SALISBURY – School system officials this week provided a better idea of what families and staff can expect as Wicomico County’s public schools begin the academic year virtually.
In a Wicomico County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Donna Hanlin presented the school system’s draft recovery plan for the coming academic year.
Last month, the school board voted to adopt a plan for virtual learning this fall. While the school system will focus on remote learning for the first semester, Hanlin told board members this week she hoped to reintroduce larger groups of students into buildings before the end of the semester.
“The end of semester announcement is the worst-case scenario,” she said.
By and large, the school system’s recovery plan details how the virtual model will look for Wicomico County Public Schools families and staff.
The recovery plan, for example, includes daily scheduling guidance for elementary, middle and high school students.
Families will receive welcome letters from their schools at the end of August, and parents and students will be invited to virtual open houses to meet teachers prior to the first day of school.
Through virtual learning, teachers in all grade levels will provide synchronous, or teacher-led, learning four days a week, with asynchronous, or independent, learning on Wednesdays, which includes opportunities for small group instruction and office hours.
Students in prekindergarten will have 80 minutes of synchronous instruction and 30 minutes of asynchronous instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with 50 minutes of synchronous arts, music and physical education instruction each week.
For pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade, daily instruction is divided into subjects with periods of teacher-led and independent learning. Approximately 120 minutes a week will be devoted to special learning areas, including physical education, health, art, music, and gifted and talented, among other things.
“Students will receive, at the elementary level, anywhere from two to three hours a day of synchronous, live instruction by their classroom teacher that’s aligned with Maryland College and Career Ready standards at least four days a week,” Hanlin said. “And then there’s additional time built into the schedules for both synchronous and a synchronous instruction in special areas.”
Middle school students will have 30-minute virtual classes on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with five-minute breaks in between. The beginning and end of each day will include office hours for reteaching, small group instruction and student/parent meetings.
And for the first time, high school students will be offered a semester-based schedule for the 2020-2021 academic year. Pupils will have roughly four virtual classes each day with time dedicated to office hours at the beginning and end.
“We made the decision, in order to make a virtual schedule more manageable for students and teachers, to adjust to a modified, semester-based schedule for this school year temporarily …,” Hanlin said. “There’s an opportunity to earn at least eight credits throughout the course of the school year.”
The recovery plan also outlines instruction for career and technology education, special education, English language learners and gifted and talented learners.
“All of those groups are those identified groups we’ve talked about bringing in for periods of instruction as needed, where what they need can’t be accomplished virtually …,” Hanlin said.
Hanlin said schools will return to traditional grading policies and attendance will be recorded.
“Student attendance will count, every student will have a laptop … and all educational resources will be electronic,” she said.
Hanlin noted there will also be accountability measures for teachers. In the coming weeks, school administrators will work with staff to identify the location from which they will teach.
“No matter where the teacher is teaching, no matter the location, there will be clear expectations for effective online instruction,” she said. “Our traditional observation and evaluation model for teachers will be in place, and teachers can expect administrators to regularly do walk-throughs by participating in Zoom classroom sessions while instruction is occurring.”
The document also outlines the school system’s recovery plan beyond the fall semester. Hanlin said schools would most likely adopt a hybrid learning model with two days of in-person instruction each week when conditions allow.
“Even in a hybrid model, or when we return fully to our buildings there may be parents who still prefer to have their students learn in a virtual mode,” she said. “So we will continue to offer a virtual model using our teachers and our curriculum.”
Wicomico County Public Schools will share its recovery plan with the community on Friday, Aug. 14. For more information, or to view the document in its entirety, visit www.wcboe.org. The 2020-2021 academic year begins Sept. 8.