Our Interview with Toni Jones on GPS Reopening! | Greenwich Moms

As we look towards the Fall, parents everywhere, including Greenwich, have plenty of questions about what the school year will look like. More details are being solidified every day. In a recent email to parents, it was announced that school would begin after Labor Day to give teachers more time to prep. We spoke Toni Jones, Superintendent of Greenwich Public Schools, to get the latest on other new details. Here are highlights from our conversation:

Recently you released the results of a large scale survey of parents and teachers. What was most surprising to you?
Our results looked very similar to what school districts across the country are finding. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily surprised that there were a large portion of families that may want to keep their children home. One element of the staff survey that was surprising was the number of staff that don’t feel comfortable coming back, and I know they’ll have to be. I know it’s scary for our teachers and staff. So we’ll have to continue to do more work in putting out information for the teachers so they know all the things we’re doing to help them feel more comfortable.

What are some of the reopening plan highlights?
We still have 5 more weeks and watch every day. But right now, we have Pre-k to 5 coming back 5 days a week. We have staff in the building, starting the taping of the floors, taking out furniture we don’t need out of rooms, making sure our rooms are ready to come back 5 days a week. We’ll also be using spaces like the media center in a different way to give us enough space. Middle school will be similar, using all aspects of the building, like media centers, perhaps we won’t have that elective right away or it will be taught differently…

High school was our biggest challenge in planning. We have over 2800 students and about 400 staff that would be in that building. You can’t really cohort a high school schedule. And social distancing if we brought everyone back wouldn’t be a safe environment that we need for staff or students.

We are looking right now at the hybrid model. Half of he high school is in on 2 days, half of the high school are out on 2 days and then they swap. Every Wed. would be a distance learning day for everyone, at home. However the twist in that is the state [wants] high schools that go with the hybrid model won’t be in compliance. I was on a call recently with superintendents [in the area] and no one wants to come back full time.  They don’t  have the space and can’t enforce social distancing. So this may change according to what the state does.

So Wednesday would be a deep cleaning day?
Yes. So students would be face to face for two days. In the high school we’re calling it Red and White. Monday and Tuesday, Red will be there, Wednesday everyone is away and then on Thurs and Friday White is there. It gives them a full 5 days to be out of the building. So if students start having symptoms it gives them a good window to monitor.

Wednesday allows us to deep clean the building without the Red and White groups, but also helps teachers get set up for remote learning if we should go back to that. The tools and platforms you use are very different than when you are face to face.

So is distance learning an option for any parents that choose it?
Yes. On or around July 28 we will send out a letter that will explain what the schedules look like and the things we’ve done to create a safe environment. Then if parents still don’t want to send kids at that time, we will enroll them in a distance, remote class with an actual teacher.

With the school budgets being substantially less than expected, how will these enhanced protocols and staffing?
We have a federal grant…it will be between $600,000 and $650,000 [distributed to the public and private schools]. Beyond that the BET indicated that we would go for an interim. Right now we code everything as a COVID expense and then we’ll have to go in front of the BET and ask for that money to cover the COVID expenses.

Thank you so much for all you’re doing for Greenwich students! If people have questions what should they do?
Go to our homepage and watch some of the recent meetings. There are recent meetings, documents, and we are having a town hall Zoom call for families on July 30 at 7 pm where people can submit questions ahead of time. During the meeting, there will also be a period for live questions.

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