Amid Growing Covid-19 Concerns, District Develops Reopening Plan

In March, as the world and, most importantly for Mamaroneck students, schools shut down, there was little time to plan remote alternatives as the country shifted to online learning. What the students got for lessons in the Mamaroneck School District were asynchronous assignments that resulted in few live classes. However, when planning for this school year with Stanford University’s K-12 Design Lab, the district administration knew that they needed to do to restore some sort of synchronous education. During a global pandemic, that presents challenges because, as the District’s Director of Public Information Debbie Manetta outlines, “state and local guidelines are always changing. We are planning for and anticipating that the social-emotional needs and concerns of our students and staff will be greater than ever before as we reopen.” 

The mental health of everyone involved is important in all scenarios, and the district recognizes that. As many Mamaroneck High school students know, every two weeks, Friday is no longer a regular class day but rather a “Focus Friday.” This will include forty-five minutes for Advisory, where students can share how they are feeling to the students in their group as well as their advisory teacher.

The district also knows that the situation regarding COVID-19 can change quickly and that they need to be ready for anything. “We are preparing for all potential scenarios and the possibility that we may need to switch learning models at some point should our schools need to shut down for in-person learning is a monumental task.” 

However, the district does not seem fazed by planning for all scenarios. Manetta emphasizes how “our extraordinarily dedicated administrators and staff have worked diligently all summer to be prepared and prioritize, above all else, the health and safety of our school community.” The district and its administrators have realized that with the challenges that an unprecedented global pandemic reveals, it’s good to have all scenarios mapped out.

Some things that are very important are the teachers and their comfort level teaching. Early this September, Ms. Manetta remarked how “Our teachers came into the buildings for the first time since mid-March for Superintendent’s Conference Days just last week. For many, we heard it was somewhat emotional. They have missed seeing their students in-person. There seems to be a lot of energy and excitement around the start of school, and teachers can’t wait to welcome their students back into the buildings.” Eleventh grade math teacher Mr. DeRosa is definitely part of this group of teachers who felt this way as the building was just reopening. When The Globe reached out to him, he responded with “I am excited to be back at school. I am confident that we are doing everything we can to stay safe.”

The district has also been trying to get teachers more comfortable with the technology that comes with remote learning, the most important element being Zoom. “The professional development we have been doing with teachers around the technology is helping many teachers become more proficient with their technology skills and gain greater comfort with the new teaching tools they are being required to use,” says Manetta. “There seems to be a lot of energy and excitement around the start of school, and teachers can’t wait to welcome their students back into the buildings.” The pandemic has changed the way the teachers teach, but, thankfully, it has not changed their excitement to be back in the classroom.

It was important to plan differently for each school and learning level because even though the schools are all in one district, there needs to be different approaches between each level of learning. Manetta stated how the district aimed to “maintain a level of consistency based on shared values and guiding principles.” For example, “At the elementary school level, all four schools are operating on the same schedule prioritizing daily in-person instruction and remote specials.”

However, in middle and high school, the district took a different approach. Manetta stated how “At the secondary level (Hommocks and Mamaroneck High School) there is similar consistency as students will have the opportunity to enroll in a range of core courses and electives consistent with the rich tradition of each school.” She also went on to explain that, “The variability in scheduling is based on space limitations (classroom sizes) and enrollment.” All factors are taken into consideration in order to make sure that if a student is in high school, they will receive an education tailored to a high school students

The district used the feedback and the ideas of different stakeholders in order to come up with the best plan. Manetta said that “The planning process over the past several months has been extensive. Stakeholders from all facets of our school community, including administrators, teachers, custodians, parents, students, community members, community partners, local health department officials, and the Mamaroneck Teachers Association, have offered valuable feedback, which we worked to incorporate into our reopening plans.  Efforts to solicit student and parent input are ongoing.” Above all, Ms. Manetta says that the district administration wants everyone attending Mamaroneck Schools this year to have a great school year and be aware that the district is doing everything it can to make sure this is possible for all students.