Though the 2021-22 school year is four months away, New Trier High School officials are already laying its foundation.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally outlined preliminary expectations for the next school year during the board of education’s Monday, April 19 meeting, stating a belief that students will attend school in-person year-round and that all teachers will educate in-person.
“Our default is we’re moving forward with plans for all in-person learning,” Sally told the board.
Sally also noted that district officials are aware they will need alternative plans for students certain with medical needs, adding that administrators “will do so.”
Additionally, officials are developing ways to help support students for the full return to in-person attendance, particularly those who will have spent 15 months learning remotely, Sally said. Several outreach efforts designed to gain more feedback are planned.
“This is a real transition for some students,” Sally said. “They will have been remote for 15 months coming into next school year and so over the summer and as we get to right near the beginning of next school year, we’re putting plans together to support that transition”
Potential mitigation measures for next school year are yet undecided, officials said, as New Trier awaits guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“What the mitigation efforts will need to be and required is not something that we know yet,” he said. “We’ll monitor that through the spring and summer.”
Sally said that those measures “very well could” include 3 feet of social distancing in classrooms — which is currently already being utilized at New Trier’s Northfield campus.
“It could be they lower that, it could be that we need to wear masks,” Sally added. “Some of that will depend on the level of vaccination … that they’re seeing throughout the state. And that certainly looks like it’s going well.”
One mitigation measure that may fall by the wayside is New Trier’s saliva screening program, according to officials.
In a memo to the board, Sally says that the “district is likely to suspend the use of the saliva screener at the conclusion of the school year” with the potential of high vaccination rates.
Associate Superintendent Chris Johnson said at the meeting that the Reopening Advisory Board is looking at the role of the screener once the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to all.
He added that officials will further look into “sunsetting the program” once more medical research is available on vaccinated individuals and if they can carry the virus.
According to the district’s data, more than 86 percent of New Trier staff members are vaccinated. Additionally, at least 25 percent of New Trier students over the age of 16 have received one dose of the vaccine, officials said.
Sally also presented the latest in-person attendance numbers at both campuses for this year.
New Trier’s Northfield campus saw its highest attendance percentage since the onset of the pandemic when 64 percent of students attended school on Friday, April 16, district data shows. More than 60 percent of freshman students attended campus each day — with the exception of a districtwide remote day on Monday, April 12 — last week.
At the Winnetka campus, attendance is increasing but has still yet to reach the 50 percent threshold, peaking at 42 percent on Thursday, April 15, officials said.
Officials also stated the desire for being able to shift learning models at any point, if needed.
“We also are prepared to pivot to remote or hybrid if needed — if the health department, ISBE, or Cook County gives us some other information,” Sally said. “I think it’s very important for us to keep in mind that while there’s a lot of hope and optimism out there, things are going in a really good direction, but we still need to be prepared. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic and we still need to be prepared to pivot.”
As the pandemic eases, officials are hoping to reclaim some of what’s been lost.
“We’re committed … to reconnecting, restoring and reclaiming some of the things that we had to lose through the pandemic,” Sally said. “But also reinventing. We’ve learned things through the pandemic that we don’t want to lose and I think our really good things for the school and for kids.”
Board approves block scheduling
When students return to school in August of 2021, they will have a different bell schedule.
The board affirmed its support for an eight-period, rotating block schedule by approving the alteration.
“This bell schedule recaptures instructional time that was lost in the 2020-2021 school year and reduces the number of subjects that a student needs to focus on each day,” Sally says in a memo to the board.
As previously reported by The Record, key factors in making the decision include student stress, flexibility for either remote or hybrid learning models, and the pace of the day.
Classes under the current nine-period schedule at New Trier are 40 minutes. Extended class times, which under the proposed schedule change would be 80 minutes every other day for core academic courses, will allow for educators to dive deeper into learning materials in one particular session, officials said.
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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.