By Cindy Zomar, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – The safety and well-being of their staff and students must necessarily be of the utmost priority to all school leaders, all the time, but has probably never weighed as heavily on their minds as now, 2020, the year of the pandemic. As directed by the state, all districts had to prepare scenarios for 100 percent return to the classroom, 100 percent remote learning, and a hybrid model that would be a bit of each. In some cases, like the Advanced Math and Science Academy (AMSA) Charter School in Marlborough, 100 percent in-person learning with the distance requirements imposed by the state would be physically impossible.
Executive Director Ellen Linzey and a team of 67 administrators and staff members met over several months to develop and analyze various educational models, working within the challenge of COVID-19 regulations and DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) guidelines.
“To best manage the impact of COVID-19, AMSA Charter School will be implementing a phased back-to-school approach,” Linzey noted in a document presented to the school’s Board of Trustees and members of the public signed in on a ZOOM meeting.
“The physical limitations of our facilities and the COVID-19 safety requirements issued by DESE prevent us from supporting a 100 percent physical return to school with distancing. Our overriding desire to protect our community’s health and to base all decisions on verifiable scientific data drives our decisions to reopen AMSA using the remote learning model. Our remote model is based on lessons learned from the spring term and is academically challenging and rigorous,“ she continued.
The plan is to watch and evaluate the virus conditions in Massachusetts throughout the fall. If the spread seems to have been contained, then AMSA will phase in a hybrid model after the first term, which ends Monday, Nov. 16.
“If the data and science show evidence that re-opening schools has had a negative impact on COVID-19 transmission rates within our state, AMSA will continue with our remote learning model,” Linzey noted.
With Gov. Charlie Baker reducing the number of student school days to 170, AMSA will use the other 10 days in the teacher contract to provide additional preparation days for the staff. There will be a virtual 6th grade orientation on Monday, Sept. 14, and all grades will begin their remote curriculum on Tuesday, Sept. 15. Classes will be scheduled, class participation will be mandatory, teachers will take attendance, and students will earn letter grades for their work. The teachers will be using Google Classroom, enhanced with ZOOM conferencing, and the curriculum will be the regular AMSA curriculum taught by highly qualified teachers who are experts in their fields.
While everything is remote, the school does believe that after school activities are necessary for the social emotional well-being of students and is planning to offer some way to let students participate online. As far as athletics are concerned, AMSA is waiting for DESE and the MIAA (Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association) to make a ruling on fall sports.
Linzey further reminded the Board that even if the school moves to a hybrid scenario at some point, the student experience would still not be “normal”. There would still be social distancing, masks, and, potentially, clear shields around each student during lunch. The hybrid models do not really allow for student socialization, by necessity.
The entire AMSA back to school plan can be viewed on the website, amsacs.org.