Pittsfield schools to go fully remote at first

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PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield Public Schools plans to begin remotely on Sept. 15, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said Wednesday, and does not expect to bring most students back to classrooms, even for a few hours a day, at the start of the school year.

At a remote meeting of the School Committee, McCandless said that based on the "conditional plan" for resuming instruction in the fall, approved last week, "the school year would indeed open remotely with students learning from home."

He summarized the conditional plan further, saying it means that "the school year would indeed open remotely, with students learning from home, and that we would continue to work hand in hand through negotiations with our teachers association and our American Federation of Teachers bargaining units, of which there are five, and keeping a close eye on the health conditions and the data, both regionally and here in Pittsfield, and that we would work to move forward to some version of an in-person hybrid learning model. But that we would in fact be opening the school year with a remote learning model in place."

The district plans to send out a written announcement to families on Friday, by text message, email and phone calls, informing families about the most current plans for the fall semester, said Deputy Superintendent Joe Curtis. The district will also offer parents a virtual meeting, possibly on Tuesday, to inform them about their options for the fall semester.

"Our families should be informed of preliminary plans so they can begin to plan for that impact of the learning model that we believe we'll be opening with," said Curtis.

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School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon agreed. "It's crucial to get families in on this process so they know what's going on," said Yon.

While it remains to be seen when the district will transition to hybrid learning, last week the School Committee approved an "AM/PM" hybrid learning model that would go into effect whenever the transition takes place. In that model, participating students attend school for 2.5 hours each school day, in either an afternoon or morning cohorts, and complete educational tasks at home when they are not in the classroom.

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The district is also moving forward with plans to launch a fully remote "virtual school," being called the Pittsfield Public Virtual Academy. The school will run throughout the academic year, and will be open for students who do not wish to return to classrooms for any reason. There have also been discussions about prioritizing bringing students with special needs back to classrooms.

The School Committee on Wednesday officially approved a new 2020-2021 school calendar that pushes the first day of school back to Sept. 15.

Also on Wednesday, members of the committee decided not to rush the superintendent search process, agreeing the process should be "robust" but start after instruction resumes in the fall.

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Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said January "would be a good place to start" the committee's search process if they aim to have a new superintendent in place by July 1, according to Yon.

Members had been set to discuss at Wednesday's meeting their process for hiring a successor to outgoing Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, who is staying on at Pittsfield Public Schools until early November then moving into the superintendency at Mount Greylock Regional School District.

"Since we have an interim in place, and Dr. McCandless still has more time with us, it may be too soon to get consultants in and start talking about the process right now." said Yon.

The School Committee last week chose Deputy Superintendent Joe Curtis to serve as interim superintendent after McCandless departs, to serve until a permanent school leader is in place.

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


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