to be back to full-time–METCO students may have difficulty with new schedules, and zoom fatigue may set in more for RLA students. They also have increased mental health risk.

More to come.

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