Reopening: Teaching and Learning

The school calendar typically includes one or more staff-only days before students arrive at school. Acknowledging the challenges that our teachers and staff have faced this spring delivering remote instruction under stressful circumstances, the district will focus these in-service days on providing support to faculty and staff in the areas of social-emotional health, technology integration and teaching content in blended and virtual learning environments.

These days will also be utilized for student orientation. This time will allow small groups of students to meet with their new teacher and begin to establish the relationship necessary for a successful school year. Additionally, staff will coordinate the distribution of materials and check-in on Internet connectivity and device needs.

As we enter the new school year, the district will encourage teachers to spend time building relationships, supporting students with the transition back to school, and teaching social distancing etiquette at developmentally appropriate levels.   

When a remote or hybrid learning model is necessary, certain groups of students will be prioritized for in-person learning to the greatest extent possible. This includes, but is not limited to, special education students, English-language learners, students who did not engage in remote learning during the spring, and students with technology or connectivity needs.

Assessing student learning gaps or areas of need will be critical. The district will conduct NWEA MAP-R and MAP-M assessments in order to assess the gaps. Formative assessment before a unit of instruction to assess student understanding of prerequisite skills will be common practice.  

Acknowledging that the typical content in a given grade level or course may need to be adjusted, content will be prioritized to ensure that students receive instruction for the prioritized learning standards, key understandings and skills necessary for students’ success in future study.  

Grading practices will follow a standards-based framework designed to provide direct feedback regarding students’ mastery of course content.

Our on-site prekindergarten programs will follow the health and safety guidelines outlined for all classrooms in the district. Our contracts with our community-based partners who provide the staff for our on-site programs will include the health and safety guidelines that will be adhered to in alignment with the district reopening plan. 

Our off-site 3-and-4-year-old agency programs will follow New York State Department of Health and Office of Child and Family Services guidelines for childcare facilities, both on-site and off-site. Our early childhood director will be responsible for the coordination of continuity of learning for all of our on-site and off-site pre-K programs. Our contracts with our community-based partners who run programs off-site as a part of their larger childcare setting will include the health and safety guidelines that they developed and are required to implement as a part of their reopening plan.

Our contracts also include regular visits to observe the implementation of the contractual agreement. It is our intent to continue these on-site visits in alignment with the above-referenced NYSDOH and OCFS guidelines to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements, and alignment to the contractual agreement. 


Fully in-person instruction 

Upon reopening, the number of students in each of our classrooms will be reduced to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding proper social distancing. Class size will reflect the need to ensure that students’ desks/seats are positioned no less than 6 feet apart. 

Accommodating a 6-foot radius around students will necessitate the identification of additional rooms and common-area spaces that can be converted into elementary classrooms.

Current staffing levels may be insufficient to accommodate the expanded number of classrooms needed to ensure social distancing.

All instruction will continue to be aligned to the New York State Learning Standards.

Our schools will minimize the movement of students. This potentially means having students eat lunch in their classroom instead of the cafeteria, and eliminating assemblies, field trips and other large-group activities. Special-area subjects (e.g., Art, Music and Physical Education) may be pushed into the classroom. Whenever possible students will utilize outside space for PE instruction. We will adhere to 12 feet between students when engaging in physical activity. Whenever possible, special-area subject classes may utilize outside space as approved by the site administrator. We will adhere to 12 feet between students when engaging in chorus and wind ensemble type classes. 

To the extent possible, students will remain in small cohorts when leaving the classroom, such as for recess or any necessary transition, so as to reduce their exposure to additional students.

Due to the large number of students enrolled and the limited physical space, it is impractical to have 100% of our student population in attendance at one time due to current social distancing requirements. The considerations that follow assume that we will have fewer than 100% of our students in school at any given time. 

For information on school schedules, visit the School Schedules section of our reopening plan

Elementary

Our schools will split elementary classes into two cohorts of 12 or fewer students. The teacher will spend half the day with each cohort. While one cohort is with the teacher, the other cohort will be with a supervising adult (reading, ENL, co-teach special education teacher, teaching assistant, hall monitor). 

The goal is for the teacher to move fluidly between the two cohorts using a flipped classroom model. This model allows the teacher to frontload necessary background information and skills practice through independent tasks assigned to the students when they are with the supervising adult. Then the teacher uses the time the students are with the teacher to provide explicit instruction in concept development and critical thinking for the priority NYS standards and data-based needs in ELA, Math, Social Studies and Science. 

The supervising adult provides support and supervision while the students navigate their independent task. The supervising adult will use a small group instruction model to deliver required ENL, reading and special education services while the remainder of the cohort works independently. 

Art, Music, Library and Physical Education will push into two classrooms a day and provide half-day coverage to relieve the teacher for planning with the instructional coach for on-site and blended learning needs. This model allows each class to have a live interaction with their encore teachers in addition to virtual assignments available each day for each encore subject. This model limits the exposure of adults to cohorts.

For information about how in-person instruction information will be communicated to students and families, visit the Communication/Family and Community Engagement section of this plan.

Middle School

Middle school students in grades 6-8 will not participate in an all-on-site model unless CDC and health department restrictions for social distancing are no longer a requirement. Our school facilities cannot accommodate all students based on social distancing requirements. The only exception to this fully on-site model is our students with disabilities who have been placed in a self-contained classroom setting, and our English-language learners who attend the Albany International Center, which we are relocating to the Edmund J. O'Neal Middle School of Excellence building.

High School

High school students in grades 9-12 will not participate in an all-on-site model unless CDC and health department restrictions for social distancing are no longer a requirement. Per CDC and state guidelines, our high school students will engage in an Enriched Virtual Blended Learning model.


Fully virtual instruction 

Given the possibility that communities may experience spikes in COVID-19 cases at any point during the school year, which may prompt short- or long-term school closures, our district has developed an all-virtual instructional model and schedule that can be implemented immediately in a fully remote environment. Parents and guardians also will have the opportunity to choose a fully virtual learning environment for their students and will be asked to commit to that decision for a full marking period at a time.

In essence, the fully virtual instructional model blends the period-by-period schedule of on-site learning days with the virtual hourly schedule designed for our hybrid instructional model. Students will engage in virtual instruction via Google Classroom and Google Meet. All teachers will provide both synchronous and asynchronous instruction to all students. Students will follow a similar schedule as they do during on-site instruction; they will remain in their assigned cohorts with their assigned teachers and attend synchronous instruction 2-3 times per day, affording them time and flexibility to complete assignments for their remaining classes, including special-area classes, which will now also be conducted virtually in a remote environment.

By maintaining existing cohorts of students and the existing on-site schedule of classes, the district will ensure continuity of instruction in a manner that promotes participation and engagement by maintaining opportunities for small group synchronous instruction, asynchronous learning activities and alignment to the existing schedule to which they may already be accustomed.  


Remote/hybrid instruction 

Given the possibility that communities may experience spikes in COVID-19 cases at any point during the school year, which may prompt short- or long-term school closures, our district has developed a hybrid or blended learning model and schedule that can continue as-is in a fully remote environment.

Instruction will focus on core subject areas as well as elective courses. Consideration has been given to prioritizing hands-on and lab-based activities while students are on-site in school buildings. All instruction will continue to be aligned to the New York State Learning Standards. 

As noted previously, student schedules will remain the same whether instruction is in-person or remote so that students do not encounter conflicts wherein synchronous lessons for different subjects are offered simultaneously.

Remote learning opportunities for secondary students will include a greater emphasis on synchronous instruction, with teachers finding ways to provide live instruction and lessons to students. While recording of live lessons is still essential for students unable to attend at a scheduled time, teachers will ensure that their students are directly engaged with them and their class peers in experiential learning on a regular basis.

To ensure high-quality remote learning experiences, we will standardize the use of a single online learning platform, to the extent possible, and develop a common, coordinated set of guidelines for teachers to follow when using the platform with students.

Grading practices will follow a standards-based framework designed to provide direct feedback regarding students’ mastery of course content. We will use a five-scale grading rubric based on levels of competency/mastery, which can then be aligned to numeric bands (for GPA purposes).

For information on school schedules, visit the School Schedules section of our reopening plan.

Elementary 

The hybrid model at the elementary level will be a combination of our in-person model and our virtual model. The priority NYS Learning Standards and data-driven needs of students in ELA, Math, Social Studies and Science will be the focus of this model. 

The in-person part of the model will be reduced to two days, but still be a split of time with the classroom teacher and supervising adult. The virtual part of this model will continue to be limited to 2-3 hours of virtual instruction through the computer and independent practice. This model will still have a rotation of encore subjects pushing into the classroom the days students are in-person. 

The remote mode is a balance of virtual learning with direct instruction from the classroom teacher, small group instruction from academic and related service providers, encore activities from the Art, Music, Physical Education and Library staff, and independent tasks that frontload concepts or provide meaningful work that allow students to demonstrate their learning. 

This model is also supplemented by software platforms for ELA and Math. 

Middle school

Our hybrid instructional model involves all of our students in grades 6-8 (including the sixth-grade students in four of our elementary programs) reporting to their assigned school buildings two consecutive days per week, where they will follow a nearly typical nine-period school day. Exceptions include middle-level self-contained special education students, as well as our English-language learners who attend the Albany International Center; those students will participate in on-site instruction five days a week.  

All students will be grouped into cohorts of 12-15; these cohorts will remain the same in both our hybrid instructional model and our virtual instructional model to ensure a fluid transition between models in the event of school building closure. While on-site, student cohorts will not transition between classrooms; they will remain in one classroom for the duration of their on-site instruction while teachers or supervising staff rotate into classrooms. 
 
Students will have core classes on both on-site days (ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies and World Language [Grades 7-8 only]). In place of World Language, sixth-grade students will participate in both ELA and Math enrichment classes. Content-area teachers will provide in-person instruction to approximately half of their assigned students on each day of on-site learning; the students who are not working directly with their assigned content-area teacher will engage in asynchronous learning designed by their teacher of record with the assistance of a supervising adult, who in most cases will be a certified teacher and, whenever possible, a teacher who also serves the same students (i.e., a reading teacher in an ELA classroom).  
 
Students will have special-area classes on both on-site days scheduled in a rotation that permits students to experience four special-area subjects during their two on-site days. Those classes include Family and Consumer Science, Technology, Physical Education, Health, Music and Art. In scheduling students for these classes, the district took into account the requisite units of study that typically define the middle school experience. Special-area teachers will provide students with learning activities they can complete at home to ensure continuity of instruction when not on-site.
 
A third day of on-site instruction will be afforded to certain students identified as in need of additional support or enrichment, including, but not limited to, students with disabilities programmed for integrated co-teach services or resource room, English-language learners who do not attend the Albany International Center, students with a 504 plan and students identified for Academic Intervention Services. This additional day of on-site instruction will also provide opportunities for students to participate in instrumental music lessons or hands-on learning activities, such as Science labs. This time may also be used to identify students in need of in-person social-emotional supports through our MTSS model. Students who do not engage in this third day of on-site instruction will be responsible for the asynchronous learning activities their content-area teachers have assigned and will also have access to synchronous support from their assigned teachers in the form of scheduled office hours.
 
When not on-site, students will engage in virtual instruction via Google Classroom and Google Meet. All core-area teachers will provide both synchronous and asynchronous instruction to all students. Students will follow a similar schedule as they do during on-site instruction; they will remain in their assigned cohorts and attend synchronous instruction 2-3 times per day, affording them time and flexibility to complete assignments for their remaining classes, including special-area classes. Cohorts are designed to ensure appropriate social distancing when on-site, while also providing a platform for small group synchronous instruction while attending school virtually in order to promote participation and engagement. On the days in which students are participating in asynchronous instruction, teachers will have scheduled office hours that students can access for individual or small group support.  

In order to ensure continuity of instruction by an appropriately certified teacher, students will have appropriate technology available to them while both on-site and at home, which will minimally include a district-assigned Chromebook, and, when necessary, a hotspot to ensure connectivity. Teachers will design on-site, synchronous and asynchronous instruction to deliver the district curriculum in a manner that prepares students with the knowledge and skills they need to meet the grade-level demand of the learning standards in each subject area. This includes explicit instruction in how to manage time, prioritize assigned tasks and navigate Google Classroom as well as other instructional technology the district has purchased to support teaching and learning (i.e., Nearpod).

Additionally, the district recognizes that our students may be returning to us feeling anxious, stressed, depressed and confused, to name a few of the complex emotions they may be experiencing due to our extended school closure, the public health crisis, and societal and community issues that have impacted our city directly. To that end, all middle school students will have an abbreviated period scheduled during on-site instruction geared to support social-emotional learning, emotional well-being, and overall health and wellness. This instructional period, coupled with the implementation of our MTSS model, will support the district in identifying students who may be in need of additional support.
 
Students who are unable to attend on-site instruction for any number of reasons will be fully supported virtually by an appropriately certified teacher through synchronous and asynchronous instruction.    

High school

The high school schedule is unique in that it is both structured and flexible.

The schedule is attentive to the master schedule developed this past winter and spring, which was was based on student course requests throughout the scheduling process. This is why the High School Reopening Subcommittee ultimately prioritized the period 1-9 schedule, including all encore areas and student choices. These courses will not all take place in one day, however, as we were attentive to the student course load in a blended or virtual environment. The 1-9 schedule will take place over a two-day period, with individual classes meeting five times in a 10-day cycle.  

The 1-9 periods in a two-day span describes the structure, but the high school plan is also flexible. The flexibility can be found in the pod/advisory model, as well as in the scheduled classes. The high school intends to phase in access to hands-on activities and labs that can generally be found in Science, Technology, Career and Technical Education (CTE), Music, Art and Physical Education. Once our structure is in place, students will be able to access these classes either in the pod/advisory times when all teachers are on hand, or be scheduled during the class period in these areas. Social distancing will be maintained by virtue of who is on campus on any single day for on-site instruction, and by splitting the virtual class to attend an in-person class over the span of a week.  

Additionally, there is flexibility in increasing in-person instruction if health precautions allow. In this event, students could attend as described in our schedule, but instead of working virtually they could change classes and transition to different classrooms for in-person lessons. Likewise, if there is a closure, students will seamlessly transition to an entirely virtual environment using the schedule established. 

The district is committed to ensuring that both rigor and high quality informs all instruction, with a focus on student-centered, inquiry-based instruction to foster strong student engagement. To this end, teachers will provide live lessons during their course periods and present other information using a variety of instructional technology tools such as Nearpod and Flipgrid, as well as others.

Additionally, Google is rolling out several additions to Google Meet and Google Classroom this summer, to which all staff have access. Google Meet will have breakout rooms and whiteboards, allowing for small group instruction and different presentation options. Meanwhile, the secondary content instructional supervisors are working on compressing the curriculum for a focus on those high-leverage standards, and standards on the continuum, to further learning in courses beyond where the student currently sits.

Instructional technology tools will enhance the high school plan, and careful attention to modification of the current curriculum will provide us with the best opportunity for success.

Finally, the pod/advisory class is a cornerstone of the high school plan. Every student will have a teacher to check-in with on a daily basis. Our goal is that no student will fall through the cracks as this system ensures that an adult is monitoring challenges, successes, access and engagement with the program. Students will have an advocate for tutoring and social-emotional support, and a model for virtual learning protocols and practices.

Finally, there will be referral protocols in place for students who need more intensive intervention.