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Division rolls out learning plan

With schools closed for the rest of the academic year, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III has rolled out the division’s learning plan for students for the rest of the school year.

“The first thing we took a look at is what material was left,” Gordon said, “and then cross-referencing that with our curriculum maps and our pacing guides.”

Gordon said there were several limitations the division had with teaching elementary school students, because they do not have Chromebooks to use. The main thing he wanted was to reinforce material they had already learned while filling in any learning gaps to prepare them for the 2020-2021 school year.

“We wanted to make sure that the material they had learned for the first 24 weeks of school, that they were masters of it,” Gordon said.

Elementary students are receiving learning packets this week — buses went out to neighborhoods Monday and Tuesday, and for those who missed that opportunity, parents will be able to pick them up at their child’s school Wednesday. The packets have also been shared through the PeachJar platform, as well as on the division and school websites. The material will cover learning through spring break.

After that, students will receive instructional materials through the mail.

All students are also being asked to read for 30 minutes daily, and teachers will have at least two hours of office hours daily — one hour in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Case managers for students with disabilities will be working with families to provide instructional supports, and they will be getting in touch with students and families directly to set up office hours. School counselors and behavioral specialists have also set up office hours to help students and their families.

Another priority was determining how to handle high school seniors and how things would be structured for them, as they will lose the final 10 weeks of their senior year. He said on an emotional level, it is not fair for them to lose out on that. He wanted them to have an opportunity to improve their grades, especially for kids on the bubble of graduating.

“What can we do to make sure that the kids aren’t going to be punished further instructionally due to the fact that we’re not in school physically?” Gordon said.

High school students will start learning new material April 20, when they would have otherwise returned to school following spring break, and will shift entirely to virtual learning. They will use the online instructional platform, Edgenuity, to provide the learning curriculum for the fourth nine-week grading period, which will cover April 20 through June 5.

At its April 9 meeting, the School Board is scheduled to vote on the virtual nine weeks grading plan to include a pass/fail option, though Gordon said the plan would give an incentive for students to complete the material by earning an “A” on their report card for passing their classes.

Edgenuity will be used for core classes such as English, math, science and social studies, as well as world languages. Electives, fine and performing arts, career and technical education and health and physical education classes will use Google Classroom for instruction. Gordon said the division is asking secondary students to be self-directed learners.

The U.S. Department of Education has granted the state Department of Education a waiver to cancel Standards of Learning assessments this year. That will not become official until the state Board of Education votes on that April 2.

Advanced Placement students will be able to take exams at home, but International Baccalaureate exams have been canceled. IB students will receive IB diplomas or course certificates based on coursework and internal assessments.

Students in dual enrollment classes at Paul D. Camp Community College will still complete them, but will move to a teacher-approved online platform. Those applying for Project Lead the Way or IB programs will receive notification about admissions April 10. Elementary gifted students will get enrichment activities from their school’s gifted resource teachers virtually.

Teachers and staff will be cleaning out their classroom and teacher work areas this week, and principals are putting together a schedule for students to get their personal belongings between April 6-10.

The school division is working through options to determine how to assess final grades. Gordon plans to update the plan again April 10 with additional information. He said his goal is to keep operations as normal as possible in the midst of the changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Custodians will return to schools two days per week beginning April 2 to disinfect those areas, and after April 20, the custodial and maintenance crews will return to their normal full-time schedules, depending on whether there is a ban going on, Gordon said, to take care the buildings and perhaps begin summer maintenance projects early.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis,” Gordon said. “I cannot remember anything like this ever happening at all. Extended snow days is probably the closest thing we’ve had. Nothing like this.”