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What should school look like in the fall?

The three steps school district leaders must take to create strategic “COVID Comeback School Models”

Everyone agrees that school in the fall cannot look the same as it did before the pandemic. Education leaders must organize people, time and money to make up for learning losses, help students reconnect with schooling, support students’ increased social and emotional needs, respond to physical distancing and sanitation requirements, and provide for teachers and students who don’t feel safe attending school or who contract the virus.

School and system leaders designing a reentry strategy need to plan for multiple scenarios. These include in-person models, where students attend school on-site in a school building every day; fully remote models, where students attend school entirely off-site, from home or some other location via laptops and the Internet; and hybrid models, where students attend school both on- and off-site based on an established, predictable schedule.

Because the public health situation is likely to change at some point in the 2020-21 school year, leaders must also ensure models enable coherence if and when changes in physical distancing guidance lead to implementation of a new model. In addition, given the complexity of strategically organizing school resources in the best of times and the uncertainty associated with current economic conditions, leaders make careful tradeoffs that avoid locking up resources in structural investments that are difficult to recoup, while organizing all available people, time and money to address students’ most critical student needs.

Our new paper, “Developing COVID Comeback Models for Fall 2020,” outlines a three-step process to choose and adapt the COVID Comeback School Models that are right for their communities. These steps are designed to build on assessments made by school systems to understand technology, transportation, physical plant and operational issues associated with physical distancing, as well as engagement with families, educators and partners about how students and adults could interact in a shared physical environment this fall.

Step 1: Determine what proportion of students and educators are available to be in school, and what proportion will require support in full-remote settings this fall. This includes estimating the proportion of students and educators who will be unable or unwilling to participate in on-site school as well as how, with limited in-person space, you will prioritize specific student groups for in-school support. 

Step 2: Make core decisions about remote and hybrid structures. These include establishing the role of traditional homeroom structures that include students working off-site (either as part of a hybrid model or in full-remote scenarios) and the role of remote-only school models in system design. Leaders must also set target group sizes for on-site and off-site instruction and determine the optimal uses of time for both in-person and remote settings.

Step 3: Develop a schedule and staffing model that works within expected resource levels, including decisions about teacher assignment, when to departmentalize instruction, how to organize effective teacher collaboration and which teachers to elevate into high-impact leadership roles.

Together, these decisions take into account leadership vision, community perspectives and constraints on staff, space and other resources. They also begin to clarify the full system-wide picture of how schools will operate in the fall. 

Read our full paper for more details, examples, decision guides, questions and more. 

We continue to learn from leaders across the country who are developing strategic and creative solutions to meet student needs this fall. Please share what you’re learning with us by getting in touch with me here.

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