SCHOOL NEWS

Schools return to hybrid in-person learning

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 1/13/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Cranston Public Schools students and staff returned to classrooms on a hybrid schedule Tuesday, more than a month after moving to full distance learning amid the new surge of coronavirus cases. During a brief update as part of

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SCHOOL NEWS

Schools return to hybrid in-person learning

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Cranston Public Schools students and staff returned to classrooms on a hybrid schedule Tuesday, more than a month after moving to full distance learning amid the new surge of coronavirus cases.

During a brief update as part of Monday’s School Committee work session, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse discussed a number of issues related to the reopening, including air quality, testing and capacity in school buildings.

Roughly 400 “air scrubbers” have been deployed in classrooms without a built-in air ventilation system or which could not be retrofitting with fans.

“Anywhere where there wasn’t an availability of a ventilation system to be up and running, the air scrubber was used,” she said.

Prior to the district’s move to distance learning on Dec. 10, Nota-Masse said, between 25 and 35 percent of the student population was attending in-person classes, with that rate higher at the elementary level.

“It’s remained pretty steady,” she said.

For most grades, the hybrid approach involves full distance learning on Mondays, followed by a split Tuesday-Thursday or Wednesday-Friday in-person schedule based on alphabetical groupings. Students in pre-K through grade one, as well as special populations, have returned to classrooms five days a week.

The superintendent said administrators are now working to identify classrooms with capacity to welcome back additional students. For now, the students are remaining in the “same pod” with which they began the year, while waiting lists are being maintained to allow students whose families have requested they return to do so as space allows.

“We do have more people that want to return … There are some places that we can do that, and there are some places that we cannot,” she said, given the continued limitations of many of the district’s buildings.

Assistant Superintendent Norma Cole also said the district has developed a timeline for the push to return more students in hopes that the continued rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will ease the situation.

Nota-Masse said the district’s leadership is also developing plans to address the “learning gaps” created by the pandemic disruptions of the last year. Those include tutoring, after-school programs and credit recovery offerings.

“We’re already talking about trying to prepare some of the damage done,” she said.

In terms of testing, the superintendent said the district has been asked to work with the state’s Department of Health and Department of Education to conduct random sampling of students and staff using the BynaxNOW rapid test, which provides results in minutes without the need for laboratory processing. She said work is ongoing with nursing staff and administrators to conduct the testing, which is targeted to reach 10 percent of the district’s population.

Families would need to sign a consent form in order for students to be tested, she said, while plans are being made to allow family members to accompany younger students who receive the test.

She also noted that the district is “not designed to pull off public health events,” and that educators need to continue focusing on academic time and best utilizing limited resources.

“I’m trying to make sure that’s balanced,” she said.

On the vaccination front, Nota-Masse said she has been informed that school nurses have been added to the list of those with access to vaccines, but there has been no additional word from the state at this point as to when they will be available to other members of the school community.

Elsewhere during Monday’s meeting, Ed Collins, the district’s director of plant operations, provided an update on the Garden City Elementary School renovation project scheduled to begin later this year. The project is the first to be funded through a $147 million bond question approved by city voters in November.

Collins said a panel of seven members interviewed five construction firms that have bid for the project. He said the panel will deliberate for the next week before making a recommendation to purchasing officials. All of the firms, he said, are “more than qualified.”

The project’s overall price tag, Collins said, will be between $40 million and $41 million. That includes between $31 million and $32 million for construction, $5 million in “soft costs” – namely the services of project manager Jacobs Engineering and educational consulting firm Fielding International – and another few million dollars for furniture.

At the state’s base reimbursement rate, Collins said, Cranston’s cost for the project would be between $18 million and $19 million. If the project hits additional reimbursement incentive benchmarks as expected, he said, the city would save another $6 million.

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