August 31, 2020
Dear PS 321 Families,
I hope you are able to enjoy this last week or so of summer!
Most of the publicity and concern about school opening has focused on safety issues, and a tremendous amount of time and money has been spent to ensure that schools are safe for opening and have PPE and other important health and safety equipment to open. This is clearly very important.
Less discussion has focused on the logistical challenges of opening safely, including staffing. One of the reasons I really did believe that in-school opening would be delayed was because of this. However, as of now, one week before staff officially returns and 7 working days before students return, it appears that we will be opening on September 10 for students. (UPDATE – SCHOOL STARTS ON SEPT. 21st. On Sept. 16, 17 and 18, there will be brief, remote check-ins with the teachers.)
I know that on Thursday the DOE announced that there would be separate remote teachers for the hybrid/blended kids on their remote days. I so wish that were the case, but we simply do not have the staff for this—neither do any of the elementary schools that I know of. It’s very complicated, but I want to explain why.
Because of only being able to have 11-13 kids in any one room, with 12 in most, we need to add classroom teachers just to staff the live hybrid days, since that means a total of 22-26 class size for each class. In the past, we have generally had between 28-32 in grades 3, 4, and 5. We do have 7- 8% fewer children than last year—we are anticipating 1275 this year instead of the 1375 in the 2019-20 school year. However, even with this, we will need 3 more classes than we had last year. And, last week, two teachers who were assigned as classroom teachers decided to take child care leaves. We have funding to replace these two teachers, but that may not be possible to do since there is a hiring freeze and we can only take transfers, not new hires. Given our desire to have strong teachers in all classrooms, we have replaced these teachers with cluster/specialty teachers. We are fortunate that we have been able to, just barely, staff all of our fully remote classes and our in-school hybrid classes with PS 321 teachers. We have no extra teachers who could serve as all-remote teachers for the hybrid students. The DOE decision about having separate remote teachers was given to principals on Wednesday evening, while the transfer period ended August 7. Further, we have no money to hire remote hybrid teachers due to budget cuts. In order to staff all of our live-hybrid (the DOE is calling these classes blended) and all-remote classes, we have reduced cluster/specialty staff from 12.5 last year to 7.5 this year. Some of this is because of having made cluster teachers classroom teachers; some is due to not having the funding to replace cluster teachers who retired or went on leave this year. Although all principals have been asked to complete a form indicating how many teachers we are short, with the idea that the DOE might send us teaching staff who are currently working in offices, I think it is highly unlikely we will get more than 1-2 teachers, if even that. To have a separate remote teacher for every 3 hybrid classes, we would need an extra 13 teachers. If we are sent staff, then they will help us to coordinate the remote teaching days for the hybrid students.
Children in Cohorts A & B (Hybrid/Blended)
Because we have known about reduced budgets and increased staffing needs all along, we have been planning a program for the hybrid students on their at-home days that will be as rich as possible without requiring a separate teacher. This is what we envision:
• Two half-hour live (synchronous) sessions with cluster teachers (art, music, library, or science). These classes will be on Zoom and will include children from several classes on the same grade at a time. They will be spread out, not back-to-back.
• 20-40 minutes of independent reading (minutes based on grade level)
• 30-60 minutes of math using an online program, Zearn, that aligns with our Engage New York/Eureka Math curriculum and may also include math games that will be sent home. Part of this time may be spent doing work in math workbooks that will be sent home.
• Assignments that will be given either in person on the in-school days or on-line on Seesaw in Science, Writing, Art, Drama, Social Emotional Learning, and/or Social Studies. Some of these will be on-line assignments; some will be off line.
• 20-30 minutes of listening to a read aloud. These will be available on line, but families who have adults at home are free to substitute this with an actual read aloud.
• 30 minutes of physical education/movement. Some of these will be live through Run4Fun and some will be links to remote programs such as Go Noodle. If parents prefer, you can substitute outside time for this.
• Some periodic special activities to be funded by the PTA, such as Meet the Writers or a drama or dance enrichment.
During the in-school hybrid days, teachers will teach the major subject areas as they have in the past, with modifications based on social distancing and having a class size of 12. The first couple of weeks of school will include a heavy emphasis on Social Emotional Learning. Once the school year begins you will get more information on this. We are also working on a schedule that allows all classes to be outside in the yard at least once and sometimes twice a day. Our custodial staff is painting lines for boxes in the yard that will allow for classes to meet in a socially distanced way outside.
Children in Cohort D (all remote)
The all-remote students will be taught all the subject areas remotely by one classroom teacher. Some of this will be done through videotaped lessons, on-line Zearn lessons, and one-on-one, small group, and whole class synchronous instruction based on the following DOE time guidelines. There will also be art, music, and science instruction by specialty teachers online.
Grade Level September October Nov-Dec Jan-Feb
K 65-75 minutes 70-80 minutes 80-90 minutes 120 min
1 75-85 minutes 80-90 minutes 90-100 minutes 120 min
2 80-95 minutes 90-100 minutes 95-110 minutes 130 min
3, 4, 5 90-110 minutes 100-120 min. 100-150 min. 150-210 min.
Children with IEPs and ENL Services
Children with IEPs will receive their services, some in school (for Cohort A & B) and some remotely. For hybrid ICT classes, there will be two teachers assigned to each class as usual. Each day there will be some time when both teachers are in the classroom co-teaching; there will be some time when one teacher is in the classroom and the other teacher is teaching the ICT children with IEPs who are home that day remotely. Right now we are planning for one all-remote 3rd and one all-remote 4th grade ICT class. In other grades (and if we get too many more children with IEP all remote in these grades) IEP children with an ICT mandate will have some support from a special education teacher as well as the classroom teacher.
Our goal is for most children who get SETSS, ENL, or Related Services to have services remotely both to give them more support on the remote days and to not have them miss in-school instruction given that they will only be in school 2-3 days a week for 5 ½ hours a day. In some cases, where more appropriate, these services will be provided in school.
As indicated in my Friday letter, we will be holding a meeting for families of children with IEPs on Tuesday at 4pm. (Note: The recording of this meeting will be made available soon.)
What You Can Do To Prepare for School
There are several things that you can do to help us be ready for the first day of school.
• IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN IPAD OR COMPUTER FOR YOUR CHILD, GO TO THIS LINK RIGHT AWAY TO GET ONE FROM THE DOE.
• Read Family Remote Learning Guide #1 that is being emailed to you today and follow the instructions there so that your child is all ready for online learning.
• When you receive it (today or tomorrow) purchase the supplies on the grade supply list you will get.
• We are encouraging all students who will be in school to bring in a photograph of themselves on the first day of school. We are also asking them to bring in a couple of favorite books from home. You can gather these items.
• For children in the hybrid cohorts, make sure you have a decent-size backpack to bring back and forth daily.
• For children in the hybrid cohorts, make sure you have at least two masks for your children, one they will wear to school, one they will keep in their backpack. (We do have masks if children need them, but it will be much easier if children bring their own.)
• For kindergarten and first graders who will be in school, with your child find a small stuffed animal or other object that is important to the child to bring to school on the first day.
• Families on incoming Kindergarten students can attend a meeting with me on Wednesday at 4pm. (Note: We will post the recording soon!)
We are working out all the details of arrival and dismissal, and I will write you about that later in the week and will also include lots of information about safety procedures during the school day. Once we do that you can talk to your children about this.
I know that you are anxious to get class assignments, but they do not yet exist. We are making new classes this week and you will find out your child’s teacher on September 8. I’m sorry for this delay but we needed to wait until we had more clarity on the number of all-remote and hybrid children, as well as information on which teachers will be teaching remotely and which in school. Now that we have that information we can move forward and make new classes.
Because of all that there is to do this week, I would ask that if you have questions you reach out to our parent coordinator, Deb Orr at Parentcoordinator@ps321.info rather than to me or the APs. If your plans change in any way (you are moving and withdrawing your child or you are moving from hybrid to remote) please let us know immediately. At this point you can only switch from all-remote to Hybrid in November.
Thank you for your patience and your support.
Liz Phillips, Principal