West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore provided an update to the community Tuesday afternoon, indicating that April break will take place, and confirming the last day of school and graduation.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford is into its second week of online learning, and as the month of March draws to a close – under dramatically different circumstances than it started – Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore provided the community with an important update about April break, graduation, and the last day of school.
April spring recess – scheduled to begin on Friday, April 10 (Good Friday), and last through the following week, will take place as scheduled.
The Board of Education had voted last fall to approve a day off on April 28 for the presidential primary – which as of now has been rescheduled for June 2 – but that day will now be a school day.
Moore said that the graduation date for Conard and Hall high schools will remain June 15 as previously announced, and the last day of school for all other students will be June 18.
Even with downtime amid the COVID-19 pandemic, about 95% of districts in the state have decided to keep the April break, Moore said, and for West Hartford, which ramped up online learning and resumed classes with just five days off, there was no need to make up the time during April.
“There’s no need to get those five days back,” Moore said. Students will still have 180 days of school, and staff will have 185 days.
In addition, he said, canceling April break would have actually meant the last day of school would fall before the scheduled gradation. The break is also very much needed by teachers.
“The faculty had to ramp up really quickly, and this will give them a little bit of time to contextualize and think about the rest of the year,” Moore said.
As for whether or not an actual graduation ceremony can take place, and when or if regular instruction in the classrooms can resume this academic year, Moore has no idea.
“Like anything else, we’re planning day-by-day. There are a lot of things we hope can happen,” he said. Moore doesn’t just sympathize with parents, but with a daughter who is a senior at Conard he can completely empathize with the angst families are facing.
“People’s health will be the decision” about reopening schools, and that guidance will ultimately come from the state.
In a written message translated into 24 different languages, and a video (which can be viewed here: Video Message), Moore said this situation has proven the positive role of technology.
“I have often wondered over the past couple of years if the internet has been a net positive or a negative for society. This situation has certainly eliminated all doubts for me, as our ability to maintain online learning and messaging for our families in their home language is truly a miracle of modern technology. I know that for some families, engaging your children in this style of education is especially difficult because of unique learning challenges, and I am grateful for your partnership as we try to find solutions to help us to try and meet every student’s needs, as much as possible,” he wrote in the message.
During the past 2 1/2 weeks, Moores said, more than 15,000 meals have been distributed to families in the district, and outside organizations have also delivered backpacks of groceries to those who face food insecurity.
More than 1,500 digital devices have been loaned out to students so resources can be accessed, in addition to 1,000 paper packets of learning materials that were handed out as the technology was being implemented.
“We have collected all of our masks, gloves, and any PPE to distribute from our schools to our first responders and our health professionals in the community,” Moore also said.
Moore told We-Ha.com how proud he is of how the West Hartford Public Schools community has quickly adapted to online learning.
“People talk about our schools a lot, the accolades we receive, but never have our schools been more impressive than in the past few weeks,” Moore said. He praised Assistant Superintendent Paul Vicinus for the remarkable role he had in getting the platform up and running.
West Hartford’s classroom pages are open source, Moore said, and since they have gone live there have been about 22,000 hits, from all over the country and all over the world who are able to use the district’s online learning plans as a resource. “We decided to go open source early, so others could use it. There are too many places that don’t have the same talent,” he said.
The elementary school at a-home learning plans have been accessed in 40 other states, and from every continent other than Antarctica. Countries include Canada, India, Peru, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Romania, Czech Republic, Iraq, Amsterdam, France, and Australia, he said.
In his message Tuesday, Moore also informed high school families that there will not be a third quarter grading period this academic year. “We will still have progress reports that you can access through the Powerschool parent portal, but after much research and discussion, we felt that the best thing for our students would be to give one semester grade, rather than a third and fourth quarter grade.”
Eliminating the third quarter grade avoids a rush to get grades reported, and he said he has had virtual meetings with numerous college and university admissions directors who confirmed there would be no adverse effects. “The reply was universal that this is not an issue, and that they only use semester grades, as we do when establishing GPA. If any senior needed an official copy of their third quarter grades for any reason, we can provide a letter from Conard or Hall with what would be the third quarter grade, as well as any explanation,” Moore said in his message Tuesday.
When asked if now that online learning has been proven to work if it would eliminate the need for snow days in the future, Moore said it’s been discussed. “We’ve talked about it, have been kicking the idea around, and for most kids that’s not a problem but we’ve had to lend out 1,500 pieces of equipment.” To be able to do that, the schools would have to ensure that everyone has the technology, and access, on a regular basis.
“It will be about equity, and can all of our kids have access the same way,” Moore said.
Moore added the following words to his message to the school community: “Over the next few weeks, we will see much pain and suffering in our community, our state, and our nation due to this pandemic. Please take care, stay home, and stay safe.”
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