As New Trier High School prepares to double the capacity of its in-person learning this month, the district’s top administrator offered assurance that the high school is ready.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally addressed the committee of the whole Monday, Jan. 11, saying school officials currently “see no hurdles to starting two tracks at the start of second semester” on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
“I’m excited about that,” Sally said. “And as we launch the second semester with two tracks, we will continue to monitor the actual attendance over these past weeks and we’ll continue to report that to the board of education.”
Although the school’s transition to two tracks of students daily is based on a 50 percent capacity, it’s unlikely either campus will approach that threshold to start, according to district projections.
To be sure, however, District officials recently surveyed parents on which learning model — all-remote or hybrid — they will choose, Sally said.
Board members asked Sally if the administration would take steps to add students if the two-track model does not push either campus to capacity. Sally then assured the board that officials are developing strategies that will allow for more students and that they hope to “get a read in the first two weeks” of the new model.
“We’ll watch the first two weeks and certainly by the February meeting we’ll have plenty of data about how both campuses are doing attendance-wise and I’ll present that to the board and potential strategies to increase as available,” he said.
One of the strategies officials are reportedly exploring is a three-track model (three groups of students each attending school at different times each day), but Sally said it would be at least two weeks into the transition to 50 percent capacity.
Board president Cathleen Albrecht echoed fellow board members optimism about more students learning in-person and added her support toward Sally’s proposed progressive additions, if possible.
“Our whole goal with opening up to hybrid was to make sure that it was sustainable and I think that we proved last week and this week that we wanted to have a path that had us coming back after break,” she said. “Many of our peer schools, public and private, did take a pause after the winter break, for safety reasons. We showed that we did what we thought and knew was sustainable and this will happen again with the next level.”
Possibility of New Trier serving as COVID-19 vaccine distribution center grows
New Trier officials are continuing to work with Cook County on having the district’s Northfield campus as a distribution hub for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Sally updated the board and said the district has a “long history of having the Northfield campus being a site in cases of needing to mass distribute vaccines.”
“We’re working with the county, and also partnering with local school districts and villages,” he said. “This is about sharing resources and planning to bring the community together to deliver vaccines.”
As previously reported by The Record, New Trier High School has a plan in place if the Cook County Department of Public Health is interested in utilizing its facilities to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.
Officials previously stated it would be an unlikely occurrence but a more probable picture was painted Monday, Jan. 10.
Sally said the district has continued to put in a “great deal of work to make sure that its site is ready to go when Cook County is ready to deliver (New Trier) vaccines.”
“We’ll also be looking for volunteers, “ he said. “One of the bottlenecks in the vaccination process is just vaccinators, having enough vaccinators who can come in and deliver the shots. We think that we will be reaching out for community volunteers to help us with that effort. I suspect that we would like to partner with Cook County as well and extend that to places outside of our township. … We will keep working on particulars of that.”
Expanded ‘Track E’ update
Sally also briefed board members on the district’s expansion over the last month of its “Track E” initiative.
In early December, the board committed to expanding this track, which consists of students who benefit most from in-person learning opportunities. Under the board’s approved plan, Track E students come in weekly while the district is in its 25 percent hybrid model.
The district received approximately 100 more requests to join this track, Sally said. The total numbers of students added is now 450 students.
At previous board meetings, officials expressed a desire to accommodate 1,200 more students on campuses per week.
No word yet on mandatory testing for staff members
The administration did not provide a precise update regarding a potential agreement with staffing associations for mandatory participation in the district’s COVID-19 screening program.
The only update offered was that the various parties are communicating and working on the details of a potential agreement.
At the board’s last meeting, Sally said the school’s administration will move forward with requiring student participation in its COVID-19 screening program. The mandate went into effect at the start of this year.
Board member Greg Robitaille laid down a “marker” in advance of next week’s meeting, saying he feels “strongly” that educators should be participating in the screener program at a level near 100 percent
“I guess I have to say this in advance of next week, because I’m going to feel strongly about it next week: If (educators) don’t present a plan for getting to 100 percent, I would really like them to come to the board meeting and explain why,” he said. “I really want to hear from them about why they wouldn’t want to agree to mandatorily test every single teacher. Because not only is it an undercut to their agreement of safety in the building, but it also frankly puts our students at risk because if they are not tested there’s a percentage of them that could be walking around asymptotic and transmitting to our students.”
Current data from the district shows that 74.5 percent of educators are participating in the program.
The New Trier High School Education Association did not return The Record’s previous request for comment on the screener program.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.