McCandless: Good bet fall classes will be split among campuses, remote instruction

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PITTSFIELD — While nothing is set in stone, Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said Friday that odds are some students will report to classrooms while others log in online when school resumes in the fall.

McCandless joined teachers union president and Herberg Middle School teacher Melissa Campbell on a video forum hosted by Berkshire Eagle Executive Editor Kevin Moran on the last day of school for Pittsfield Public Schools students. The superintendent outlined three scenarios for school in the fall that, he said, district officials have been discussing since April.

In the first, schools completely reopen and all students attend classes in person. In the second, classes continue to be taught remotely to all students, who haven't seen the inside of a classroom since schools closed in March, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But, McCandless said the third scenario is most likely, in which some students report to school while others stay home and learn online. He said the district will have "kids in person for part of the time and learning remotely for part of the time, so we never have our buildings filled to capacity."

The district is probing what conditions would allow parents and guardians to balance work and their own personal lives, and allow children to have a "powerful academic life," McCandless said. He expects that the state will release "something between guidance and a directive" to guide districts as they plan for the fall.

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Whatever instruction the state does release is expected to leave "wiggle room" so districts can come up with a plan that meets their needs, McCandless said. Noting the range of programs offered at Pittsfield Public Schools, he said the district has about 100 prekindergarten students and about the same number of students at the Adult Learning Center, as well as 480 vocational students who also participate in on-the-job training.

"We have a lot of nuances that we have to be ready to adjust to next year," he said.

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The district already has finalized a $100,000 order of face masks, and is readying to furnish all families that don't already have a Chromebook through the district with a device, he said.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is developing guidelines for reopening schools, Campbell said. Top of mind is making sure schools are safe, as "teachers need to feel safe going to school, and students need to feel safe."

Guidance that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released this month said districts are responsible for buying their own personal protective equipment, which drew sharp criticism from the statewide union.

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McCandless said the district has distributed over 2,900 Chromebooks to families to date, in addition to 400 devices that already were in the hands of Advanced Placement students. School leaders are working with businesses and organizations to tackle the deeply consequential issue that some students lack access to the internet, which, he said, "in the age of a pandemic, it almost becomes a human rights issue."

Technology problems aside, Campbell said that without in-person instruction, children have missed out on one of the most important aspects of school — socializing.

It's "one of the biggest things that kids learn from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade — how to work with other kids, how to collaborate; that's a skill that they need to have going into the workforce, going into college, going into whatever trade," she said.

"If we're still doing remote learning in the fall, we have to figure out how to incorporate that into our classrooms."

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


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