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Salisbury board discusses successful start to school year

On Sept. 28, the curriculum and technology committee held its monthly meeting via Zoom. The meeting started with back to school updates from building leaders who all reported excellent student participation during virtual schooling, about three weeks in.

Chris Smith, coordinator of technology for Salisbury schools, provided a technology update where he described the challenges of providing tech support for students as well as teachers at home.

About 1,600 devices were handed out across all three schools, and according to Smith, the process went quite smoothly thanks to the aid of building administrators and principals.

Other updates regarding new systems in place for back to school included the introduction of Clever, a “single sign-on” hub, allowing students to access all the online resources necessary for completing schoolwork in one place and an announcement the ability to support live-streaming school events and the merging of library databases is on the horizon for the district.

Kelly Pauling, director of teaching and learning, also updated board members about the implementation of new math programming, some of which had been in planning and preparation for more than a year. The transition to Eureka/Zearn for grades K-5, Eureka for grades 6-8 and Algebra I for high school students is going smoothly.

Pauling also touted benefits of the distribution of additional learning resources such as white boards and markers for students at home, extra monitors for teachers, digital microscopes, as well as virtual resources like Pear Deck, Edpuzzle, Moby Max, Reading Eggs and Discovery Education. According to Pauling, these tools will “increase the quality and engagement of instruction.”

Beyond a generally positive report about students and teachers starting the year virtually, the administration also touched upon a survey recently distributed that gauged the public’s interest in returning to school and what that might look like.

With a total of 460 respondents at the time of the meeting, preferences for school going forward seemed to be fairly equally split, with 36.3 percent stating a preference for hybrid learning, 24.6 percent opting for fully virtual schooling and 34.7 percent choosing in-person school five days a week (currently not an option in light of social distancing guidelines and space restrictions).

Themes emerged in areas the community felt were going well, such as an overall improved experience from spring 2020, appreciation for live instruction, technical support like Clever and a sense of improved organization.

Concerns noted by families centered on students with individualized educational plans and other diverse learners, a desire for more social interaction, insufficient breaks for students, a desire for more information about student progress and generally wondering why other schools are able to go back to traditional five day a week instruction when Salisbury is not.

Board member Carol Klinger inquired about the time it might take to switch to a new mode of learning. Associate Superintendent Lynn Fuini-Hetten remarked that right now, the district is examining many different scenarios and paying close attention to what other districts are doing and reporting, including there are many operational and logistical things that need to happen in order to bring people back to school buildings.

Superintendent Dr. Randy Zeigenfuss chimed in to point out other schools in the Lehigh Valley have already been forced into shutdown for five days to two weeks due to active COVID-19 cases, and warned as winter comes on, this will likely become more common.

At the end of the meeting, no timeline was presented or proposed, leaving community attendees wondering what to expect in the months following the first marking period.

The next meeting of the curriculum and technology committee will take place 7 p.m. Oct. 26 via Zoom.