A Saco committee examining how to offer more classroom instruction in the public schools will look at extending the school day and mull  several options for more in class school days in the fall. Saco School Department photo

SACO — The committee exploring how Saco schools might offer more in-classroom learning for students will examine extending the school day to pre-coronavirus schedules and also focus on opening more days in the fall.

That was the takeaway from the March 3 Saco School Board meeting following commentary from parents and teachers over the last couple of meetings about possibly adopting a three days in-person and two days remote school schedule model this spring.

Students in Saco’s public schools currently attend classes in a hybrid model, with each of two cohorts attending two days in person each week. The Opening Schools Advisory Committee met on Feb. 24 and discussed the merits of the 3/2 model used in MSAD 6 — the Bonny Eagle school system — where one cohort attends in-person classes on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while the second cohort attends on Thursdays and Fridays — and then switches the following week.

That proposal is problematic, teachers told the School Board on March 3.

While parents surveyed by the school department overwhelmingly welcomed the prospect of more in-class time, according to figures supplied by Superintendent Dominic DePatsy, some staff said the proposal eliminates crucial time they use for in school and remote curriculum planning, helping students who are struggling, keeping up with their certification requirements, and a host of other tasks. As well, they noted staffing continues to be an issue.

The survey of parents showed 88 percent of the 1,223 responses favored increased classroom instruction, DePatsy told the Saco School Board on Feb. 24. He said a majority of parents have said they would transport their children to school to allow for increased instructional time.

DePatsy said 271 of the 356 total staff also completed a survey which showed 36 percent said they would be comfortable with an increase in the number of students in the classroom, 41 percent were not, and 20 percent were “right down the middle.”

Among several teachers speaking to the board on March 3 was Saco Middle School science teacher Adrienne Hanson, who said having in-person classes on Wednesdays would take away lesson planning, assessments, activities, accommodation assessments, the ability to modify lessons for students with individual education plans, meetings to discuss student progress, professional development and meeting one-one-one with students.

Another teacher said about 100 students are now taking part in a music program — available only on Wednesdays, which would not happen in a 3/2 model.

Teacher Travis Taylor said staffing is an issue – and at C.K. Burns school, some days there are no substitute teachers. Teachers often don’t have lunch until classes are over for the day, and bathroom breaks are problematic if there is no one to cover for an absent teacher.

Classrooms in the school are small and it has been a struggle to stay six feet apart among other issues, he said.

Parents had expressed support for more school days this spring and now some have formed a group to work toward  adding more in class instruction time as soon as possible, according to Anna McCard, one of the organizers and a parent of three  children enrolled in Saco public schools.

“At the February 24 school board meeting, school leadership said they were working to get kids in school more and were hoping to have a 3/2 schedule up and running by March 17,” said  McCard on Monday. McCard said she was surprised and blindsided at the March 3 school board meeting when she heard that staff didn’t support the 3/2 change.

McCard and fellow parent Jessica Morris are founding members of a new group, “Back to 5! — Saco Schools” with a mission to gain more in-person class time for Saco’s public school students.

“We are composed of parents and community members that share the same goals and vision for the children of Saco, and agree that kids would benefit from more in-person instruction,” said McCard. “The teachers have a union, so it’s our responsibility as adults within the community to give our children a voice.”

Morris, who has two children in Saco public schools, said she is doing whatever she can to increase in-person class time for all Saco school children. “Anna and I have worked together in the past and share the same goals,” she said on Monday.  “We will not stop until our children are in school five days a week. … What we really need is to have the government-regulated distancing guidelines lifted or changed so that spacing is no longer an issue, and a plan in place for the fall, if guidelines stay the same.”

During the March 3 discussion C.K. Burns School education technician Sarah Baines suggested extending the student day to 2 p.m. or 2:25 p.m., adding she knows there are tasks to accomplish, like bus drivers needing to frequently clean the buses.

“(It would) at least be some benefit to our kids,” Baines said.

Another parent said he’d be willing to help clean the buses.

McCard, at the meeting, said maybe it was time to return volunteers to the schools to help cover lunch time and assist in other ways.

The OSAC should continue to meet, the school board agreed, and will look at options, like extending the school day, reevaluating some Wednesday scenarios — particularly in the younger grades, and examining a number of possible models for more classroom instruction for the new school year in September.

In an email letter to parents on Monday, Thornton Academy Middle School Principal Tiffany Robert said that beginning April 7, the Saco private school will adopt the 3/2 model. Currently there are two cohorts of students with some attending school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and others on Thursdays and Fridays. Each cohort will be “invited,” not required, to attend in-person every other Wednesday. The school, which serves grades six through eight, includes some students from Saco as well as Dayton and Arundel, and elsewhere.

Thornton Academy’s upper school, is also a private school but serves as the high school for Saco students, is considering increased in-person instruction but no decision had been made as of Monday, March 8.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: