'Largely smooth sailing' for first day of remote school year at Pittsfield Public Schools

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PITTSFIELD — With seven children in elementary, middle and high school, Teresa Goines' home was transformed Tuesday on the first day of school.

"I have a school of my own at home," joked Goines, a few hours after Pittsfield Public Schools concluded its first day of remote instruction for the 2020-2021 academic year.

In pre-pandemic days, parents would have been sending their children off to the bus stop or dropping them off outside school. But this year, the district is one of a number in the state that opted to open fully remote and transition back into classrooms later, so thousands of children this morning instead made the short commute to school to their desks, kitchen table or wherever they could find a space to work.

Goines said the school day began with a few technological hiccups, which she expected — two of her children are in 9th grade and had trouble logging in to virtual freshman orientation, but "they finally got in and they finally got everybody situated, and it was pretty good from there," she said.

Goines, who works during the day, said her husband has a bit more flexibility in his work schedule to supervise her children during the day. She said they are still working out the kinks of distance learning — for example, her children logging on to class around the same time overloaded her home's Wi-Fi, so her older children used their cellphones to create internet "hot spots" for connectivity.

This school year the district began using a new online learning management system called Canvas, and is also using Zoom for video communications. It is also gearing up to distribute mobile Wi-Fi devices to families that lack adequate internet service at home. And on Wednesday, the district will begin offering grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches three days each week from eight sites throughout the city.

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Taconic High School Principal Matthew Bishop said in an email that the first day of school was "largely smooth sailing." He acknowledged "a slight bump in the road" during the freshman orientation, which he said in an email was due to an error in how the virtual group was set up.

"I felt terrible that the first event as official high schoolers was met with challenges, but I am proud of the resilience of our families/students and the way staff problem-solved and overcame the issue to pull off a successful (although slightly delayed) virtual Freshman orientation," wrote Bishop.

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He commended teachers for their work to get remote learning off the ground by using chats, "interactive presentations" and other tools.

"Today our teachers showed a lot of poise and skill in their opening day lessons utilizing breakout rooms, chats, and interactive presentations," he wrote. "I know our teachers, students, and families will continually become more comfortable each day, and I think we have learned some very valuable technological skills and teaching methods we are going to carry back with us into the in-person classroom."

School Committee Chair Katherine Yon said it's tough to sit in front of a computer during the school day, and that she remains hopeful that children will begin returning to classrooms as soon as possible.

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"I know it's difficult for everyone so we're trying to make the best of the situation right now," Yon said.

Mayor Linda Tyer said the city's Building Maintenance Department is preparing school facilities for the eventual return to in-person learning. She said windows that had been sealed shut have been fixed so they now open to let fresh air in, make sure air quality testing was performed and ventilation systems in school facilities were up and running.

Though students are learning from home, teachers are not teaching from home. Tyer said teachers are instructing virtually from their physical classroom, which she said will allow colleagues to collaborate and familiarize students with the space in which they will eventually learn.

"It has been a herculean effort by the professionals to get remote learning in place," she said.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.


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