Adding on the hours I: WPS increases synchronous learning time to meet DESE requirements

This story is the first part in a series detailing DESE's new instruction-delivery requirements, why WPS is working to comply with such modifications, and community reactions to this mandate.

January 6, 2021

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Current hybrid model at WA

After the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) concluded that students would benefit from an increase in live instruction time, WA will shift to a new learning schedule that replaces current asynchronous learning periods with direct student-teacher engagement.

At Monday’s school committee meeting, Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery said that WA was not meeting DESE’s new synchronous instruction requirement, which DESE notified to the WPS soon before the start of the holiday break. DESE’s new requirement involves 35 hours of synchronous instruction in a ten day period for schools like WA that have a hybrid model, and currently, the school’s hybrid instruction is 54 minutes below DESE’s new requirements per day.

Understanding that any changes to the model may disrupt any after school or childcare programs parents may have already established, Clery and Superintendent Bill Olsen hope to maintain the integrity of the current learning model as much as possible while making any necessary changes to it. 

“While this current model doesn’t work for everybody, we do feel as though we found a balance in developing the original model. Now that people have kind of gotten their schedules structured, because we know that that was very difficult for families at the beginning, we are not looking to make any major changes but certainly need to make steps toward meeting those extra hours,” Olsen said. 

One of the main changes to the current model will be to require teachers to make live contact with students on a daily basis, if they have not been doing so already. In addition, not complying with DESE’s new state requirements puts the district’s funding at risk. 

So far, Olsen and Clery have met with the Westford Educators Association (WEA) in order to discuss ways to make such changes in the most effective way possible. Following this discussion, the WEA, Olsen, Clery, and Director of Pupil Services Courtney Moran decided that all teachers will be expected to combine both their pods for at least some portion of all afternoon sessions, which will be effective no later than Tuesday, January 19. 

However, even with this change in instruction delivery, Westford will still be behind the average of 35 hours per ten days by 10.8 minutes. To combat this issue, Assistant Superintendent Clery will be applying for a waiver to the Commissioner of Education, Jeffrey Riley.

“[Teachers] can simply launch a lesson, and have a certain portion of the class stay live online, and have other students working on their own, or in break-out rooms. Kerry Clery is applying for a waiver in the hopes that the Commissioner will see our improvement in synchronous minutes and will allow our revised hybrid plan,” WEA President Kristine Jussaume said in her email to all WEA members.

Overall, the WPS defines its goal for its new learning model to preserve the current model’s integrity as much as possible. While giving students more live learning opportunities, the district hopes to mitigate any stress this may cause for educators.

“Any sort of change does impact our memorandum of agreement that was created and agreed upon over the summer [with teachers]. We believe that there are some steps that we can take that will provide more opportunities for face to face time with teachers. However, we think that we’ll be able to do that without overhauling our model at all,” Clery said.

Update 1/8/21: This story was refocused to be the first part of a series detailing DESE’s modified instruction-delivery requirements. This piece focuses on the reasons behind WPS’s modified hybrid model and what the new model entails only, and does not detail community opinions regarding the change. In order to gain a more complete understanding of WA’s reactions to DESE’s mandate, please visit part II of this series.

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