Some New Trier High School families will soon have an option that many likely never thought was possible earlier this school year: the chance for students to attend school in-person four times per week.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally outlined the administration’s plans to increase the number of students learning in-person at the school’s Winnetka campus during a presentation Tuesday, Feb. 16, to the board of education.
Amid attendance numbers that are below the district’s current capacity limit of 50 percent, officials are putting plans in motion that will fill more available in-person seats as early as March 1.
The district will soon ask families to fill out a request form to determine if they have interest in their student attending school four times per week at the Winnetka campus.
“We know that we have spaces at the Winnetka campus,” Sally said. “Our classrooms do have some seats in them; our lunchrooms and free space areas do have seats in them. We have a few areas that do have very few students so we’ll have to make sure that those are advertised and we’re able to move students there.”
Officials are hoping to start the four-day in-person track of students on March 1 and keep it intact for the next four weeks until the end of the third quarter, Sally said, adding the option will be made widely available.
“It really is going to be an open invitation,” Sally said. “ … We’re constantly watching for struggling students and that process is just ongoing. That is also happening at the Northfield campus as well.”
Sally described it “an open invitation in terms of is this something that (a family) will like.”
Attendance numbers at New Trier’s Winnetka campus are falling short of the current 50 percent capacity limit allowed under the district’s two track operational model.
According to data presented by Sally at the meeting, attendance at Winnetka did not exceed 27 percent for the week of Feb. 9. It reached a two-week high point of 31 percent on Feb. 2, Sally said.
At Northfield, attendance figures are much more in line with what officials imagined when moving to the two-track model. Attendance reached a two-week peak of 41 percent on Feb. 4 and has remained above 35 percent for at least the past two weeks.
Sally did attribute a portion of the lagging attendance numbers to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and subsequent required quarantine periods for members of the school community.
The school reached a peak of 48 reported cases of COVID-19 on Feb. 10 and had as many as 163 in quarantine, as previously reported by The Record.
As of Feb. 15, the school is reporting 25 active cases of the virus and 90 people in quarantine. Although the number of cases have decreased, officials know they are not yet in the clear.
Sally said one of the epidemiologists on the district’s Reopening Advisory Board will be presenting information to the board today, Wednesday, Feb. 17, about the way surges – like the one New Trier is experiencing – tend to behave within populations. But he assured the board that the decision to add students is done with safety in mind.
“It is about sustainability and safety that we do want to increase the number of students that have the ability to come in as often as possible and we’re committed to that and we’re committed to being safe with that,” he said.
New Trier will alter drop-off schedule for saliva screening program
In an effort to better detect COVID-19 in its environment, New Trier is making some changes to the drop-off schedule for its salvia-screening program.
Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson said starting next week, there will be no separate extracurricular drop-off time. All students will now drop off on their assigned days in advance of in-person attendance, he added.
Currently, students participating in extracurriculars provide their samples on Sunday. All other students provide their samples on Sunday-Monday, if they are learning in-person Tuesday-Wednesday, or Tuesday-Wednesday if they are attending Thursday-Friday.
With the current drop-off plan, officials are seeing close to 80 percent of samples being left on Sunday, largely due to the high participation rate in extracurriculars.
The school is hoping to make it a more balanced submission rate.
“As we know from a science perspective and our work on Reopening Advisory Board and with other medical professionals is that the program is more effective if samples are screened in a distributed fashion because that helps us better detect COVID in our environment,” Johnson said.
Students will still be tested on a weekly basis and the district plans on notifying families later this week.
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.